Notre Dame is on the road tonight looking for its 10th win of the season against rival Stanford in a venue in which they haven’t won in 10 years. There’s a lot on the line for the Irish with a New Year’s 6 Bowl pretty much assured with a victory tonight. Can the Irish, however, reverse their late season funk and win their last regular season game of the year for the first since in five years? Let’s break it down and find out.
What Concerns Me This Week
The Notre Dame passing game. Maybe if I list it here this week, it’ll get going early. I am a Brandon Wimbush fan, that much should be evident based on everything I have written about him this year, but the last couple weeks have raised serious questions of whether or not he is capable of reaching what appears to be limitless potential. Wimbush was gradually improving each week during Notre Dame’s winning streak but then the wheels came off in Miami and last week he had another case of the yips. Wimbush doesn’t need to throw for 300 yards tonight for Notre Dame to win, but he does need to look like the Brandon Wimbush we saw in East Lansing, not South Beach for the Irish to bring it home.
Bryce Love (if healthy). Love played in place of an injured Christian McCaffrey last year and lead the Cardinal to a win in Notre Dame Stadium – although if Notre Dame had an even decent offensive game plan, the Irish could have blown out Stanford. That’s another story though. Love’s status for tonight is still up in the air. David Shaw was coy about Love this week saying he was “day to day” with him not progressing as fast as they hoped he would. If he plays, he will be a handful for a Notre Dame defense that has regressed the last few weeks. A week ago Notre Dame was good at keeping Navy from ripping off long runs, but they still allowed them to chip away bit by bit and couldn’t get off the field when needed. If they can’t get off the field again this week, Bryce Love could have a huge day. Again, if he plays.
David Shaw. Of all the opposing coaches Notre Dame has faced over the course of the 20 years that we have run UHND, David Shaw is probably the one I can’t stand the most. He’s smug, he’s cocky, and he’s damn good. Shaw has done well against Kelly head to head even in years that Notre Dame should have won like the last two years. Part of the reason I can’t stand Shaw is because he is a damn good coach. Shaw will have his team prepared and ready to play tonight and he will have a few tricks up his sleeve for Mike Elko’s defense.
What Doesn’t Concern Me This Week
Notre Dame’s running game. Josh Adams had a field day the last time he played at this stadium and he very well could again tonight. Notre Dame couldn’t get its ground game going the last three weeks like they had all season, but a game in good weather against a team Notre Dame has been able to run on the past few years should be enough to get it going again. Wimbush will, however, need to make a few plays early to keep Stanford honest whether it be with his arm or his legs.
Speaking of Wimbush’s legs, Notre Dame would be wise to call a few designed Wimbush runs early on in this one. All year long breaking a long run early in games has settled Wimbush in. If they come out with another air it out game plan, it could get dicey early. Either an early draw or maybe even a well executed RPO would be a good start.
Notre Dame’s wide receivers if Equanimeous St. Brown can’t play. St. Brown’s status is still up in the air after going through concussion protocol. Brian Kelly said things look good, but with concussions, you never know and it’s always better to be extra cautious. Even if he is unable to play though, I think Notre Dame’s wide receivers will be fine. Without ESB, Miles Boykin would get more playing time and a set of Chase Claypool, Boykin, and Kevin Stepherson actually matches up well against Stanford’s lengthy, physical corners.
Another road prime-time game. Stanford Stadium is not going to be anywhere close to the kind of environment that Notre Dame encountered in Hard Rock Stadium. Miami’s bandwagon fans that have already forgotten about the Turnover Chain following the Canes’s loss to Pitt yesterday, were rocking that night. All of the pumped in, artificial crowd noise that Miami manufactures won’t be in Palo Alto tonight either. The stage was too big for some of the Irish players two weeks ago, but tonight, Stanford Stadium will not be very intimidating. Tonight will be like a more toned down East Lansing was back in September.
Everything that’s on the line. This is a huge game for Notre Dame even though Stanford is only ranked 20th. A win not only gives Notre Dame 10 wins and puts them in position for a New Year’s 6 bowl game, it will complete one of the most impressive turnaround seasons in program history. A loss and the storyline will be “oh this is just the same old Notre Dame from the last 20 years”. A loss and this team is still good, but just just meh.
