The Irish head into Saturday’s game needing to build upon the offensive momentum seen during their last six quarters of football. They should get that opportunity against a Cardinal squad reeling from several key injuries. Walt Harris is a great play caller, and managed to keep the game surprisingly close last year. Notre Dame needed a late comeback to preserve their BCS hopes, and 5th year senior QB Trent Edwards is again putting up solid numbers. No one will be quicker to remind the team of this than Charlie Weis. Here is a look at how these two teams will match up:
ND Rushing v. Stanford Defense
Weis made no secret of his desire to run right at Purdue last week. Walker carried 31 times for 146 yards, and hurt the Boilers with receptions out of the backfield. Expect to see more of the Darius Walker show this Saturday, as the Irish look to develop some consistency with the running game. Purdue has one of the worst rushing defenses in the country—Stanford has the worst. The Cardinal is giving up 283 yards per game on the ground, and looked especially helpless against Navy’s wishbone attack (and did not look much better against San Jose State). Notre Dame can control the line of scrimmage and keep Stanford’s defense on the field. This is a chance for the offensive line to find a rhythm of its own.
ND Passing v. Stanford Defense
Stanford’s 3-4 defense has not provided much pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The running game should keep the defense honest, and allow Brady Quinn plenty of time to find open targets. Quinn was incredibly accurate against Purdue, completing 29 of 38 passes. TE John Carlson has had several big catches already this season, and has the 3rd most receiving yards among tight ends nationally. Stanford’s secondary is young and inexperienced. Injuries have forced them to reshuffle the line-up several times. Someone will be open on almost every play. Look for Brady Quinn to have a big day statistically.
Stanford Rushing v. ND Defense
Stanford has had difficulty establishing a consistent ground game, as they have been down by a lot in many of their games. More importantly, their starting backfield has been decimated. Starting FB Nick Frank was finally forced to retire after sustaining a major injury a couple of weeks ago. Starting RB Anthony Kimble also missed last week’s UCLA game, due to a concussion suffered against Washington State. Kimble should be back this week, and true freshman Toby Gerhart is averaging 4.2 yards per carry. Gerhart was held in check last week against UCLA, and Notre Dame has seen better backfields. If Stanford is to hang around in this game for too long, they may have the ability to pick up yards on the ground. They feature the most experienced offensive line in college football (147 combined starts), and have not had many chances to stick with the run for the entire game. Notre Dame’s front seven has been solid this year, and Travis Thomas should be back in the line up.
Stanford Passing v. ND Defense
The Irish secondary should still be stinging after what Selwyn Lymon scorched them for 238 yards and 2 TD’s. Big-play vulnerability continues to be a major issue. Ambrose Wooden may be back in the line-up this week, but Notre Dame secondary needs to have a solid performance Saturday. QB Trent Edwards almost lead Stanford to a major upset last season before leaving injured. He has continued to put up solid numbers this season, but has faced several 3rd and long situations. For consecutive weeks, the Cardinal has had to resort to quick-kicks, in large part due to the 21 sacks their offensive line has yielded. (Yes that same line with 147 starts). Edwards has also been without WR Mark Bradford since the first week of the season. The other starting WR, Evan Moore, also missed the game against UCLA and will be out of action this weekend. That leaves two reserves and two true freshmen in Austin Yancy and Richard Sherman.
Edge: Tie. The Irish secondary has a chance to step-up and take Stanford out of this one quickly. Let’s see if they do.
Expect Notre Dame to come out with a solid offensive performance from start to finish. After two straight wins, they have not moved up in the polls. They have a lot to prove the rest of the way. This game should be seen as an opportunity, not a week off. That should avoid any upset possibilities. Walt Harris has surprised Notre Dame’s teams more than once in the past, but this time his squad is too banged up.
Final Score: NOTRE DAME: 45 STANFORD: 17