The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are back home after a trip to Las Vegas that became more nerve-wracking than it should have been in their 28-20 win over the BYU Cougars. Even though the Irish enter their matchup against the Stanford Cardinal with a three-game winning streak, developing a killer instinct remains something of a mystery for Marcus Freeman’s squad.
Stanford’s first trip to Notre Dame in four years finds them reeling from a late collapse of their own. A stunning 28-27 last-minute loss to Oregon State on Saturday saddled them with their fourth loss in a row and was especially frustrating after leading 24-10 and defending against a reserve quarterback. Even before that late slide, the Cardinal defense had the resemblance of a gaping sieve, which figures to aid the Irish.
Below are some of the matchups to watch for on Saturday night:
QB Drew Pyne vs. Stanford Defense
Pyne has won all three of his starts and remains consistent with his accuracy by completing over 70 percent of his throws in each win. His lone interception against BYU came on a tipped pass and was negated by a stop from the Notre Dame defense. He remains heavily reliant on tight end Michael Mayer as a target but may have found a new weapon in wideout Jayden Thomas.
The Cardinal defense has plenty of holes that the Irish can exploit, with both their passing and rushing defense being torn apart at some point this season. In their four defeats, Stanford is giving up an average 485 yards of offense per game, a number that has to catch the eye of Irish offensive coordinator Tommy Rees as well as Pyne.
Notre Dame Defense vs. QB Tanner McKee
McKee stands 6-foot-6 and roughly 225 pounds, yet tends to play it safe when it comes to passing. For this season, he’s completed over 60 percent of his passes and has 10 touchdown passes. However, that’s countered by five interceptions, a number that’s due in part to the weak protection he’s been getting from his offensive line.
The Irish defense again was a mixed bag of positive and negative against BYU, holding the Cougars to 67 yards in the first half and collecting a safety. However, another blown coverage and key breakdowns remain major flaws that need fixing. Irish pass rushers could have a big night, with the Cardinal allowing 17 sacks so far this season.
TE Michael Mayer vs. LB Ricky Miezan
Mayer is coming off a monster night of 11 receptions and two touchdowns, entering the school record books as the all-time catches leader among tight ends. Given the stellar array of players who preceded him in that department, it’s quite an accomplishment. Pyne clearly feels that Mayer is his safety blanket and may again target him frequently against Stanford.
Miezan brings athletic ability-as a former lacrosse player–to the field and has the agility to move all around the field. He can also deliver hard hits but will likely face his stiffest challenge in an effort to at least neutralize Mayer. His collegiate career got off to a bumpy start after seeing the 2019 and 2020 seasons ended by injury. However, he’s stayed healthy since that time.
DE Isaiah Foskey vs. LT Walter Rouse
Foskey will see action on both sides of the defensive line during this game. The difference when he lines up on the right side is that he’ll have his toughest challenge against Rouse. Foskey’s numbers for the 2022 season aren’t quite at last year’s level, though he still leads the team in sacks with three on the year. That reduction can likely be attributed to greater awareness of his abilities by opponents.
Rouse is the best offensive lineman for Stanford, which has long had a pipeline of tackles head to the NFL. He can fall victim to penalties, though he’s a solid run blocker. One indication of just how valuable he is to the Cardinal is that when he was injured last month at Washington, the Huskies collected eight sacks on the evening.
WR Jayden Thomas vs. CB Ethan Bonner
After his impressive performance against BYU, Thomas may have found a chance to start making his mark among the receiving corps. He showed an ability to not only haul in clutch catches but also displayed an aggressive approach to getting the ball, scoring his first collegiate touchdown in the process. Other receivers are available, but Pyne may have a new receiving option.
Bonner may still be stunned after his weak coverage in the final minute of play led to Oregon State’s stunning touchdown to win the game. That vulnerability makes him an inviting target and one who may struggle to keep up with Thomas’ athleticism. For the year, he has 15 tackles, including 1.5 behind the line and does lead the Cardinal with three pass deflections.