Injecting some new blood behind center generated a strong boost for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in their 56-27 pasting of Wake Forest last Saturday. While that might have offered some momentum for this week’s home clash against the Stanford Cardinal, that was dulled somewhat later that evening when the Cardinal pulled off a huge road comeback to defeat Oregon in overtime, 38-31.
Regardless of how each game came out, this meeting renews a rivalry that’s seen Stanford come away with three straight victories. More importantly, the two squads are currently ranked in the Top 10, which means that the winner will take a giant step forward in making their case to be included come playoff time. The loser won’t necessarily be out of the running, but will have additional hurdles to overcome to get back to that status.
Some of the matchups in this game will be pivotal to the ultimate result. These include:
QB Ian Book vs. Stanford Defense
After the uneven performances of Brandon Wimbush, the Irish braintrust made the shift to Book and were rewarded for that move. Book finished by throwing for 325 yards and a pair of touchdown passes, managing to also score with his feet on three occasions. His main strength is his passing ability, an asset the coaching staff will stick with until any potential downturn takes place.
While Stanford managed to bounce back for the stirring win with that comeback against Oregon, their pass defense was pounded for 346 yards against that potent attack. Their main strategy in this game figures to be defending against Book’s focus on intermediate passes.
Notre Dame Defense vs. QB K.J. Costello
Two of Wake’s touchdowns last week came with the game having already been decided, so the 27 points allowed have to be viewed through that prism. Early on, the Irish managed to hold the Demon Deacons to just three points during two trips into the red zone. Against Stanford, keeping constant pressure on Costello needs to be part of the game plan because he’s not blessed with a great deal of mobility, having already been sacked five times this year after being brought down eight times all of last year.
However, Costello is an accurate passer who doesn’t make a lot of mistakes on his play calls, with his 53 pass attempts against the Trojans and Ducks resulting in zero interceptions. He also kept his composure to play a major role in the Oregon shocker, so it’s clear that he won’t be intimidated by playing on hallowed ground at South Bend
LB Te’von Coney/Drue Tranquill vs. RB Bryce Love
Previous matchups have only focused on Coney, who continues to build on his sold effort from last season. However, Tranquill has been just as effective and made multiple visits into the Wake Forest backfield last week. Getting to Love as quickly as possible is an absolute necessity, a task made harder by the usual collection of behemoths the Cardinal has providing the blocking.
Love very easily could have departed for the NFL after last season after having again been named as a Heisman finalist last year. His one big game this year was a 136-yard game against Southern Cal and coming off a 2,000-yard season, it’s obvious he has the capability to put up huge numbers it’s up to Coney, Tranquill and their fellow defenders to make sure that such an event happens after the calendar turns to October.
WR Miles Boykin vs. CB Paulson Adebo
Boykin hasn’t seen much action in the past two games after his six-catch effort against Ball State. Part of that can be attributed to Wimbush’s passing struggles, while last week’s one grab could be seen as Book’s way of spreading the wealth among his receivers. The 6-foot-4 Boykin has too much talent for the new Irish quarterback to overlook for much longer, which could put him in the spotlight this week when it comes to the pass-oriented Book.
Despite his redshirt freshman status, Adebo has been a continuing bright spot in the Stanford secondary. That became evident during overtime in Oregon, when multiple attempts against him only resulted in those those tosses getting slapped away. He finished with four pass deflections on the night and has yet to show any fear in being targeted on a regular basis.
CB Julian Love vs. WR JJ Arcega-Whiteside
Love has remained a consistent presence in the secondary and is poised to become the Notre Dame career leader in pass breakups. His ability to shadow opposing receivers is obviously helped by a more aggressive pass rush, but his overall athletic ability will be necessary against the Cardinal.
That’s because Arcega-Whiteside provides a large target (6-foot-3) for Costello and knows how to get into the end zone. In the latter case, he’s already reached the end zone seven times this year. His 17 grabs in 2018 have been for an average of 24 yards, so he’s a deep threat who can do some damage unless Love and the entire Irish defense is ready for battle.