This week X’s and O’s highlights the matchup of #7 Notre Dame against #17 Stanford.
Is Notre Dame really back? This is the question on every college football fan’s mind, even those who are die hard Irish fans. The Irish have thus far defeated Michigan, Michigan State, and Miami to get off to their first 5-0 start since the 2002 campaign. But, the question still remains…are the Irish for real? Stanford will most certainly be the most physical team the Irish have faced thus far this season. The Cardinal also has a victory against what was considered to be a national title contending team the USC Trojans. It will be interesting to see if Notre Dame can keep the momentum rolling against Stanford. The Cardinal are a good team, but they’re not an elite team. In our eyes Notre Dame is also a good team, but despite their ranking, questions still remain as to whether Notre Dame is a legitimate contender to make some noise in the BCS this season. After defeating USC, Stanford was handed a disappointing loss to Washington, and after blasting the Irish in their last three match-ups certainly will not be intimidated. The Irish will look to ride their wave of momentum and if they hope to make their way to a BCS game, a victory over Stanford is pivotal. Let’s take a look at the X’s and O’s.
Notre Dame Offense vs. Stanford Defense
Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly has for years been known for his spread offense. But, Notre Dame has been looking for more consistency in the run game to complement their explosive passing game. In situations where the Irish needed to burn some clock with the lead we saw that Notre Dame has been able to get some traction on the ground. Against MSU in the second half the Irish were able to play keep away from the Spartans and walk away with a victory. The overall rushing totals for Notre Dame aren’t great, and in fact suggest the Irish ability to run the ball consistently throughout the game is limited. But, despite the rushing totals the Irish have been able to move the ball effectively on the ground when they needed too, and you can’t knock that. The Irish have significant experience at the RB position with Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood, and George Atkinson III. The Irish will rely on all three backs to move the ball when it counts, and with a veteran backfield are looking for some more consistency in the run game. They will need it down the road as they can’t afford to be one dimensional if they hope to make it to a BCS game. When it comes to making their living the Irish do rely heavily on their pass game. The Irish will utilize 113 (1 RB’s, 1 TE, 3WR), 122 (1 RB’s, 2 TE, 2 WR), and 104 (1 RB, 4 WR) sets to spread the defense and look for formation, and match-up advantages. Everett Gholston and Tommy Reese have both been effective at quarterback this season, and Coach Brian Kelly hasn’t been scared to use both quarterbacks so far this season. The Irish also have a match-up nightmare for any defense with tight-end Tyler Eifert. Eifert has excellent hands, and is also a deep threat in the passing game. Eifert has got off to somewhat of a slow start this year, but hauled in 63 receptions last year, and can cause match-up problems for any defense. I’m still waiting for a break out game from Eifert, and I think that if the Irish can get more consistency out of the run game it will stop defenses from keying Eifert and open him up for some big plays. It will also lend support to first year starter Gholston who is a threat to move the ball with his arms or legs. The key here is for Notre Dame not to commit any turnovers. Stanford’s run heavy offense is unforgiving. They will wear down opponent’s defenses down, and take advantage of any turnovers. Everett Gholston really needed to do a good job managing the game, and make smart decisions with the football. If he doesn’t I wouldn’t be surprised to see the more experienced Tommy Rees take the helm. Either way I expect both Irish quarterbacks to get some action in this game. On the other side of the ball the Stanford defense has played very well this season with the exception of their last outing against Arizona. Stanford runs a pro-style 3-4 defense which is effective for blitzing and camouflaging coverage’s in the pass game. Despite playing well in their other 4 games this season Stanford gave up 491 yards in the pass game last week against Arizona. This should definitely be a concern against Notre Dame who probably has more talent on the offensive side of the ball than Arizona. Stanford will need to get some early stops against ND for two reasons: Notre Dame has a much better defense than Arizona, and Stanford’s offense is not built to score 50 points a game. I expect the Stanford D to play bend but don’t break philosophy against ND. No big plays, keep the ball in front of you, and tackle well in space is what the Stanford coaching staff will be preaching this week. Stanford didn’t perform well against the only spread offense they played this year, and will face an even better spread offense this week. The poor performance could be in part attributed to the fact that Stanford lost shut down cornerback Terrence Brown early in last week’s nail-bitter against Arizona. The Cardinal also had some other injuries in the defensive backfield that hampered their defensive effort. To win, the Cardinal will need a healthy defensive backfield with Brown and Usua Amanam who was also shaken up in last week’s game. They will also need to pressure the young Irish quarterback Golson with their defensive line. David Shaw claims his defense is “the backbone of our team.” And the Cardinal will need it if they hope to come away with a victory against Notre Dame.
