Notre Dame Football: A Complete Breakdown of the Biggest Stanford Game in Years

Kevin McRae@@McRaeWritesFeatured ColumnistOctober 11, 2012

Everett Golson will have to protect the ball Saturday.
Everett Golson will have to protect the ball Saturday.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Notre Dame and Stanford have played 25 times during their historic rivalry, with the Irish winning 17 of those games.

The recent history has been dominated by the Cardinal, who have won the last three meetings, led by this year's NFL No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck. Stanford defeated Notre Dame last season at Stanford by a 28-14 score, with Luck throwing four touchdown passes to shred the Irish defense.

The game this Saturday has additional importance, particularly for the Irish who are 5-0 for the first time in a decade, and with a win would seem on course for their first BCS berth since 2007.

This will definitely be the sternest test Notre Dame has faced all season, and it's one that should they pass, will turn a lot of heads. More so than their victories over Michigan, Michigan State and Miami. 

It will be close, but expect the Irish to pull it out.

Notre Dame has built their success thus far this season on two of football's oldest, most celebrated ideas. You must run the ball effectively and play good defense.

The Irish have done both, not allowing a touchdown in their last three games against quality opponents, and possessing three tailbacks with over 200 yards and a combined eight touchdowns. 

The Cardinal will provide a few different wrinkles for the Irish D. Quarterback Josh Nunes is a bit of an unknown. 

He was very effective last week in a 54-48 win over Arizona, throwing for 360 yards and two touchdowns. But he struggled mightily against the Washington Huskies the week before.

The Huskies were able to stuff Stanford's power running game and put the ball into Nunes hands more. The junior struggled with the extra responsibility, completing less than 50 percent of his passes, throwing an interception and no touchdowns. 

The Irish will attempt to do the exact same thing, as their front seven is their defensive strength. The key will be containing senior running back Stepfan Taylor, who has had three 100-yard rushing games this season.

The Cardinal offense also has two excellent receiving tight ends in Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz. These two guys are big, physical and can catch. They will place great pressure on Notre Dame's defense, led by Manti T'eo. Notre Dame needs to place pressure on the quarterback and force them into blocking and not receiving responsibilities.

The Stanford offense has been middle of the road for much of the season, 62nd in overall passing and 74th in the nation in rushing. They're a team that plays a similar game to Notre Dame; don't score a lot but but don't give up a lot. Obviously, the Arizona game is the exception to that rule.

On defense, Stanford is very sound. They had also been stout all season until last week's disaster at Arizona in which they gave up 48 points at home. Nobody expects Notre Dame to put up that many this week, but Stanford does have a few weaknesses up front the Irish will seek to exploit.

The Cardinal have given up a 100-yard rusher in each of their last two games. And Arizona QB Matt Scott threw for—count' em—491 yards against them last week. With a dual-threat QB and three running backs capable of explosive performances, this is where the Irish will hope to make their hay. 

Look for the three-headed-monster of George Atkinson III, Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick to get plenty of touches in their attempt to open up some space for Everett Golson to throw the ball. Golson himself could help open it up by spreading the field and creating open space for himself.

At least one of these Irish backs will need to hit the 100-yard mark this week both to keep the defense fresh and create opportunities in the passing game.

One thing Golson has to make sure of is protecting the football. Turnovers are always a killer, and in a game like this, which will be close, they could determine the outcome.

Expect this game to come down to the fourth quarter and be close. In the final analysis Notre Dame is just a better defensive team and should force a turnover late that will seal the victory. 

Prediction: Notre Dame 17 Stanford 13


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