In what’s essentially been an annual clash on the Notre Dame football schedule over the past 30 years, the Stanford Cardinal come to South Bend on September 29. They’re seeking to continue their run of success against the Irish that’s resulted in seven wins over the last nine meetings.
Cardinal head coach David Shaw and his team reached the Pac-12 title game last year, but dropped that game against Southern Cal. They then blew an 18-point lead in the Alamo Bowl to finish with a 9-5 record on the year. Still, they return a veteran squad and will likely be a strong Top 25 team.
Stanford Offense: Love That Bryce
The insertion of K.J. Costello at quarterback paid off down the stretch of the regular season, even if the 6-foot-5 signal caller didn’t exhibit a strong arm. However, it was enough to convince his predecessor, Kellen Chryst, to transfer after the season ended. Shaw and his staff will be content with Costello delivering in a game manager capacity.
The reason that Stanford can afford that luxury is because Heisman runnerup Bryce Love will be playing his fourth and final season in Palo Alto. Love exploded for 2,118 yards on the ground and scored 19 touchdowns last year, but still passed up the NFL. A similar season will likely result in capturing the elusive Heisman.
The Cardinal receiving corps isn’t blessed with an abundance of speed, but it does have some talented players that can work in concert with Costello. Chief among them is JJ Arcega-Whiteside, while Trenton Irwin looks to close out his career strong and redshirt freshman Osiris St. Brown looks to bounce back from injury. Tight ends Kaden Smith and Colby Parkinson need to be watched by opposing defenses.
Stanford traditionally has a strong offensive line, with this year no different. Led by guard Nate Herbig, the unit was boosted last year by the arrival of freshman tackle Walker Little, who ended up on postseason award lists. One person to watch in this area, tackle Foster Sarell, was redshirted last year because of the available talent, was the top-ranked recruit at his position two years ago.
Stanford Defense; Holes to Fill
The Cardinal front line took a hit with the departure of two key linemen. That means pressure is being placed on Jovan Swann to deliver at one of the end slots after being elevated into a starting role. If he can get help from raw talents like Ryan Johnson and Thomas Schaffer, the level of concern will be alleviated.
The inside linebackers are the standouts on this unit, led by Bobby Okereke and Sean Barton. Okereke managed to deliver last year after Barton went down for the year in the season’s third game. The outside might cause Shaw and his staff some queasiness, but Casey Toohill displayed some strong potential after collecting three sacks last year.
Success in the secondary could be predicated on whether or not cornerback Alijah Holder is able to suit up. He’s got an ample supply of talent, but has missed 13 games in the last two years. He’s an aggressive presence, but fellow corners Alameen Murphy and Malik Antoine will also likely see plenty of action during the course of the year,
Stanford Special Teams: The Boys are Back in Town
Both kicker Jet Toner and punter Jake Bailey have returned, with Toner drilling 21 field goals over the course of the year and Bailey averaging over 45 yards per punt. Meanwhile, Cameron Scarlett will again be the main cog for kick returns, while the duo of Jay Tyler and Irwin handle punt runbacks.
The Last Time Notre Dame Played Stanford
Hoping to close out the last date on the Notre Dame football schedule on a high note, the Irish instead went flat in the fourth quarter by allowing 21 unanswered points. The two Irish touchdowns came in big-play fashion, with Kevin Stepherson’s 83-yard first-quarter grab bookended by Equanimeous St. Brown’s 75-yard dash to start the second half. That gave Notre Dame the lead back, which then later regained later in the quarter on a Justin Yoon field goal. Then the roof caved in.