(Photo: Matt Cashore-US PRESSWIRE – Presswire)
The No. 7 Notre Dame Fighting Irish play host to the No. 17 Stanford Cardinal this coming Saturday, along with a long awaited ESPN Game Day appearance in South Bend. The Stanford Cardinal will do their best to knock the Irish off the high they are riding after five straight victories. Notre Dame may be the Vegas favorite, but this will not be an easy win for the Irish.
Notre Dame has won five straight games in a row despite the quarterback merry-go-round that still seems to be plaguing them. The Irish have also heavily relied on their rushing game, with the exception of their match up against Purdue, to win ballgames. One of the Cardinal strengths happens to be their run defense, ranked sixth in the nation.
Stanford has consistently had top ranked defenses over the past several years. This trend continues again this year lead by outside linebacker, senior Chase Thomas. Thomas has had 34 tackles, 20 solo and 14 assists, and one interception. He is a big part of this teams run stopping defense.
The Irish have relied on their running game to provide offensive stability in 2012. With three top notch backs in Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick, and George Atkinson III, the Irish do a good job of rotating them around so that there are always fresh legs available to take the field. Cierre Wood has 217 rushing yards so far this season, Riddick has 272 rushing yards, and Atkinson has an impressive 278 rushing yards. The trio are definitely a force even against the best rushing defenses.
The Stanford defense will do their best to stop this running trio on Saturday. The Cardinal defense is ranked 4th in the nation in tackles for loss and 20th in sacks so far this year. They do a great job of finding ways to play in the backfield of opposing offenses.
If Notre Dame’s running game gets slowed down by this powerful Cardinal defense, quarterback Everett Golson had better be ready with a passing attack. Golson has three touchdowns and three interceptions to date this season, and has 827 yards of passing. If he can keep his focus and not make any mental errors, the combination of a running and passing game may be the ticket to defeating Stanford.
The Notre Dame defense will also be a key player in the game on Saturday. The Irish defense is currently ranked 13th overall in the nation, with their passing defense ranked 22nd and their rushing defense ranked 17th. Not exactly something to be dismissed. Manti Te’o has done a great job of leading his defense and providing the spark that they needed to take their game to the next level. With several key injuries to veteran players (Lo Wood and Jamoris Slaughter) the young Irish have stepped up and proven that they, too, are ready to shine in the spotlight. Young defenders such as Sheldon Day, KeiVarae Russell, Matthias Farley, Elijah Shumate and Jalen Brown have really stepped up and made significant contributions to this defense.
(As a side note, Manti Te’o's parents will be in attendance and watching him live this weekend when Notre Dame plays Stanford, which is a rare occurrence, given that they live in Hawaii.)
The Cardinal offense will do their best to test this young Irish defense. Andrew Luck’s replacement at quarterback, Josh Nunes, may not be an Andrew Luck caliber quarterback, but his offense has had success this season, with only one loss. His numbers so far this season include a 54.1 completion percentage, eight touchdowns, four interceptions and a 126.1 passer rating. His number one target is tight end Zach Ertz, along with help from three year starting running back Stephan Taylor. The average numbers that the Cardinal offense has put up so far this year, with a 62nd ranked passing offense and a 70th ranked rushing offense, however, do not seem to be much of a match for the Irish defense.
It is quite a challenge for a young team such as Notre Dame to shoot from Top 25 to Top 10 in just a few short weeks. Brian Kelly has to lean on his senior leadership in in Manti Te’o and Kapron Lewis Moore to keep the team focused and level headed. This focus will get more and more difficult to maintain as the wins keep piling on.
Saturday should be a great test for Stanford’s top ranked defense, and Notre Dame’s up-and-coming offense. Look for a wild game and a fight to the finish!