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One Foot Down Game Day Countdown: Notre Dame vs. Stanford

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The Irish face a pivotal game this season to start the month of October.

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Stanford_medium

Stanford (-2) at Notre Dame

Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana

Kickoff: 3:30 PM ET

Television: NBC

Series: 18-10-0 Notre Dame

Here is the One Foot Down preview for this Saturday afternoon's tilt against the Stanford Cardinal.

5 Factoids

  • 7.5 TFL Per Game

Stanford has had a lot of turnover on defense in recent years but they remain aggressive and productive at creating negative plays. Through 4 games in 2014 they are averaging 7.5 tackles for loss per game which is just below their production from last year. Despite a scheme change and perception that things are better the curious thing for Notre Dame is that their TFL numbers are also trending the same as 2013. Right now the Irish are averaging 5 per game (94th nationally) compared to 4.92 per game last year which finished 108th nationally.

  • 3-11-0

Stanford has typically struggled picking up wins in South Bend having won only 3 out of their 14 trips to Indiana and just 1 out of the last 9 games away from Palo Alto. However, the Cardinal soundly beat the Irish in 2010 in Jim Harbaugh's final season as head coach in addition to upsetting Notre Dame in both 1990 and 1992. If you recall, those latter losses were ranked as the 19th and 11th worst losses in program history during our wonderfully informative summer series.

  • 163 vs. 158

There has been plenty of discussion this year about Notre Dame's sometimes good but sometimes struggling rushing attack. Yet, the Irish come into this game having only averaged 5 yards less per game on the ground in comparison to Stanford. Now, some of that is due to the Cardinal facing some better competition (USC and Washington have better defensive lines/front sevens than the Irish have faced so far) but it does point out how Stanford's bread and butter isn't as effective as it has been in the past. From 2010 to 2013 the Cardinal averaged 201 rushing yards per game and this far this season they have not rushed for 200 yards in a single game.

  • 34 Wins

Through last weekend current Stanford head coach David Shaw has 34 career wins for the Tree. With a win this weekend he would move past Bill Walsh for a tie for 5th all-time at Stanford. Shaw has the highest winning percentage of any Stanford coach who has been on the Farm for more than 2 seasons. Since taking over Stanford in 2011 Shaw is 37-8 while Brian Kelly is 33-10 during that same time frame at Notre Dame.

  • 6 Matchups

With Stanford coming into this game ranked 14th in the country and Notre Dame at 9th nationally it will be one of an amazing 6 matchups this weekend between ranked teams. No. 12 Mississippi State plays No. 6 Texas A&M, No. 3 Alabama plays No. 11 Ole Miss, No. 4 Oklahoma plays No. 25 TCU, No. 5 Auburn plays No. 15 LSU, and No. 10 Michigan State plays No. 19 Nebraska. It's not hyperbole to say that the winner of this weekend's game could be in great position for a playoff spot with so many ranked teams destined to lose.

4 Players to Watch

  • WR Ty Montgomery

Montgomery is one of the most dynamic playmakers in the country and on pace to have his best season yet. It wasn't until last year that he became a major weapon at receiver, and over his last 18 games Montgomery has hauled in 87 catches for 1,233 yards, and 13 touchdowns. Not only that, but he is one of the most diverse players in the country with the ball in his hands. Through last weekend he has accumulated an astonishing 4,362 all-purpose yards and scored 8 touchdowns on special teams or rushing the ball from scrimmage in his career.

  • LB A.J. Tarpley

Tarpley is a 5th-year senior, been a staple of the Cardinal linebacker corps for 4 years, and is one of the last remaining Harbaugh recruits left on campus. Curiously, he only has 5 solo tackles this season but nevertheless he's an active linebacker with 17.5 tackles for loss and 12 pass breakups in his career. He's teaming up with junior Blake Martinez (team-leading 31 tackles) to form a nice middle linebacker duo.

