Hello, friends. It is with a surprising lack of regret that I inform you all that the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team is at it again.
After a rejuvenated offense led by QB Ian Book dismantled a BAD Wake Forest defense last weekend to the tune of 56 points, the 4-0, #8 Irish return home to host the 4-0, #7 Stanford Cardinal on Saturday evening, giving ND fans the first top-10 matchup in Notre Dame Stadium since the USC game in 2005.
(Any tangential excuse to rewatch Zibby’s punt return in that game, I have to take...enjoy)
Stanford has looked decently strong so far this year, but needed a huge comeback and some Oregon choking to escape Eugene with an overtime win last weekend. Notre Dame hasn’t defeated the Cardinal since 2014, though, when Everett Golson connected with Ben Koyack on a 4th down, game-winning touchdown pass with less than a minute left. Obviously, the Irish are hoping to end that losing streak on Saturday.
So, in order to see if this ND team might actually fare better than those in 2015, 2016, and 2017, I spoke with Charlie Foy over at Rule of Tree to understand what this Cardinal team is all about, how they match up with the Irish, and what two Stanford players would perform best on the 90s game show Supermarket Sweep (spoiler, Charlie is too young to know — leave it to a 19-year-old to make a 27-year-old feel old AF).
Let’s see what he had to say.
1. Stanford pulled off a helluva comeback win over a surprisingly good Oregon team last weekend. What did that game reveal about the Cardinal’s strengths and weaknesses?
Charlie Foy: For one, it further confirmed that our offensive line isn’t as great as it was last year, causing the run game (Bryce Love) to struggle. The line is banged up a little bit, and I’m thinking it’s a chemistry issue. Practically the entire line returned, and teams were stacking the box plenty last year as well.
Before you know it, the line will get their act together, though, and Bryce Love will be running wild again.
On a more positive note, the game showed that this team is different than past ones. In past years, Stanford would be down and kinda give up. Obviously versus Oregon, the Cardinal fought tooth and nail ‘til the very end. I’ve never seen so much heart and grit from any Cardinal team.
2. The ND defense has been pretty stout against the run this season, but Bryce Love and the Stanford o-line are typically an entirely different beast. How effective do you think Stanford will be running the ball on Saturday?
Charlie Foy: I don’t see this game being the breakthrough game for Bryce Love and the offensive line, but as in a breakthrough game, I’m referring to a game where Love turns into a superhuman and rushes for what seems like a gazillion yards.
I predict Love will still have a solid performance and rush for 100 yards or so. If the offensive line does find their groove, however, watch out; ND might not Love* Saturday’s game.
*Pat Rick Editor’s Note: EXCELLENT pun
3. What does KJ Costello do well, and what can the Irish exploit about his game?
Charlie Foy: KJ Costello is a lot better than the KJ Costello you saw last year.
This year, Costello is being trusted a lot more to throw it deep and is throwing the ball 30 times a game instead of 20. With more experience under his belt, Costello has become a very, very good game manager and leader.
However, when pressured, Costello will become inaccurate, as he has a slightly strange throwing motion. If he’s on the run, don’t expect him to make a jaw dropping throw.
4. Besides Love, what other key skill players should ND be afraid of, and how well do you think ND matches up with them?
Charlie Foy: ND fans should be very nervous about senior receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside on Saturday. He’s 6’3” and almost unstoppable to guard, resulting in 7 TD catches this year.
In the opening game versus San Diego State, Arcega-Whiteside finished with a jaw dropping 226 receiving yards. Costello trusts Arcega-Whiteside tremendously in a one-on-one situation, and I would too.
5. How good is the Cardinal defense, and do you think a rejuvenated Irish offense led by Ian Book will be able to move the ball on them?
Charlie Foy: The Cardinal defense was playing like the best defense in the country, but then Justin Herbert happened.
Herbert picked apart the Stanford secondary, mainly because he had all the time in the world. Stanford had really no answer for the Duck offense, but the defense always adjusts well in the second half.
I’m a tad worried for the Stanford defense versus Notre Dame because there’s not much film on Book. With that said though, there wasn’t much film on USC’s J.T. Daniels, and the team had no trouble pestering him.
All in all, I think the front seven for the Cardinal will determine how Notre Dame does offensively, but unfortunately for the Cardinal, I trust the Irish line over Stanford’s defensive front.
6. Give me the X-factor for Stanford on offense, defense, and special teams — what one player on each unit will need to have a great game for Stanford to walk out of South Bend with a win?
- Offense: Offensive line. Will they finally get their act together? If the line plays well, Love will see daylight, and the Cardinal will win.