After the loss to Miami and the near disaster last weekend, there is hopefully a lot of built up frustration in the team. There is no game after this one for a month for the Irish so the wear and tear we’ve seen the last couple of weeks will hopefully give way to one last balls to the wall performance like we saw against USC and NC State.
Players To Watch
- Josh Adams – Notre Dame needs another one of those monster games we saw from Adams early on in the season. Do not be surprised if Adams’s rushing total tonight is greater than what he’s had the last three weeks combined.
- Chase Claypool – If ESB can’t go, Claypool will be the go-to target just as he’s been the last few weeks. Claypool got banged up last week too, but he should be fine. Claypool could have a big game tonight.
- Kevin Stepherson – Stanford has some physical and long corners so Stepherson could meet some traffic at the line, but if he can get a step, he’ll get behind this defense. At that point, it will be on Wimbush to connect with him downfield. Wimbush hit him for a 30 yard TD last week, but even that one was still a bit behind him.
- Mike McGlinchey – Stanford’s got some good edge rushers at OLB and McGlinchey has had his struggles against speed rushers at times this season. If McGlinchey has a good game, Notre Dame will have a good game.
- Jerry Tillery – He was a beast in the middle of the defense for the first 2/3 of the seasons, but as fallen off as the season has worn. Notre Dame needs Tillery to channel his inner self from September and October to shut down the Cardinal run game tonight.
- Julian Love & Troy Pride – Notre Dame is going to let its corners on an island tonight most likely. Love and Pride have to keep everything in front of them and prevent any big plays. Stanford doesn’t pass that often, but when they do, the Irish can’t allow the big play and hope to win.
- Shaun Crawford – Meanwhile, Crawford could have an opportunity for an interception out of the slot this weekend. It’s been a while since Crawford made one of those huge momentum turners we got used to. It’s time.
How’d I Do Last Week?
About as good as Notre Dame did. I expected a much bigger win and a much better game from Wimbush and the passing game. The game plan last week didn’t do Wimbush too many favors, but the Irish could have and should have scored 28 by halftime on Navy. Instead they scored 24 all game long.
Going into the Navy game I had a weird feeling that I was more worried about Navy than Stanford. Then I let myself get all excited and predicted a blowout. Bad idea by me. I still feel similarly though that Navy was the bigger obstacle to 10 wins just because the option tends to give Notre Dame problems and that was the first time Mike Elko faced Navy. Notre Dame tends to play much better with more traditional teams like Stanford.
In the preseason I predicted Notre Dame to win this one by three points, and history tells us this will be a close game. The last five games between Notre Dame and Stanford have been one possession games.
All that said, IF Brandon Wimbush can make a few plays early, Notre Dame has a chance to win this one like they won games earlier this season. If not, this game will be a dogfight with every inch counting. That said, I expect a NC State/Michigan State game style performance tonight from Notre Dame.
Prediction: Notre Dame 31, Stanford 17
Pre-Season Prediction: Notre Dame 24, Stanford 21
|Game||Pre-Season||Game Week||Actual Outcome|
|Week 12: Stanford||ND 24-21||ND 31-17|
|Week 11: Navy||ND 49-17||ND 45-24||ND 24-17|
|Week 10: Miami||ND 31-27||ND 38-24||UM 41-8|
|Week 9: Wake Forest||ND 34-24||ND 42-13||ND 48-37|
|Week 8: #14 NC State||ND 34-17||ND 34-24||ND 35-14|
|Week 7: #21 USC||USC 38-24||ND 34-31||ND 49-14|
|Week 6: North Carolina||ND 31-21||ND 41-17||ND 33-10|
|Week 5: Miami OH||ND 42-17||ND 49-13||ND 52-17|
|Week 4: #16 Michigan State||ND 24-13||ND 30-28||ND 38-18|
|Week 3: Boston College||ND 35-10||ND 35-10||ND 49-20|
|Week 2: #3 Georgia||UGA 29-27||UGA 29-27||UGA 20-19|
|Week 1: Temple||ND 31-21||ND 31-21||ND 49-16|