As each week passes, the pressure only increases on college football’s top 10 teams. Notre Dame finds itself in that position each week, as this team has a legitimate chance to play for the national title. The Irish rank seventh in the Associated Press and USA Today polls and have opportunities to pickup quality wins with games against USC and Oklahoma later this season. Outside of those two games, Notre Dame figures to be heavily favored in its other matchups, which makes Saturday’s game against Stanford even more important. If the Irish take care of business against BYU, Wake Forest, Pittsburgh and Boston College as expected, this team is only one win short of getting to 10 victories and likely securing a spot in a BCS bowl.
The last three matchups in the Notre Dame-Stanford series have gone in favor of the Cardinal. However, Stanford is still going through growing pains at quarterback without Andrew Luck and lost its only road matchup of the season (Washington 17-13 in Week 5). The Cardinal rebounded after a disappointing showing against the Huskies, edging Arizona 54-48 in overtime. Although Luck and a couple of other key pieces from last season's team are gone, Stanford is still one of the Pac-12's most-talented teams.
Storylines to Watch in Notre Dame vs. Stanford
Can Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes build off his Week 6 performance?
After struggling in a 17-13 loss to Washington, Nunes was crucial to Stanford’s victory over Arizona. The junior completed 21 of 34 throws for 365 yards and two touchdowns. Nunes has been steady in his first year as the starter but struggled in his only road appearance and playing in South Bend is no easy task. While Stanford’s passing game took off against the Wildcats, Notre Dame’s defense is one of the best in the nation and there won’t be as many open targets for Nunes. The key to getting Stanford’s passing game on track is not only efficient play by the quarterback, but the offensive line also needs to step up its protection. The Irish are averaging 2.8 sacks a game and will try to make Nunes as uncomfortable as possible in the pocket.
Will Stanford establish its rushing attack against Notre Dame?
There’s no secret what Stanford wants to do on offense. Even though quarterback Josh Nunes showed progress in the win over Arizona, the Cardinal want to lean on their ground attack to win games. Running back Stepfan Taylor has rushed for 100 yards in back-to-back contests against the Irish and is averaging 111 yards per game this season. Running against Notre Dame’s defense has been nearly impossible this season, as the Irish rank 17th nationally in rushing yards allowed per game (106.8). Expect Notre Dame to stack the box and force the Cardinal to throw to win. Even though running room will be limited, Stanford still needs to get Taylor – one of the offense’s top playmakers – 25-30 carries.
A breakout game for Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson?
Golson did not start against Miami due to a violation of team rules but finished with 186 yards on 17 completions. Through the first five games of the year, the redshirt freshman is completing 60.4 percent of his throws, while tossing three touchdowns and three picks. Golson has topped 200 passing yards only once this year but that could change against Stanford. The Cardinal ranks 113th in pass defense, allowing 302.4 passing yards per game. The pass defense numbers are slightly skewed for Stanford, especially after Arizona torched the secondary for 506 yards last week. Even though the averages might be slightly off, as the Wildcats showed, the opportunities will be there for Golson to make plays. Considering Stanford ranks sixth nationally against the run, the Irish will need the passing attack to lead the way on offense.
Tyler Eifert vs. Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz
This matchup features three of college football’s top tight ends and each figure to play a key role in deciding the outcome of this game. Eifert has been the subject of a lot of defensive attention so far this year, recording only 11 receptions for 189 yards and one touchdown. Toilolo and Ertz have combined for 34 receptions through five games and will be counted upon even more this Saturday, as Stanford likely won’t have receiver Ty Montgomery due to a knee injury. It’s rare to see three of the NFL Draft’s top tight end prospects in one game and their performance will be crucial to the success of the passing attacks on Saturday afternoon.
There’s still a lot of football to be played, but Notre Dame has to win out to have any shot at reaching the national championship. Stanford is out of the BCS title mix but has an opportunity for a huge win in South Bend, which would help build confidence for a team that is breaking in a new quarterback and replacing a couple of key offensive linemen.
Stanford’s defense was torched in a loss to Arizona, but Notre Dame is a much better matchup. Expect the Cardinal to pressure Golson and try to force him into mistakes, which should allow the Irish to hit a few big plays in the passing game.
When Stanford has the ball, Notre Dame will load the box and force quarterback Josh Nunes to prove he is ready to win on the road with his arm. If the Irish can shut down Cardinal running back Stepfan Taylor, they should be able to contain a passing attack that lacks playmakers at receiver.
Both defenses will make it difficult for the offenses in the first half, but Notre Dame should take control of this game in the second half. Golson should find his rhythm against Stanford’s secondary, while the rushing attack will make a few plays in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.
Final Prediction: Notre Dame 30, Stanford 20
by Steven Lassan
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