Closing out the regular season portion of the 2019 Notre Dame football schedule, the Irish head to Palo Alto to battle the Stanford Cardinal in another rivalry battle. David Shaw’s team is coming off a 2018 effort in which any rollercoaster analogy would be sufficient. That’s because they started and ended their season with four-game winning streaks and dropped four of five contests in the middle.
A breakdown in the Cardinal’s usually-reliable rushing attack was a key reason for their midseason dip, which began with a 21-point loss against the Irish. That was byproduct of the shaky play on the offensive line, while the added emphasis on throwing the ball wasn’t enough to compensate for a defense that allowed over 400 yards in a game seven times and over 500 on three occasions. Improvements all around are a necessity to improve on a 9-4 year in the PAC-12.
Stanford Offense: Staying in the Air
With a massive hole left by the departure of Heisman finalist Bryce Love, the role of Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello becomes integral in the fate of the Cardinal offense in 2019. Last year, he was forced by necessity to become the central component to this unit and finished throwing for 3,540 yards and 29 touchdowns, while limiting himself to just 11 interceptions on the year. Costello doesn’t need to become the next Elway, but unless he manages to deliver another year like last season, it might be a long campaign.
That’s because without Love, Stanford’s running fortunes are hanging on Cameron Scarlett, who has yet to break 400 yards in any of his three seasons. Of course, lack of opportunity served as the chief reason, but his up-the-middle style resulted in eight touchdowns in each of the last two campaigns. He won’t deliver Love-like numbers, but if he can alleviate the pressure on Costello, the Cardinal should be in good shape.
The trio of main receivers returning for Stanford collectively only caught 31 passes, though Osiris St. Brown could be a star if he manages to become a regular target of Costello. He caught just eight passes, but three of those went for over 40 yards. He’ll have the possession tandem of Michael Wilson and Connor Wedington to complement him, with tight end Colby Parkinson coming off a year in which he hauled in 29 receptions and scored seven times.
Stanford Defense: Concerns in the Middle
Having to break in plenty of young talent last year, the Stanford coaching staff is hoping that the lessons learned from the school’s drop in production in 2018 have taken hold. On the line, Michael Williams is back inside for his junior year and looks to build on his leading tackler status for this unit. On the outside, he’ll have the tandem of Thomas Booker and Jovan Swann, who know how to get past the line of scrimmage to make stops.
At linebacker, the major holes on the inside need to be filled, though the outside group welcomes back a trio of defenders. Casey Toohill is hoping to stay healthy after his busy year was essentially cut in half by a pair of injuries. Gabe Reid and Jordan Fox will join him when it comes to outside containment.
In the secondary, Paulson Adebo was one of the most effective cornerbacks in the country, with 23 pass breakups to his credit. He’ll be joined by sophomore Kendall Williamson on the other side, but the major cause for concern is the limited amount of experience at safety. Malik Antoine and a number of question marks make up this contingent.
Stanford Special Teams: Consistency and Guesses
Jet Toner will be back as the Cardinal kicker, having served as a model of consistency during the course of his two years. During that time, he’s been spotless on extra points and connected for 35 field goals. The problem in the kicking area is that his punting counterpart from 2018, Jake Bailey, has to be replaced. When it comes to the return units, kickoffs could again be handled by Scarlett, though he may be busy toting the ball. However, the punt return job is definitely a cause for concern as training camp gets ready to gear up.
The Last Time That Notre Dame Played Stanford
A pair of fourth quarter touchdowns from Ian Book helped break open this crucial game on the 2018 Notre Dame football schedule and allowed the Irish to emerge with a 38-14 win. The contest marked the return of running back Dexter Williams, who immediately made his presence felt on his first carry with a 45-yard scoring run. He finished with 161 yards on the night, while the tandem of Book and wideout Miles Boykin connected on 11 catches for 144 yards and one score.