Notre Dame heads to the west coast this week to take on the 4th ranked Cardinal from Stanford. In preparation for this year’s huge season finale, we exchanged Q&A’s with the Stanford blog Rule of Tree.
1. Andrew Luck is completing over 70% of his passes and has thrown at least 2 TDs in every game this season. What can the Notre Dame defense do to slow him down?
The key to slowing down Luck is getting pressure on him. He’s had the luxury of throwing behind one of the best offensive lines in college football over the last three years, but he’s faced more pressure than he’s accustomed to over the last few weeks. That’s led to a couple of interceptions returned for touchdowns against USC and Oregon. His interception last week against Cal was at least partly due to the fact that his receiver slipped, but he misfired on several other passes in an ugly first half. When Luck is pressured, he sometimes attempts to do too much. Rather than throwing the ball away or taking a sack for a short loss, he’ll make an ill-advised throw.
2. Notre Dame has seen defenses drop 8 or 9 defenders into coverage with great success slowing down the Irish offense. Do you expect Stanford to employ a similar defensive scheme this weekend?
Stanford’s defense has been most effective this season when it’s managed to generate a good pass rush. That said, the Cardinal defense was burned repeatedly by the screen pass against Oregon and has had issues tackling all season. If Notre Dame employs the short passing game that it did against Boston College, it’s imperative that the Cardinal doesn’t allow the short passes to turn into big gains. Dropping more guys into coverage might be a good strategy.
3. With Jonas Gray out this weekend, what can the Notre Dame rushing offense do to have success against Stanford’s stout rushing defense?
I think Cierre Wood could have a tough time getting going against the Stanford defense, unless the Irish’s passing game is clicking early on. The Cardinal is much more vulnerable against the pass than it is against the run, but it does give up the occasional big play on the ground.
4. After almost a full season without Jim Harbaugh, how do Stanford fans feel about David Shaw and his ability to maintain the current success next year without Andrew Luck?
I think most Stanford plans are very pleased with David Shaw’s first season at the helm. It’s helped that he’s had Andrew Luck as his quarterback, but his rookie year hasn’t come without adversity. The Cardinal lost its best defensive player, Shayne Skov, in the third game of the season and has dealt with injuries to other key contributors throughout the year.
All things considered, including the pressure of following in the footsteps of Jim Harbaugh and the heightened expectations for the team, Shaw has done an excellent job. I think he earned a little extra respect from some fans when the normally mild-mannered coach criticized the BCS system and defended Luck against anyone who questioned whether he was still Heisman-worthy during this week’s Pac-12 coaches teleconference.
As for the Cardinal’s future without Luck, Shaw’s first recruiting class was impressive. Stanford seems poised to continue to compete for Pac-12 championships in the near future, even if BCS bowls are no longer regular occurrences.
5. Assuming both LSU and Alabama finish the season with 1 loss, do you think Stanford has a legit chance to make the BCS title game if they get past Notre Dame this weekend?
I think the only way that Stanford plays for the BCS title is if it beats Notre Dame, LSU beats Arkansas, Auburn beats Alabama, Oklahoma beats Oklahoma State, and Virginia Tech loses another game. In other words, it’s probably not happening. I outlined this scenario here. Short of making the NCG or the Rose Bowl, which would require Oregon getting upset by Oregon State, there’s a good chance that Stanford winds up in the Fiesta Bowl against the loser of the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State showdown.
6. Stanford’s never won 3 games in a row against Notre Dame and until last season had never won two in a row over the Irish. How big of an accomplishment would you consider that for Stanford and has it been discussed by Stanford fans this week?
Wow, I wasn’t aware of that. That potential accomplishment may have gotten lost among the fans in all the fretting about BCS possibilities, but it would be an impressive feat. Notre Dame seems to give Stanford fits every season, no matter how good the Cardinal is. Last year’s win in South Bend was a rare exception. Notre Dame may not be the dominant program that it once was, but Brian Kelly seems to have the Irish headed in the right direction and I’d bet Stanford takes great pride in competing against a program with that much tradition.
7. How do you see Saturday’s game playing out?
Stanford’s been prone to slow starts and I think that trend continues, but I think the Cardinal eventually finds its rhythm and pulls away for a 38-21 win. I don’t think the Irish will have much success running the ball, and while Michael Floyd should have a big day, I don’t think the Notre Dame defense will be able to slow Stanford enough for that to matter. It may sound simplistic, but I just don’t see Andrew Luck losing what is most likely the final home game of his career. (If Oregon State shocks Oregon, Stanford would host the Pac-12 Championship next week.)