Crucial Matchups: #8 Notre Dame v. #21 Stanford Showdown

Closing out the regular season portion of the 2017 campaign for the Notre Dame this Saturday isn’t as bitter as it was last season, when the team’s losing record relegated it to watching bowl games instead of playing in one. While the local for the finale is once again California, the opponent this time is the Stanford Cardinal.

Last Saturday, the Irish needed to get back in a winning mode after being pounded by Miami and were able to outlast the Navy Midshipmen. Against the Cardinal, they’ll be up against a team that’s 8-3 and bounced back from some early-season woes that could garner them a spot in the Pac-12 title game. While this non-conference meeting won’t factor into that quest, Stanford definitely wants to have momentum entering the postseason.

For Saturday’s clash, below are some of the key matchups to focus on:

Notre Dame Defense vs. K.J. Costello

Injuries and struggles behind center have changed the look behind center for the Cardinal, with Costello replacing Keller Chryst. Costello is a 6-foot-5 redshirt freshman who surpassed Carson Palmer’s numbers in high school who was heavily recruited before landing in Palo Alto. Costello and Chryst have put up similar numbers, with Costello nearly at 1,000 passing yards and connecting with his receivers at a rate of nearly 61 percent.

Over the past few weeks, Irish opponents have focused more on establishing their running game, with each of the last three opponents rushing for over 200 yards. Prior to this shift, Notre Dame had seen an improved pass rush and been more aggressive overall on the defensive side, factors in the uptick when it came to turnovers.

Costello may try to challenge soft spots within the Notre Dame defense, but considering he’s far from a polished product, he might be tempting fate. One factor in how much Costello puts the ball in the air is likely dependent upon how banged up the team’s offensive focal point, Bryce Love, is for this game.

Josh Adams vs. Bobby Okereke

In his last opportunity to impress Heisman voters, Adams looks to build on his second half performance against Navy that put him over the century mark in yards gained. That reversed a frustrating stretch that had stalled his campaign to win the prestigious award. Another big day against the Cardinal will help put him over 1,500 yards on the ground for the year.

Okereke has been able to shine both against the run and the pass from his inside linebacker spot. He’s shown an ability to get to the quarterback this season, but the fact that he’s currently third on the team with 73 tackles shows that he’s usually around opposing ballcarriers, which clearly fits the description of Adams.

Notre Dame Weak Side Guard vs. Harrison Phillips

Phillips is in contention for Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and is someone who’s been routinely double-teamed all season. Such things tend to occur when the player in question leads his team in sacks (five), tackles-for-loss (13) and quarterback hurries (6). In short, Phillips knows how to get past blockers and to the quarterback.

Whether that Irish weak side guard is Quenton Nelson or Alex Bars probably doesn’t matter. Both have had solid campaigns this season, but will have a formidable task in trying to contain Phillips, who has managed to collect 78 tackles on the year, just one takedown away from tying for the Stanford team lead.

Tevon Coney vs. Bryce Love

Love, like his Notre Dame counterpart Josh Adams, is among the top Heisman contenders, with his numbers of 1,723 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns serving as notable calling cards. Love’s only collected six receptions this year, but being able to tamp down his production in this game is imperative to giving the Irish a good chance at the win.

Coney continues to swallow up opponents and now stands at 93 tackles on the season after five solos and five assists against Navy. His range on the field will be valuable, while his team-leading 11 tackles-for-loss could help him to stop Love before the Cardinal back ever gets started.

Love isn’t a big back, but it’s clear that he’s been able to take advantage of the holes opened up by the Stanford offensive line. His prolific production and the difficulty that defenders have in bringing him down has allowed the Cardinals to not skip a beat in having to replace last year’s Heisman runnerup, Christian McCaffrey.

Chase Claypool vs. Quenton Meeks

Given the seemingly weekly changes in exactly who Brandon Wimbush favors, it’s hard to say if Claypool, Equanimeous St. Brown or Kevin Stepherson will be who Meeks lines up against. Even though Stepherson has emerged over the past few weeks, Claypool still sits atop the receiving leaders for the Irish with 28 grabs for 391 yards and two touchdowns.

Irish fans who can remember last year’s Stanford battle will no doubt have a queasy feeling at the mention of Meeks’ name. That’s because his pick-six of a DeShone Kizer pass helped spark the Cardinal to victory. This season, he has two picks and four pass breakups and has 52 tackles to his credit.

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  1. Hope Kelly can finally win a big game. Not a complete team offensively or defensively. Receivers haven’t shown a consistent ability to block on the outside. If you can’t run outside, you can’t run. Miami exposed that weakness. Innacurate passing, dropped passes. Suddenly from high powered Offense ND sputtered. Defense has it’s moments but looking forward to next year’s edition.

