Well, folks, here we are.
After what has been a whirlwind of a college football season, your #8 Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team has just one game remaining — a road trip to Palo Alto to take on the #21 Stanford Cardinal two days after Thanksgiving.
The Fighting Irish enter the game with a 9-2 record, looking to reach 10 wins for the 2nd time in 3 years. The Cardinal, meanwhile, hope to improve to 9-3 so as to have plenty of momentum and mojo heading into the Pac 12 Championship the following week.
With all that on the line, we decided to talk to Charlie Foy over at Rule of Tree, SB Nation’s one-stop-shop for all things Stanford Cardinal. We asked Charlie all the important questions, including what makes Heisman candidate RB Bryce Love so great, who the Cardinal have settled on at QB, and what Stanford players he would choose to help him destroy the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom.
Here’s what he had to say.
1. Stanford's had a somewhat up-and-down season this year, but still sits 8-3 and atop the Pac-12 North. How do Cardinal fans feel about this season - was this expected, or has it been a disappointment or pleasant surprise? Do you think Stanford can win the Pac-12?
Honestly, Stanford could very well be 10-1 right now, but they could also by 6-5.
The team currently has three losses, and it’s been one of those seasons where almost every game has been either close or a blowout; it reminds me a lot of last season, and I think Stanford fans are all pretty satisfied with where we stand. We have a chance at winning the PAC-12 and a chance at making a New Year’s Six Bowl, and I’m sure not going to complain with that outcome, which is completely realistic.
If Washington State loses against Washington, we’re all set to play USC for the PAC-12 Championship, and Stanford is a much better team than they were in the beginning of the season.
2. What makes Bryce Love so dominant running the football? Will he be healthy for Saturday?
Bryce Love is questionable for the game Saturday, and I honestly have mixed opinions about him playing or not.
He’s been battling a sprained ankle the past three games and seemed to aggravate the injury versus California. The matchup this weekend has no implications on the PAC-12, and I’d rather not risk having him injured for a possible championship game; however, benching him also means ruining his Heisman chances. Ultimately, I think there’s a better chance Love sits than plays.
Love has the potential to score on any given play. Once he breaks into the secondary, he’s stronger and quicker than any other player on the field, and without him, the offense will undoubtedly struggle.
3. Stanford's gone through a couple QBs this season, and most recently has been riding KJ Costello at the position. What does he do well, what are his weaknesses, and do you think he's the answer at QB?
I’m not convinced he’s the long term answer, but I definitely think he’s the answer for at least for this season.
Costello makes decisive decisions and scrambles when needed, but more importantly, his mojo really sparks the team. He reminds me of a younger Kevin Hogan.
Still, he has his weaknesses and just misses targets sometimes, but he’s definitely an upgrade over Keller Chryst.
4. What other Stanford offensive weapons should Irish fans know about?
J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. He grabs about any ball that comes his way and finished with 130 yards against the Huskies two weeks ago. His height is difficult to defend, making him a great red zone threat, and he could be the difference maker if this game is close.
5. How do you expect Stanford's front seven to do against Notre Dame's rushing attack? Who are the key guys up front for the Cardinal?
Last week, Cal’s running back Patrick Laird, a former walk-on, ran for 153 yards. Can you imagine what Josh Adams will do to the Cardinal front seven?
I certainly don’t want to think about it, but I guess I must. If the front seven can’t step up, this game will be a blowout. Specifically, keep your eyes on Harrison Phillips and Bobby Okereke.
Phillips has been a consistent star all season and almost leads the team in tackles as a defensive tackle. Okereke had his game of the year two weeks ago versus the Huskies and really helped shut down their rushing attack.
6. It's no secret that ND has struggled to pass the ball this season. Is the Stanford secondary good enough to give Brandon Wimbush trouble/pick him off if he continues his inaccurate ways, or will ND receivers like Kevin Stepherson be able to have big days if Wimbush can make a few throws?
Stanford’s front seven is missing their starting corner Alijah Holder because of a broken leg, but they’ve still been plenty dominant without him.
The group includes two future NFL players in Quenton Meeks and Justin Reid and has plenty of depth.
In the past two games, they’ve held opposing quarterbacks to less than 200 yards, and overall, the secondary has fourteen interceptions on the year. Don’t expect Notre Dame to win this game through the air.
9. Give me one X-factor each for offense, defense, and special teams for Stanford -- the one guy in each group who needs to play lights-out for Stanford to beat Notre Dame.
Offense: K.J. Costello. If Bryce Love doesn’t play, he’ll need to have his best game of the year for the Cardinal to win.
Defense: Bobby Okereke. He needs to infiltrate the backfield like he did versus the Huskies.
Special Teams: Jake Bailey. This guy seems to play great every week and just might be the best punter in college football. He’ll drive the Fighting Irish crazy if he can punt the ball inside the 10 yard line.
10. Brian Kelly vs. David Shaw in a dance-off: what one song does each coach dance to, and who wins?
Brian Kelly just seems like a really awkward dancer to me. Like one of those guys who just flops around when he hears a song playing.
11. Same question, but karaoke.
I can just imagine Brian Kelly leading the song “Sweet Caroline” at some Irish Pub in South Bend. That’s pretty hard to beat.
12. You're putting together a Lord of the Rings-esque Fellowship of the Ring crew to take the ring to Mordor to destroy it. What 9 Stanford players do you pick for that crew and why?
The first guy I’d pick is Daniel Marx; he just looks like he’s straight outta Middle Earth. Plus, he’s a fullback, so you know he’s gonna be down to protect the ring.
Then, I need someone to be the ring bearer and that’d be Bryce Love; I don’t think he’s fumbled all year.
The next guy on my list is Harrison Phillips. He’s a mean yet personable tackling machine, and he’s the Gimli of the crew.
Reagan Williams has Legolas-esque hair, so I’m putting him on.
I’m adding Nate Herbig and David Bright to bluster up the line protecting Love.
I want another short guy in Jay Tyler to accompany Love when they break off from the rest of the group.
K.J. Costello’s confident attitude will be a part of the group and ready to rule mankind in the near future.
Lastly, I know I’m cheating, but the group wouldn’t be complete without our Gandalf, David Shaw.
13. Prediction time: who wins, what is the score, and what is your reasoning behind that prediction?
I’m really struggling to predict this game for two reasons. For one, I can’t commit to whether Love plays or not, and honestly, I can’t tell how excited the team is to play the Fighting Irish; I think they’d rather be watching the game in Seattle.
Win or lose, this game has no implication on the Cardinal besides affecting their ranking, and it will be interesting to see how Shaw motivates his players this week.
Ultimately, I think with or without Love the Cardinal will lose. Notre Dame will look to avenge the loss that kept them from the playoff two years ago, and a playoff spot is (kinda) at stake once again. They’ll be more motivated than the Cardinal and will win 24-17 even if Love plays.
If Love sits, things could get ugly quickly for the Cardinal.
14. Anything else ND fans should know about Stanford's team, coaches, fans, tradition, etc.?
Don’t expect many fans at the stadium on Saturday.
I wanna give a huge shout out to Charlie for answering all of my questions, including a FANTASTIC answer to my Lord of the Rings question. Bravo, Charlie!
I encourage all of you to follow Charlie on Twitter, as well as Rule of Tree, and also be sure to head over to their site to read all of their coverage and updates and takes leading into Saturday’s game.