Advantage: Notre Dame
Stanford Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense
Stanford epitomizes the old “three yards and a cloud of dust” type of offense. Stanford will absolutely pound the ball until their opponent can stop them, and use an effective play action pass game to complement their run heavy scheme. Stanford will primarily utilize 221 (2 RB, 2 TE, 1 WR), 122 (1 RB, 2 TE, 2WR), and 212 (2RB, 1TE, 2WR) sets. Josh Nunes has been effective replacing Heisman contending quarterback and first round draft pick Andrew Luck. However, Nunes has been less effective in obvious passing situations. Nunes can hurl the rock no doubt, passing for 360 yards last week. But, he is much more effective when he is supported by a strong running game, as is the Cardinal offense in general. Stanford will need to make its money on the ground against a stingy Irish rush defense. The Irish have been excellent so far this year against the run bottling up star runners such as Michigan’s Denard Robinson, and Michigan State’s Leveon Bell. The Irish also utilize a 3-4 which with the right personnel is built to be effective against both the run and the pass. The Irish do have the right personnel this year led by future first round draft pick Manti Te’O. Te’O is all over the field on defense, and is the complete package when you are talking about a linebacker. Te’O is the heart and soul of the Irish defense, and is also supported by a strong defensive line. The only question on the Irish defense is their inexperience in the defensive backfield. The Irish have had some injuries at defensive back this year, and start a true freshman, and a converted running back at the cornerback positions. The Irish have been opportunistic this season forcing 6 turnovers in a victory against a good Michigan team. And they will need to continue this trend with such an inexperienced defensive backfield. I think this game will come down to turnovers. I believe the Irish will be able to at least slow down the Stanford rush game, but with the way Stanford plays football on offense and defense the Irish will need to get a turnover or two to seal a victory. Conversely, if Stanford can limit turnovers on the offensive side of the ball, and continue to use the run to open up the passing game I expect them to hold the advantage on the offensive side of the ball. As with any team that is a run heavy team limiting turnovers and controlling the clock is the key. QB Josh Nunes needs to be an effective game manager, and not try to do too much against an opportunistic Irish defense. The Stanford OL must also be able to get to the second level of the Irish defense and lay some blocks on star LB Manti Te’O in order to be able to run the ball effectively. If the Cardinal can do this I can see Stanford wearing down the Irish D with the rush game, and taking advantage of a young Irish defensive backfield with QB Nunes off the play action run game. I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see Stanford expose ND Saturday as a good team rather than an elite team, and hand the Irish their first loss of the season.
Video of every snap of Notre Dame’s offense vs. Michigan defense…
X’s and O’s Pick: Stanford
Okay so here is the big question. Is Notre Dame an elite contender, or simply better than they have been the past few years? We at the Daily Handoff are going with the latter. But, that doesn’t mean Stanford will win this game. Stanford was absolutely gouged against the only spread offense they played this year, and will be facing a much more talented spread offense when they come up against the Irish. How do you beat a great spread offense? Keep them off the field. Run the ball, control the clock, pass the ball with accuracy, and limit turnovers and the Cardinal will stand a chance to win this game. However, if they put in a defensive effort like they did against Arizona last week the Irish will absolutely demolish Stanford. My football brain is telling me the Irish all day, but I don’t feel like the Irish are truly an elite team and I believe they are ripe for an upset come Saturday. I wouldn’t put any money on Stanford, but I’m still not inclined to call the Irish an elite team. If the Irish roll Stanford Saturday, then we will talk. I think this will be a close game, but I think the Cardinal will bounce back from a poor defensive effort last week and wear the Irish defense down to come away with a close victory. The Irish may very well prove me wrong, and I would not be surprised to see the Irish walk away from this game 6-0. But, until the Irish do that…I still am reluctant proclaim the Irish are “back”. I think the young defensive backfield, and quarterback get rattled under the pressure and Notre Dame losses a game they most certainly should win against Stanford.
Stepfan Taylor highlights vs. USC…