- Defense: Bobby Okereke. The defense got exposed versus Oregon, and the senior linebacker will need to bring his team together in order to bounce back. Okereke has played pretty well this season, but will need to step up in the moment.
- Special Teams: Cameron Scarlett. I’m still missing the days when Christian McCaffrey seemed to return every other kick. Scarlett will need to give the Cardinal offense good field position.
7. Is there anyone on the ND team that you’re scared of, on either side of the ball?
Charlie Foy: I’m definitely nervous about facing Ian Book. Was his performance versus Wake Forest legit? Or was it just Wake Forest being Wake Forest? He’s shown potential but at the same time has a small sample size.
WE INTERRUPT THIS VERY GOOD Q&A FOR SOMETHING INCREDIBLY STUPID: TIME FOR A WORD FROM PAT’S PERSONAL PANEL OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL FANS, AKA SOME BUDDIES OF HIS
Pat Rick: Panel of College Football Fans, please in the next day or so send me your thoughts and analysis on Stanford and this game on Saturday.
Aaaaand that was talking Stanford with Hux (that was a video from when Hux was in the student section with us in 2012, immediately after they announced the 4th down stop stands).
Now back to our regularly scheduled Q&A...
8. The Irish have a freshman running back named C’borius Flemister, but I also know Stanford has some quality names on their roster. What are your favorite names on the Stanford side of things?
Charlie Foy: Hard to choose — there’s so many good ones. I like all the printing jokes about our kicker Jet Toner whenever he steps on the field. Thunder Keck is a pretty funny name as well. But my favorite is Osiris St. Brown, brother of Equanimeous. I mean he’s named after a flipping god.
9. David Shaw vs. Brian Kelly in a karaoke battle: what songs does each coach sing, who has the best stage presence and charisma, and who wins?
Charlie Foy: I remember this question from last year**, and I’m picking Brian Kelly again to win and sing the same song. Shaw’s quiet and timid, and he doesn’t strike me as a karaoke guy.
**Pat Rick Editor’s Note: I guess I need to start coming up with some new questions.
Meanwhile, I can just imagine Brian Kelly leading the song “Sweet Caroline” at some Irish Pub in South Bend. That’s pretty hard to beat.
10. What are your thoughts/opinions on the Stanford Tree mascot in general, and do you think it could beat the ND leprechaun in a fight?
Charlie Foy: Well, the Tree doesn’t have hands, and I’m pretty sure the Tree probably is a tree hugger. Plus, the Leprechaun literally is ready to fight in its animated picture.
I’ll put my money on the Leprechaun.
11. If you had to pick two Stanford players to compete on the 90s game show Supermarket Sweep, who do you choose and why?
Charlie Foy: I was born in 1999; this show was before my time...***
***Pat Rick Editor’s Note: Someone please help this kid out in the comments with a suggestion on who to pick for that wonderful, wonderful game show.
12. Anything else ND fans should know about Stanford’s program, team, fans, traditions, etc.?
Charlie Foy: ND and Stanford play every year, so I’m struggling to figure about what you might not know about the program. I’m sure you’re aware of our super passionate fan base that will probably all travel to South Bend this weekend. Be ready for a sea of red. Haha, jokes.
13. Prediction time: who wins, what’s the score, and provide your reasoning.
Charlie Foy: This is the one game I never pick correctly, and I’ve incorrectly predicted the outcome the past two years.
This year, I’m picking Notre Dame to take down the Cardinal. Stanford was lucky to escape Eugene with a win, and in the process, Oregon exposed their offense and defense, and it certainly doesn’t help that the Irish found their groove and their quarterback versus Wake Forest.
Stanford appears weak up front on both sides of the ball (which is not typical for Stanford football), will need to win on the shoulders of K.J. Costello, and beating the Irish single-handedly is a heavy load to bear. However, I would never count Costello out of a game; it’ll be a close finish.
Ultimately, I’m picking Notre Dame to win 28-24, but here’s to hoping I’m wrong, again…
I want to give a HUGE thank you to Charlie for answering all of my ridiculous questions, and encourage you all to check out what he and the rest of the team are doing at the Rule of Tree site — anything you need to know about Stanford heading into this weekend, they’ve got it. Also, be sure to follow them on Twitter and throw Charlie a follow as well for any and all breaking, hard-hitting Cardinal updates.
Additionally, thanks again to my Panel of College Football Fans — i.e., Hux — who continue to be undefeated in providing us with the most critical information on ND opponents that we could ever ask for.
See you all in my Game Preview on Friday!