Q&A With Rule Of Tree

Matt Cohen Photography

Scott Allen from the Stanford blog Rule of Tree stops by to answer some questions about tomorrow's game between the Cardinal and Irish.

This week's Q&A is brought to us by Scott Allen of SBNation's Stanford blog, Rule of Tree.

Let's get right to it.

1. To say Andrew Luck left some big shoes to fill is an understatement. How has Josh Nunes done as the starting quarterback? How close is he to becoming an absolute magician?

Nunes has been inconsistent through five games, but he's played well more often than he's played poorly. He and the offense as a whole looked absolutely miserable against Washington, but with some fans hoping David Shaw would yank Nunes and replace him with sophomore Brett Nottingham, he went out and played brilliantly in a come-from-behind win over Arizona. (Nunes had 360 yards passing and accounted for five touchdowns against the Wildcats; Luck accomplished each of those things exactly once during his illustrious Stanford career.) Nunes is nowhere near Luck in terms of talent, but he's 4-1, which is about as good a start as anyone could've expected. Nunes might not be accurate enough to become an absolute magician a la Troy Nunes, but he was definitely more David Copperfield than children's birthday party entertainer against against the Wildcats.

2. Besides Luck, the Cardinal lost quite a few players to the draft last season. How have the new players done? Would you say Stanford has managed to reload or do you think they left some holes?

Stanford reloaded pretty well, though there have been some growing pains outside of the QB position. Several players, including true freshmen Kyle Murphy and Andrus Peat, have helped fill the void left by NFL draft picks Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro along the offensive line. The Cardinal has allowed only five sacks through five games and the running game, while not as dominant as it has been over the last few years, has been solid. Still, the revamped offensive line doesn't instill the same confidence on third- or fourth-and-short as last year's unit. The Cardinal also replaced three starters in the secondary and the inexperience there showed on Saturday, as Arizona managed to beat Stanford deep on a few plays.

3. We already covered Josh Nunes and Irish fans should be familiar with Stepfan Taylor, so who are the other big names Notre Dame fans should look out for on Saturday on offense?

While Coby Fleener is now catching passes in the NFL, tight ends are still heavily involved in the Stanford offense. With sophomore receiver Ty Montgomery's status for Saturday's game in doubt, that doesn't figure to change on Saturday. Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo have combined for nearly 600 yards and four touchdowns, while Drew Terrell is the only Cardinal wide receiver besides Montgomery with more than four catches. I'd look out for Toilolo. He's 6-foot-8 and Stanford seems to like to remind opponents of that fact by calling at least three jumpball/fade routes to him every game. The play has been mostly ineffective (and resulted in a game-ending interception against Washington) but that hasn't stopped the Cardinal from going back to it again and again.


4. The Stanford defense is maybe the stoutest the Irish have faced so far, and might be the stoutest they face all season. Give me a quick scouting report on the defense. What are their strengths and weaknesses?

Like most teams, the Cardinal is at its best when the front seven is getting pressure on the quarterback. The Cardinal harassed Matt Barkley during the win over USC and made life miserable for Washington's Keith Price, but as Arizona's Matt Scott showed, the Stanford secondary is vulnerable when the Cardinal doesn't generate consistent pressure up front. (The Stanford defense couldn't get off the field against Arizona, allowing the up-tempo Wildcats to convert 10 of 19 third downs and run 103 plays, which is enough to wear down even the best defenses.) The Cardinal has tackled fairly well this season, which was a major issue last year. The linebacking corps led by Shayne Skov and Chase Thomas is the strength of the defense, while defensive end Ben Gardner has been a force with a team-high six tackles for loss.


5. GameDay is coming to South Bend! If you were in the crowd, what would your sign say?

The Stepfan Taylor 4 Heisman Runner-Up campaign hit a bit of a snag against Washington, so how 'bout this: "You've got luck, but we've got Nunes."


6. Any predictions for the game?

I expect both defenses to dominate and wouldn't be surprised if a defensive touchdown is the difference in a low-scoring game. Nunes is making only his second start on the road and it comes on a huge stage against a Top 10 opponent, but I think he'll handle the pressure a little better this time and do just enough against an elite defense for the Cardinal to leave South Bend with a win. Stanford 16, Notre Dame 13.

***
Thanks again to Scott! Be sure to check out Rule of Tree and read up on the Cardinal before tomorrow's big game!
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