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OFD Game Day Countdown: Notre Dame vs. Stanford

Notre Dame hasn't won in Palo Alto since 2007 and it'd be nice to rectify that situation.

Ezra Shaw

Notre Dame (+14.5) at Stanford

Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, California

Kickoff: 7:00 PM ET

Television: Fox

Series: 18-9-0 Notre Dame

Here is the One Foot Down preview of this week's game against Stanford.

5 Factoids

  • 15 & 11

That is the amount of turnovers Stanford and Notre Dame have forced this season. This was a huge problem for the 2011 Irish defense and it's even worse this year---just one turnover forced per game! I think it's surprising that Stanford is pretty low with this as well. They are tied for 101st nationally.

  • 3

This is the third straight year that both Stanford and Notre Dame come into this meeting ranked in the AP Poll. The Cardinal were not ranked in any of the 8 meeting with the Irish from 2002 to 2009 but have been ranked in the last 4 meetings, this their second time in the top 10.

  • 0.02

That is the difference in yards per play between Notre Dame's offense and the Stanford attack. Following the Cardinal piling on 603 yards last week against California they are sitting at 6.25 YPP while the Irish are at 6.27 YPP.

  • 2.56

Notre Dame has struggled to run the ball against Stanford over the last 3 meetings. Although last year the Irish managed 150 yards (aided by 41 yards from Everett Golson) since 2010 Notre Dame has only gained 251 yards on 98 carries against Stanford---a paltry 2.56 yards per carry.

  • 57.50 & 55.56%

Prepare yourself for a lot of field goals. These are the numbers of Stanford's red zone touchdown percentage (86th nationally) and Notre Dame's percentage (95th nationally).

4 Players to Watch

  • QB Kevin Hogan

The redshirt sophomore started the last five games for Stanford last season and came into this fall as the undisputed number one quarterback. He's a solid quarterback having hit 60.6 percent of his passes for 2,057 yards to go with 18 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Hogan is also a threat on the ground racking up 250 yards and 2 scores with his feet. He certainly doesn't carry the Stanford offense but he's improved at hitting the deep ball coming into this weekend with 8.5 yards per attempt which is 18th best among all college quarterbacks.

  • RB Tyler Gaffney

Gaffney's career began at Stanford where he spent 2009 through 2011 as an often used backup totaling 791 yards on 156 carries (5.07 per rush) before leaving to play pro baseball during the 2012 season. He returned to The Farm this summer and is having an outstanding year as Stanford's main ball carrier. Gaffney's 1,304 rushing yards are 10th best nationally and his 16 rushing touchdowns are tied for 6th best in the country.

  • WR Ty Montgomery

Montgomery is a tall speedster who is blossoming in his junior season after fading into the background of Stanford's offense last season. Coming into this weekend his 50 receptions are nearly a third of all team completions and his 822 yards leads the team by more than 400 yards. He's also one of the most explosive kick returners in the country with 811 yards, 31.19 per return, and 2 touchdowns.

  • LB Trent Murphy

The fifth-year senior from Mesa, Arizona is statistically very identical to BYU's Kyle Van Noy whom the Irish just faced. Murphy doesn't make a lot of tackles but he makes a big impact when he does. He only has 49 tackles this season but 38.7% of them are tackles for loss and he's also chipped in 13 sacks, 5 passes broken up, and 4 quarterback hurries. He's quite the force on the outside of the Stanford defense.

3 Concerns

  • Having the Irish Run Game Shut Down

See above in the 5 Factoids section---running the ball for Notre Dame against Stanford has been a major struggle. Lining up in two tight end sets and running the ball might shorten the game but it's not likely to bring a win for the Irish. A nice balanced offense, with some exotic run plays that take advantage of Stanford's aggressiveness may be in order.

  • Allowing Too Many Third Down Conversions

There are only four other major conference programs who have a better third down conversion rate than Stanford and they are LSU, Florida State, and Georgia Tech. The Cardinal have a grinding offense that consistently puts itself into third and short situations. More often than not, they convert those opportunities. This will be a game where Notre Dame cannot afford to let Stanford to pick up more than half of their conversion attempts.

