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Notre Dame Football: Stanford Cardinal Q&A with Rule of Tree

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Pat Rick talked to Charlie Foy over at Rule of Tree to understand what to expect from this surprisingly down Stanford team on Saturday

NCAA Football: Washington at Stanford Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Hey you guuuuyyyyysssssss!!!

Unbelievably, we have reached the end of the 2019 regular season for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team. They’ve brought us a lot of fun performances, a near-victory against an elite SEC team on the road, and a complete embarrassment of a showing against a hated program that we won’t see again for 14 years. Truly, 2019 has been a roller coaster.

And now, with a 9-2 record, the Irish head to Palo Alto to try to do something they haven’t done since 2007 and have never accomplished in the Brian Kelly era — beat the Stanford Cardinal on their home turf.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Stanford Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinal have had a very bad season (4-7), especially relative to the first 8 seasons of head coach David Shaw’s tenure. Thus, this is easily ND’s best chance to win there in a long time — but what should we know about this downtrodden opponent, regardless of how poorly their season has gone?

To answer that question, I spoke to Charlie Foy of Rule of Tree, SB Nation’s HQ for everything Stanford sports. Charlie gave us some great insight into the Cardinal’s string of key injuries, some talented skill players, a hapless defense without its star, some fantastic names, Thanksgiving food comparisons, and much more.

Gobble up his amazing answers below as we head into Thanksgiving weekend, folks.

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1. After 8 straight winning seasons under David Shaw, 2019 has been a major departure from Stanford’s recent success, as the Cardinal are 4-7 heading into the season finale against ND. What’s been different about this year to cause such a rough season, and do you think this is going to be an outlier, or is it the first sign of a concerning next couple years?

Charlie Foy: I think the biggest difference this year is the lack of depth. Stanford obviously has a bunch of injuries, and they also lost more than a handful of players early, as they either bolted for the NFL, transferred, or retired. As a result, Stanford hasn’t been consistent on both sides of the ball.

Unfortunately, I think this season is a sign for bad things to come. Stanford has been getting gradually worse, and they lack the physical identity opponents once feared. However, the optimist in me wants to say things will get better (how could they get worse?). Stanford has their future QB in Davis Mills and a potential star running back in Austin Jones, but those are just two guys, so it’s hard to be optimistic heading into next year.

NCAA Football: Oregon at Stanford Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

2. Overall in his 9 years at the helm, David Shaw has been pretty fantastic, going 86-33 in that time span with a couple Rose Bowl wins to hang his hat on. What are your personal/most Stanford fans’ thoughts on Shaw and why he’s been able to sustain that kind of success for so long? Will he be the Stanford coach until he retires?

Charlie Foy: I wrote an article joking about how Jim Harbaugh could save Stanford again. That article got lots of comments, and the discussion about Shaw’s fate began.

For the most part, the more thoughtful fan would keep Shaw and hope that Shaw finds new assistants. However, a few fans want him gone. Ultimately, I think Shaw coaches Stanford till he retires or till someone hires him away.

NCAA Football: Arizona at Stanford D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

He’s limited with recruiting (academic requirements) and resources (lack of passionate fan base), so he’ll get the benefit of the doubt more often than not. I like Shaw as a coach and a mentor for student-athletes, so I hope he stays put.

3. It sounds like Stanford has suffered a bevy of devastating injuries to key guys this year, including QB K.J. Costello. First, can you give ND fans a quick rundown of the key Cardinal players who haven’t been healthy and available this season, and then after that, tell me about backup QB Davis Mills and how he’s looked stepping in for Costello at QB? Will he be starting in place of Costello again this weekend?

Charlie Foy: Starting quarterback K.J. Costello has been banged up all year and has basically been week-to-week all year. However, it’s hard for him to stay healthy behind his depleted offensive line. Preseason All-American Walker Little tore his ACL in the first game, and overall, Stanford only has like six healthy linemen up front—three being true freshmen. The defense hasn’t been as hurt, but preseason All-American CB Paulson Adebo will likely not play vs. ND.

The Davis Mills vs. K.J. Costello question is tricky. Mills is really good and has flashed potential to be an NFL starter. He’s more mobile and precise than Costello, but Costello is the veteran who is better making adjustments at the line of scrimmage. I think Mills will start, and if he does, don’t think this game is locked up for the Irish just because you’ll see a backup quarterback.

NCAA Football: Stanford at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

4. Irish fans are used to entering the Stanford game having heard a lot about the Stanford skill position guys tearing it up all year (Bryce Love, Christian McCaffrey, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, etc.), but with the Cardinal having such a down year and with mainstays like Love and Arcega-Whiteside having moved on from last year’s squad, I don’t think ND fans know as much about this 2019 Stanford offense. Who are the key skill guys to know/worry about if you’re a Notre Dame fan?

