What follows is a brief summary of the Stanford offense in pictorial form.
The Stanford offense consists of power runs and Andrew Luck throwing the ball. That's pretty much it.
What's that? You want more?
Of Notre Dame's opponents this season, Stanford most closely resembles Michigan State. The Spartans used a lot of power runs to set up a play-action passing game. But while the Spartans ran a lot of inside and outside zone to compliment the Power O, Stanford uses the Power O as the base play in their running game. Consequently, they have a number of plays built off of the Power O look.
The simplest of these plays is the play-action pass.
The player to watch here is the fullback. He'll initially run to the right as if he's going to block and then reverses field and runs to the flat.
The linebackers fall for the play fake.
The fullback will chip the defensive end before releasing to give Luck some time.
Luck finds the fullback for an easy completion.
Another wrinkle Stanford throws in is a counter motion.
Stanford is in their jumbo package with three tight ends and a fullback. The Cardinal will run a Power O, but the running back and fullback will both take a counter step to their right before running to their left.
The running back and fullback each take their counter step. Luck even turns like he's handing it off on a run to the right. The linebackers on the play side freeze instead of attacking the line.
There are approximately a million blockers in front of the back and the play goes for a big gain.
The last wrinkle I saw was an end-around after faking the Power O.
The receiver to Luck's right will motion close to the line before the snap and then run into the backfield.
Everything looks exactly like a Power O - the guard is pulling and the fullback is getting to the edge to block. The linebackers attack the line.
The entire defense has collapsed inside by the time Luck hands the ball off on the end-around. There's a lot of room for him to run.
No one on defense is in position to make a tackle and the play results in a touchdown.
Stopping the Power O is a difficult task. With so many blockers at the point of attack, the defense needs to flow hard to the ball in order to stop it. These three plays take advantage of that. In the play-action and reverse, the offense is trying to suck the defense into the line before attacking them on the edge. In the counter, they want the defense to hesitate before running to the ball. That slight hesitation can result in a big hole for the running back.
So what does this mean for the Irish? The front seven needs to be ready to play physical. Stanford uses a lot of tight ends and fullbacks, so the linebackers need to be ready to fill gaps and take on blockers. At the same time, though, they also need to play disciplined. Stanford loves to run those tight ends into the flat or down the seam. The linebackers have struggled in pass coverage this season, but they need to step up in a big way if Notre Dame wants to pull the upset. Otherwise, Irish fans may be throwing things at their TV after Stanford converts yet another 3rd and 6 on a throw to a tight end in the flat.