  • Dealing with David Shaw

Am I talking about his terrific coaching or the fact that he'll either be smug as ever after a win or whining incessantly after a loss? It's like we lose even if we win!

2 Sides of the Line

Stanford boasts one of the country's best offensive lines led by All-American redshirt junior David Yankey (6-5, 313) who holds down the left guard position. To his left is sophomore Andrus Peat (6-7, 312) who is in his first season of starting at tackle but played in all of Stanford's games in 2012 as well.

At center the Cardinal have fifth-year senior Khalil Wilkes (6-3, 286) who moves from left guard where he started every game in 2012. On the right side fifth-year senior Kevin Danser (6-6, 296) is at guard in his second year of starting and redshirt junior Cameron Fleming (6-6, 318) is at tackle in his third year of starting. Stanford isn't shy about deploying 6 or 7 linemen on a play so even more bodies will see the field including sophomore Josh Garnett (6-5, 316) who is an often-used backup.

The Cardinal defensive line has been beat up and lacks depth. Fifth-year senior and All-Pac-12 defensive end Ben Gardner (6-4, 277) was in his third year of starting this season but tore his pectoral muscle against Oregon State and is done for his career.

Redshirt junior Henry Anderson (6-6, 295) is in his second year of starting at defensive end but missed 6 games this fall with a knee injury and comes into Saturday with just 10 tackles and 1 sack. At the other end spot fifth-year senior Josh Mauro (6-6, 282) has filled in during Anderson's injury and is now the full-time starter with Gardner out. Mauro has had a good season with 47 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, and 4 sacks.

At nose guard is redshirt junior David Parry (6-2, 303) who has totaled 19 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss. Parry started the final three games of 2012 and Stanford will sometimes take him off the field in place of a fifth linebacker. There really isn't much depth beyond Anderson, Mauro, and Parry. They've moved redshirt freshman Luke Kaumatule (6-7, 267) to end from tight end and and are using redshirt freshman Jordan Watkins (6-5, 275) as a backup at DE and redshirt sophomore Anthony Hayes (6-3, 293) as a backup at nose guard.

1 Prediction

There are a lot more reasons to like Stanford in this game. They are out for revenge from last year's loss to ND (which will most definitely off-set the fact that they have 'nothing to play for' having already made the Pac-12 Championship Game), they are the home team, they are healthier, and they are coming off a very easy game against California while the Irish experienced a physical and emotional battle on Senior Day with BYU.

I do think Notre Dame's defense is going to hold up reasonably well against Stanford's offense. The Cardinal want to run the ball in a pro-style offense and take shots down field with Hogan and if the Irish defense does anything well it's stand up to the former and push their safeties 30 yards from the line to prevent the latter.

Football Outsiders Advanced Stats for Week 14

F/+ 23 3
FEI 18 3
FEI Off. 12 19
FEI Def. 27 2
S&P 37 6
S&P Off. 22 23
S&P Def. 55 7

I don't have much faith in the Irish offense being able to move the ball with any consistency, though. Stanford should shut down the Irish run game and I'll be very surprised if Notre Dame gains more than 100 yards on the ground.

There should be some opportunities through the air and that's how Notre Dame is going to have to win this game. Rees will have to play error free, deal with Stanford's exotic looks, and complete 6 to 8 crucial passes when the chips are down and the team really needs it. However, if history is any guide Rees' positive impact on this game will be pretty limited against one of the top defenses in the country.

The first half should be pretty close but I don't think Stanford will ever not be in control. Eventually they'll hit a deep pass, Montgomery will make someone miss on a screen, or Hogan will scramble for a key first down in an important situation to lead to a crucial touchdown or two. Eventually, there will be a untimely Irish turnover, failed 4th down attempt, or kickoff coverage mistake that will lead to crucial Stanford points.

All things considered a 9-3 season with wins over 4 ranked teams including Stanford would be a nice season. Unfortunately, I don't think this team has shaken the stink of 8-4 off of it since September started.

Notre Dame 13

Stanford 29