Matchups: Notre Dame Streaking Toward Regular Season Finale at Stanford

Irish Looking for Seventh Straight Victory while Defense Keeps Foes Out of End Zone

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish seek to close out the 2021 regular season with their seventh straight win as they hit the road to face the struggling Stanford Cardinal. The Irish were able to improve their playoff consideration, thanks to blowout losses for Michigan State and Oregon. However, they still need other schools to lose in order to obtain one of the playoff berths.

In contrast to Notre Dame’s lofty aspirations, Stanford is simply looking to end their injury-plagued season. They enter with a 3-8 record and are coming off a 41-11 blowout loss to archrival California. Cardinal head coach David Shaw is in his 11th season at the school and is saddled with his second losing campaign over the past three seasons.

Below are some of the key matchups in Saturday’s clash:

QB Jack Coan vs. Stanford Defense

Coan had some protection problems during his first series against Georgia Tech before then thriving. He completed 15 of 20 passes for 285 yards, his second-largest yardage output of the season and threw for a pair of scores. He’s hoping to find as many open receivers as he did against Tech, though the offensive gameplan may focus more on the running game.

Stanford’s defense this season has some gaping holes, especially when it comes to stopping the run. For the year, opponents are averaging 448 yards of total offense, including Cal’s absolute shredding of this unit by collecting 636 yards on the day. The lack of any real pass rush is one of the Cardinal’s top defensive issues, which may allow Coan plenty of freedom.

Notre Dame Defense vs. QB Tanner McKee

Notre Dame defenders are peaking at the right time and enter this game having not allowed a touchdown in the past 12 quarters. One big reason for that is the strong pass rush they deliver, which is something that will likely come in handy against Stanford. That’s because the weak Cardinal running game will probably force Stanford to go to their air as much as possible.

McKee returned against Cal after missing the previous two games due to injury. However, while he threw for 247 yards, he also was picked off twice. He has the size at six feet six and is in his first full season as a starter. He’s thrown two interceptions in each of his last two starts but generally plays it safe in compiling a completion percentage of 64.3 percent.

OT Josh Lugg/Joe Alt vs. OLB Gabe Reid

Lugg and Alt got off to a bumpy start against Georgia Tech, allowing a pair of sacks on Notre Dame’s opening drive. After that, they were able to give Coan enough protection to find his receivers. In this game, Lugg and Alt’s main task may end up being keeping Reid away from Irish runners to allow them to run wild.

Reid is a veteran who has 57 tackles on the year and the Cardinal’s top player when it comes to making stops behind the line. He’s collected 9.5 in that category this season and can also be seen moving back into pass coverage. He’s got one interception on the year and a trio of pass deflections. However, the woeful performance of the overall Cardinal defense makes his life difficult.

CB Cam Hart vs. WR Elijah Higgins

Hart has offered consistency in the secondary for most of this season and has been the beneficiary of Notre Dame’s solid pass rush. He hasn’t been challenged much by opposing receivers during the Irish streak of keeping players out of the end zone, though he has the size to be effective in this matchup.

Higgins offers a big target at 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds, with 42 catches on the year and four touchdown receptions. Like most of the Stanford receiving corps, he’s missed time due to injury this season. Still, he returned against Cal on Saturday to snag five passes in a losing effort. He may serve as a frequent passing option, given the weakness of the Cardinal running game.

WR Kevin Austin vs. CB Kyu Blu Kelly

Austin has 36 catches this season and had two in the Georgia Tech rout. Both receptions began scoring drives, including a 38-yarder on the game’s first play from scrimmage. He and tight end Michael Mayer combine to offer Coan a pair of inviting targets, though Austin may have a quiet day if the Irish running game is in gear.

Kelly does have one of the more unique names in college football, though his size and quickness offer legitimate talent to the beleaguered Stanford defense. Like many Cardinal players, he’s dealt with injuries this season. However, he does lead the team in pass deflections with 10 and interceptions with two, including a pick-six.

