Notre Dame will travel to Stanford for the regular season finale that will be the biggest game of the 2015 campaign. The Irish likely need a statement win as well as possibly some help to secure a playoff spot as many one loss teams battle for position. Notre Dame will need to turn around a bad streak of losses in crucial road games while missing several key players. The Irish will also need to contain one of the premier players in the country when the visit Palo Alto. The following are the key matchups the Irish must control to emerge victorious and have a chance at the college football playoff:
Jaylon Smith versus Christian McCaffery
In one of the best matchups of the season elite linebacker Jaylon Smith will try to contain one of the most dangerous players in the country in Christian McCaffery. McCaffery leads the Cardinal in rushing yards and receptions and has a total of 10 offensive touchdowns. McCaffery averages just over 29 touches a game as he is the focal point of Stanford’s offense. Smith must shut down McCaffery on the ground and make Stanford a passing offense otherwise the Irish offense won’t touch the ball often due to long Cardinal drives. McCaffery is also a threat in the return game and if he makes an impact there that could be the end of the Irish.
Cole Luke versus Michael Rector
Without KeiVarae Russell the job Cole Luke does on Saturday will be further magnified as he matches up with Michael Rector. Luke has played very well this season, emerging as an elite cover-corner. In Rector the Irish junior will face a receiver with very good speed, particularly on vertical routes. Stanford will try to get him open using play-action so Luke’s eye discipline will need to be up to par. If Luke can limit chunk plays he can effectively eliminate Rector as a weapon.
Josh Adams versus Blake Martinez
With C.J. Prosise doubtful to play it will be up to Josh Adams to carry the load versus Blake Martinez and the Cardinal. Adams has proved to be a very capable number one option in the run game but Martinez is a different test. The Stanford senior leads the Cardinal in tackles with 109, second place is 45. Martinez is a typical physical Stanford linebacker who has an excellent motor. It will be up to the freshman Adams to match Martinez’s physicality and be able to carry the ball deep into the fourth quarter.
Will Fuller versus Ronnie Harris
Ronnie Harris missed last week and is questionable to return this week, but it’s likely the fifth-year senior will attempt to play in his last home game. Will Fuller has been torching defenses all year long and will look to attack the banged up Harris. Harris is a very talented defensive back with a team-high 10 pass breakups to go along with 32 tackles. If Fuller can stretch the field it will open up the run game which will be very important for the Irish this week.