  2. Irish need to win. Must win to complete this turn around season and hopefully a victory in Major Bowl. Run the ball on first series and let Wimbush take off. Stanford will be keyed on Adams like Miami was at line of scrimmage. Wimbush seems to play better when getting some successful runs under his belt and seems to pass better once he is in flow of game. Starting out with Wimbush running the ball on designed plays can put Stanford D on their heels , freeze up LB’s and DB backs. Also , Stanford D has been giving up almost 5 yds per carry on the season. I hope Chip Long does not start out passing in first series–Cardinal Dbacks have 14 picks on the season. Irish need to run the ball from get go with Wimbush and Adams. The passing opportunities will open up and ND will have 35 points on the board by games end. Unlike the 2015 game , this Irish D is better. I usually get socks and underwear for Christmas — an Irish win will make Christmas so much better.

  3. Not that I’m suddenly jumping on Positive Petes bandwagon, but you make some good wishful thinking points. Wimbush could get hot, the first or second series will tell the story. But, more realistically the game is an audition for one Josh Adams. The game is on His shoulders. If He wants to leave early and be a high draft choice He needs to take over this game.

  4. Great article Brad! One matchup that I did not see in the article was Wimbush versus the Weather. Last week old Mother Nature had her way with the field at South Bend :( :( :( It had a big impact on the ND Game Plan and Brandon’s ability to throw the daylights out of the ball. From what I have seen from the weather pundits, it looks like we are in for a 74 degree partly cloudy day with winds of 5 mph or as my Grammy would say a “Waffles and Whip Cream” type of day!!!! Leave the PANCHOS at home type of day. This is huge my ND Brethren as MR WIMBUSH has proven time and again (think Michigan State and Wake Forest) if the weather is right, he can sling the ball with the best of them and open up the run game for Adams!!!! Now for the Positive Pete Player Pick of the Week. This player MUST have a big game for the Irish. You guessed it…. Sam MUSTipher is that player. He was not one of the four horseman last week but I think he comes up huge this game. He has really been Kelly’s secret weapon all year. Everyone focuses on Nelson and McGlinchy but it is Mustipher who makes the o-line really crank like a well oiled machine!!! At this time of Thanksgiving, you know what I am thankful for……ND is 9 and 2 and sniffing a possible CFP spot!!!! We are back. You are Darn Tooting that we are back!!!! Go Irish!!!!!!!!

  5. BK is 2-9 in road games against top 20 teams. Stanford always plays ND tough. I hope I’m wrongs, but I don’t like the looks of this one.

    1. Hopefully, under Elko, there will be an adjustment if there is something new they throw at us.
      As for the lousy road record in big games – that is just one more trend to reverse this season during the turnaround.

      BGC ’77 ’82

  6. We need to watch out for a “wrinkle”. The last time we were at The Farm the Cardinal threw to a wide open TE repeatedly during the first half, for big yardage and critical first downs. Incredibly, late in the second half on the last drive when the game was on the line, Stanford ran essentially same play to the again wide open TE…apparently there had been no meaningful adjustment at all at halftime! That play, and an accurate field goal kick, lost us the game. Watch out for a wrinkle this year too, maybe Love in some pass patterns in space, or something. Then adjust! Take it away after they show it a couple of times!

    Also, Coach Long needs to have a couple counters ready for a spy on Wimbush. I don’t know much about that type of football strategy, but there must be some way to burn a spy, if they are consistently using one.

    Two years ago we lost a key secondary player, our best man, just before the Stanford game. With all the other key injuries earlier in the year, that loss was a bridge too far. This year we have been blessed with an injury list that has been few and mostly minor. It’s time to finish strong as a team.

    BGC ’77 ’82

  7. The ND DL must win the one on one battles and not let Love break too many tackles and the OL must sustain their blocks, especially when Wimbush goes back to pass ( maybe a few more roll outs, or passes to the TEs or RBs this week?). When in doubt, run Brandon run.
    Pressuring The Cardinal QB would also help. Playing prevent D will again prevent ND from beating them as it did the last time ND played in Palo Alto ( remember Kevin Hogan’s last second drive for the winning FG?). Line play will determine if ND will win their 10th game Saturday.
    It’ll come down to which lines win the LOS most often, as it usually does.

      1. Adams is a really god back but not in GREAT category. His long runs are mostly the result of and o-line and he runs through a huge whole and does not get touched until the secondary. He is not shifty and really doesn’t fake out tacklers. He is very strong runner and hard to bring down after he gains speed. I would think he would get a lot of playing time at any school. But like ND he is over hyped. If he can pro he should because ND loses 4 excellent lineman and those huge holes will not be there next year. Next year ND will be 6 and 6 or 7 and 5

    1. Yeah, he has as much chance of going as ND has of getting into the playoffs. There was a lot of potential, and he is a great RB, but there’s not enough on his resume for a Heisman invite compared to others in contention.

      One positive is the Heisman ceremony can be a distraction. At least this way he can focus and train for the bowl game and hopefully he will come up big.

  8. I’ve been away from the great OC for a while, I do remember those names Costello and Okereke as being above average. Shaw seems to bring out the very best in players. I would be ashamed to see them beat the Irish.

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