Charlie Foy: I’d say do-it-all running back Connor Wedington, but after getting hurt on the opening kickoff versus Cal, I doubt you’ll see him play versus Notre Dame.

Instead, I’ll pick Simi Fehoko, who has become a Mills’ favorite. He’s a deep-ball target and has found the end zone six times. Keep an eye on the Mills-Fehoko connection; if the two connect, the play could give Stanford some momentum to the Cardinal.

5. Let’s talk about the Stanford defense — what are its strengths, its weaknesses, and who are the X-factors ND needs to watch out for? Do you think the Cardinal can slow down Ian Book, Chase Claypool, and the Irish offense?

Charlie Foy: There are no strengths with Paulson Adebo out. Washington State scorched a depleted Cardinal secondary for 49 points and a million yards.

NCAA Football: Stanford at California D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

Ian Book will definitely have a big day. However, Stanford’s pass rush isn’t terrible, so he might be rattled a few times. The pass rush will likely be the X-factor. They showed up big versus Washington, so look out for names like Thomas Booker, Casey Toohill, and Curtis Robinson chasing the quarterback.

6. Brian Kelly has never won in Palo Alto as Notre Dame head coach — do you think this is the year the Irish finally beat Stanford in California?

Charlie Foy: Yes. Even if these teams were equally matched, I think Brian Kelly just wants it more than David Shaw and Stanford. I covered Stanford vs. ND last time in Palo Alto and could tell Kelly was very disappointed with the loss. He wants the win, and I believe he’ll get it.

7. Notre Dame has a sophomore RB named C’Borius Flemister. What are the best/funniest/most ridiculous names on the Stanford roster, and do any of them measure up to my guy C’Bo?

Charlie Foy: Everyone usually says our kicker Jet Toner, who’s hurt (surprise, surprise), so I’ll change it up. I think I’ll go with Osiris St. Brown. Recognize that name? He’s the brother of Notre Dame alum Equanimeous St. Brown. I’ll pick the name of an Egyptian god over “C’Bo,” and I think ND fans might agree.

NCAA Football: Stanford at Oregon Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

8. Dance-off between Brian Kelly and David Shaw — what song(s) does each coach dance to, who has the better stage presence and charisma, and who ultimately wins?

Charlie Foy: Hmmmm, I’ve gotten this one before. I’ve seen that video of Kelly, so I’m picking him. David Shaw, in his words, “just didn’t execute” the dance well. He picked the song “Thriller,” and in Stanford fashion, got hurt in the process. Meanwhile, Kelly gracefully masters the same song and embarrasses the Stanford coach.

9. Pick current Stanford players that best represent some Thanksgiving dinner staples and explain why. Feel free to freestyle and add any other less conventional Thanksgiving food/player comparisons that tickle your fancy, as well.

Charlie Foy:

  • Turkey: K.J. Costello is the unquestioned leader for Stanford. Through highs and lows, healthy and injured, he’s been there for Stanford. I spoke with him informally last weekend, and he had a good attitude about the season. He’s our rock. Just like you can’t have Thanksgiving without Turkey; you can’t have Stanford without Costello.
  • Stuffing: Walker Little was supposed to make our offensive line great. He was supposed to make the meal and the team click. Well, he’s hurt, so that aunt who promised to bring the stuffing forgot it at home.
  • Pumpkin Pie: Davis Mills. Ever had a really bad Thanksgiving meal? Well, that’s been our season. Mills is a delicious pumpkin pie that made our bad meal not totally miserable.
NCAA Football: Stanford at Oregon Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

10. Prediction time: give me the final score for ND at Stanford, who wins, and your reasoning why.

Charlie Foy: I’ve picked Stanford three weeks in a row. My gut tells me, “How could Stanford lose a fourth consecutive game?” Screw my gut. It’s gotten me nowhere and given me false hope.

Notre Dame will crush Stanford. It’ll be a statement game that might get them into a New Year’s Six game and that might make up for the Palo Alto heartbreak endured in the past. Ian Book will be the biggest reason why, Stanford is just too hurt to compete and keep up with the Irish offense.

Notre Dame wins 38-14.

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I want to give a major shout-out to Charlie for answering all of my questions, and encourage you all to head on over to the Rule of Tree site to get any and all Stanford football news you will need heading into this weekend.

Also, be sure to follow Rule of Tree on Twitter and throw Charlie a follow as well for any and all hard-hitting Cardinal updates.

See you all in my Game Preview on Friday!