  • CB Alex Carter

Irish fans know Carter well because his father Tom Carter was a 3-year starter at free safety for Notre Dame and picked 17th overall by the Washington Redskins in the 1993 NFL Draft. His son is now in his true junior season and coming off a 2013 campaign that saw him garner several All-Pac 12 honors. Carter is currently second on the team with 12 solo tackles and has 11 pass breakups through 3+ seasons on the Farm.

  • RB Remound Wright

For the 10th season in a row (or thereabouts) Stanford brings another short yet powerful running back as their main battering ram for their offense. Wright, a recruit out of Indiana's Bishop Dwenger, took a redshirt in 2011 and played sparingly over the last two seasons. However, this year he's been carrying the ball a lot with 25 combined carries against USC and Washington. Wright missed the Army game with a leg injury and will share carries with Barry Sanders, Jr. and Kelsey Wright but look for him to be the go-to runner in the big situations.

3 Concerns

  • Matching Stanford's Physicality

Stanford isn't as Manball-ish as they've been in the past. They are only running the ball 55% of the time and quarterback Kevin Hogan actually leads the team in carries with 34. Against their top two opponents in USC and Washington, Hogan has carried the ball a combined 25 times. Remarkably enough, none of Stanford's top 3 running backs have scored a rushing touchdown this year, either.

So this isn't exactly a run-the-ball-down-your-throat Stanford that we're used to but they'll still line up with 7 linemen with regularity. Coach Kelly has already talked about linebacker Ben Councell getting more use this week as the BVG defense prepares for it's first real test against a physical and talented offense. Additionally, the Irish will have to match or exceed Stanford's physicality in order to run the ball and keep the chains moving on offense.

  • Turnovers

Notre Dame is coming off a 5 turnover performance and has fallen off its perch as the best in the country at protecting the ball. Obviously last week will bring a lot of concerns about losing the ball against an aggressive Stanford defense. In 2012 when Golson last started against Stanford the Irish fumbled the ball 5 times and lost 3 of them. This cannot be a repeat performance.

Both Hogan and Golson come into this weekend with just 2 interceptions apiece. However, the Cardinal have uncharacteristically lost 7 fumbles already this year and are -4 in turnover ratio.

  • Staying Balanced on Offense

There's no doubt that having Golson at quarterback could be an X-factor for the Irish in this game, especially in moving the ball on the ground. In the last three losses to Stanford the rushing numbers for Notre Dame have been: 64 yards, 57 yards, and 44 yards. In short, there hasn't been an opponent that has cconsistently shut down Notre Dame's running game like Stanford.

In 2012, the Irish rushed for 150 yards and picked up the win. A lot of that was thanks to Golson who rumbled for (with sacks removed) 65 yards on his own. It could happen but I don't think another sub-65 yard rushing performance is going to allow Notre Dame to win this game.

2 Sides of the Line

Stanford has started the same players on both sides of the line for each of their first 4 games this season. On the offensive line everything starts with junior left tackle Andrus Peat (6-7, 313) who is the only returning starter from last season. However, he's a good one and considered by many to be the top tackle in the nation. At left guard is junior Josh Garnett (6-5, 325) who had one start last year and had played a decent amount before starting in 2014. Redshirt sophomore Graham Shuler (6-4, 287) is playing at center while fellow redshirt sophomore Johnny Caspers (6-4, 297) is holding things down at right guard. On the right edge is junior Kyle Murphy (6-7, 298) who saw a lot of action in 2013 as an extra jumbo package lineman and is now in his first year of starting.

All of these linemen currently starting for Stanford came from their infamous 2012 haul with Garnett, Peat, and Murphy all being Top 50 national recruits. They are fairly young, and except for Peat, still pretty inexperienced as full-time starters. As such, they will probably be much better at the end of the year than they will be this weekend.