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  1. He is capable of getting rid of Quinn and Del. The problem is his ego wont let him bring in a great coordinator. It has to be his offense. Saban and Dabo for example let the o coordinator full autonomy. Why is Notredames defense mostly pretty good every year minus the Van Gorder years.Because Kelly let’s Freeman and Clark Lee full control in my opinion. When he brought in Chip Long Kelly was asked is this going to be Chip Longs offense. His response it will be 50% Chips offense and 50% my offense. He further stated it cant be all of Chips offense what happens if he leaves in a year or 2. Now we have to start all over again. That imo is wrong on so many levels.

    1. Kelly’s proverbail rolodex is now empty. The people he can get are ones who come strictly for their own career agenda. And that agenda is to (quickly!) parlay an ND experience into a better gig.

      Right below the HC job at ND there’s an insidious ‘coaching treadmill’ going on….that no one here ‘gets’. Too much fun opining on whether this year’s hire is a home-run or a bust.

  2. Probably true Dave . He probably isn’t the guy and I agree about what you say about the fans beliefs and expectations. I’ve never been able to understand how people are happy with 10 or 11 win seasons and losing the big games every year or going 12 and 0 and getting blown out against Alabama,Clemson,Ohio State. Kelly wont do what Ogeron did. He wont get rid of underachieving assistants,Quinn and Del Alexander. He wont go out and bring in a Joe Brady and pair him up with Tommy. Ogeron was not a good coach but he knew changes had to be made and made them . The results 15 and 0 national champions.

    1. In truth, Kelly can ill afford to get rid of those he might prefer to replace.
      He’s got his hands full just filling the holes as the good ones up and leave for better gigs. And that isn’t slowing down.
      Assistants that stay, including those lesser performers, maintain stability and keep Kelly’s offseason to-do list manageable.

  3. David, sorry man, I just cannot get to agreeing with you. Even Bobbie Bowden waited 17 years at FSU to get his first title there. Albeit the Irish should have won it that year. You are correct in saying Kelly brought stability to the program.

    1. 1) Look who Bowden had to play every year.
      2) He did win a title….for crissakes, get over it.
      3) Whataboutism is the refuge of the desperate.

  4. Coach Kelly:
    Please stay out in Cali and interview for the USC job. Just tell everyone you’re staying to recruit.
    Please get an offer. And please take it. The weather is nice there.

    I’d like for ND to get Luke Fickell.

      1. Addicted to internet trolling, seeking constant attention with insults, making sarcastic blessings in the Lord’s name.
        So much to be sorry for.

    1. David I see your point. However watching sports for 65 years has taught me that there are no 100% guarantees that Fickell who I believe is an excellent coach would definitely want to come to Notredame and that he would do as good or better than Kelly. I think right now and the next 3 years comes down to 1 very important thing and that is can and will Notredame recruit and develop a Heisman trophy level quarterback or not. If they can I believe Kelly and his staff are recruiting and coaching at enough of an elite level to win a national championship. Do they have equal talent man to man position by position with Alabama Ohio State, Georgia,Clemson. No but they are close enough that a quarterback can get them over the hump. We just have to hope its Bu her, Angeli, Dante Moore someone else?

      1. Kelly bult the program back to stability. That was achieved several years ago.
        He is not the person to get ND to a championship.

        Still in his coaching prime, 2012 was as close as any team can get…and he chose to spend that moment getting ready to interview for another job.
        (Kelly’s departure from Cincinnati involved similarly shoddy, bush-league choices).

        Character is character. Kelly’s pre-game and halftime speeches are a tell…..he’s not being genuine. Just doing a job. Playing a role. Poorly.

        This recent push to rebrand Kelly as a ‘legend’ is laughable.
        After 12 seasons, Kelly has just 4 wins against Top 10 programs.
        Hell, an SEC championsip requires that in a season.

        Yes, winning it all is very hard.
        But why can’t ND go back to being one of those programs that believe they actually might, and do all the things they can to help make it happen ?
        A big part of the answert is that its fans no longer expect nor demand it.

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