Stanford's defensive line in their 3-4 system is led by a trio of fifth-year seniors. At defensive end is Henry Anderson (6-6, 287) who missed 8 games last year with a knee injury but is fully healthy now. Through last weekend he's accumulated 90 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, and 8.5 sacks in his career. At the other end spot is Blake Lueders (6-5, 274) who was a major Notre Dame recruiting target coming out of the state of Indiana and is finally getting his shot as a starter. He has 55 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, and 5 sacks in his career. Starting at the nose guard spot is David Parry (6-2, 300) a former walk-on who started some games at the end of 2012 as well as 8 games last year. He's a pretty active NG with 79 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, and 3 sacks in his career. Also, watch out for junior end Aziz Shittu (6-3, 275) and redshirt freshman Peter Kalambayi (6-3, 245). The latter is playing outside linebacker but is blowing up as a pass rusher with 15 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, and 4 sacks (including 3 last week against Washington) in only 4 games this year.

1 Prediction

I've had this game marked down as a loss since the summer and especially when we were writing our season predictions in which I thought this Irish team would go 8-4 against a brutal schedule. I'm not going to take the self-hating Irish fan route and rally against the schedule now that everyone except Florida State has suffered at least one loss, but it is a good early indication that things won't be as hellish as thought in the pre-season.

Stanford has already lost to a very flawed USC team a few weeks ago but they really shot themselves in the foot and it didn't budge me from my stance to expect a loss on October 4th. It wasn't until this past Sunday evening that I began to think differently about this game.

STAT IRISH CARDINAL
S&P 27 4
S&P Offense 27 50
S&P Defense 32 1
F/+ 20 3
FEI 15 6
GE 8 24

The thing that worries me is Stanford's defense, and that shouldn't be too surprising. Yet, they've lost DC Derek Mason (now head coach at Vanderbilt), they're almost out of 'Harbaugh Guys', and still they're still performing at a really high level. The advanced stats aren't perfect and still need some ironing out but being No. 1 in S&P defense says something about this unit--and it clearly isn't negative. Additionally, the Cardinal shut out both of their weak opponents and have surrendered just 2 touchdowns on defense all season, the latter coming last weekend against Washington on a drive in which the Huskies were aided by a personal foul penalty, off-sides, and pass interference call.

This Stanford offense, though. I already talked about their somewhat declined rushing production and despite Hogan's very good stat line (883 yards, 71% accuracy, 8 TD, 2 INT) he's not exactly Andrew Luck incarnate. I look at their yards per play (a solid 6.46 which is higher than Notre Dame) and think this offense is bound to improve dramatically as their line and running backs gain more experience. But then I look at their red zone woes--only 8 touchdowns on 19 opportunities and only 4 additional field goals in that total--and I see an offense that might have some mental block that won't be fixed by this weekend. For example, only Kansas has a worse red zone scoring percentage among Power 5 conference teams right now. Stanford is 121st in this category!

I've officially moved from expecting a loss to being disappointed if the Irish don't win.

Notre Dame is at home, coming off an easier previous game, has the more dynamic quarterback, and should be pissed off that they are underdogs. Perhaps most importantly, it's time for the Irish to grab momentum in this series. Stanford has won 4 out of the last 5 games and Kelly has only won 1 out of 4 meetings. I don't think anything bothered Brian Kelly more than losing 3 games to Michigan and that problem was rectified as Ann Arbor currently burns to the ground thanks in part to the Notre Dame game in week two.

This isn't as big of a game as Michgan. At least, it's big in a different sense. A loss to Michigan would have been more devastating on multiple levels and could have made Brian Kelly's seat just a tad warm in Year 5. At 4-0 and ranked in the Top 10 a loss to a currently ranked Stanford squad would sting but it would likely be used for fuel against a coach down the road when re-evaluating the program and not a complete failure in 2014.

Stanford has been a great program in recent years but Kelly can't lose 4 out of 5 to the Cardinal. It's time for the defense to really step up to the plate and for Golson to keep his regular season undefeated streak alive. And for God's sake, do not let Ty Montgomery touch the ball on special teams.

Notre Dame 24

Stanford 22