Notre Dame and Stanford are still alive for a spot in college football’s four-team playoff, but Saturday night’s matchup on The Farm is essentially an elimination game with two weeks left in the regular season.
The Fighting Irish fell from No. 4 to No. 6 in the latest release of the committee rankings after struggling against Boston College last Saturday. Coach Brian Kelly’s team has to win (and probably win impressively) to move up next week, but Notre Dame might need an upset loss by Michigan State or Iowa, Oklahoma, Clemson or Alabama just to get into the top four. Stanford’s playoff hopes require a lot of chaos and lengthy explanation. However, none of that matters if the Cardinal lose on Saturday night.
Notre Dame owns a 19-10 series edge over Stanford. The home team has won the last four games in this series and the last three matchups were decided by a touchdown or less.
Notre Dame at Stanford
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 28 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Stanford -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Stopping Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey
Stanford’s offensive line is one of the best in the nation and will challenge a Notre Dame defense allowing 168 rushing yards per game this year. McCaffrey is one of the leading candidates to win the Heisman, and the sophomore ranks first nationally with an average of 255.2 all-purpose yards per game. No defense has managed to hold McCaffrey under 100 yards over the last nine contests, and the sophomore is coming off a 192-yard effort against California. Stopping Stanford’s offense starts with winning the battle up front and limiting the big plays by McCaffrey. The Fighting Irish aren’t hurting for talent in the trenches, but this unit has struggled to stop the run at times. Boston College recorded 214 yards on the ground last week, while Pittsburgh posted 175 and 150 for USC. Notre Dame’s rush defense totals are skewed due to playing two option teams – Georgia Tech and Navy – but opportunities will be there for McCaffrey. Can defensive lineman Sheldon Day and linebacker Jaylon Smith find a way to slow down the Stanford ground attack? Getting Stanford into obvious, third-and-long passing situations is critical for the Fighting Irish.
2. Notre Dame’s Rushing Attack
Despite losing starter Tarean Folston to a season-ending knee injury in the opener against Texas, Notre Dame’s ground attack ranks 29th nationally at 207.5 yards per game. C.J. Prosise is a big reason why this offense hasn’t missed a beat, recording 1,029 yards and 11 scores so far this year. However, Prosise’s status is in question due to a high ankle sprain suffered against Boston College. Assuming Prosise can’t go, freshman Josh Adams will get the start – and the bulk of the carries – on Saturday. Adams has rushed for 592 yards and four touchdowns on 84 attempts this season. Stanford’s defense isn’t as dominant up front as it was last season, but this unit is still holding opponents to 4.1 yards per carry. Will Adams pickup where Prosise left off and help reduce the pressure on quarterback DeShone Kizer? Or will Notre Dame’s offense struggle to replace its leading rusher?
3. The Quarterbacks
Stanford’s Kevin Hogan and Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer aren’t that far apart in terms of skill sets or statistics this season, but there’s one area where Hogan has a significant advantage – experience. The senior enters Saturday night’s game at 33-10 as Stanford’s starter, while Kizer is 8-1 after taking over following Malik Zaire’s season-ending injury against Virginia. Hogan feeds off McCaffrey’s play on the ground, opening up plays downfield on play-action attempts. Kizer may have to carry more of the offensive workload for Notre Dame with Prosise unlikely to play due to an ankle injury. Considering both quarterbacks do a good job of limiting mistakes, one or two bad throws could be costly. Kizer should be able to make plays downfield to receiver Will Fuller against Stanford’s young cornerbacks, but Hogan will also test a Notre Dame secondary missing starter KeiVarae Russell due to injury.
As mentioned in the opening, this is an elimination game for the College Football Playoff. The loser is out, and the winner keep its slim playoff hopes alive for another week. Notre Dame has managed to overcome injuries all year. However, the task got a little tougher this week, as cornerback KeiVarae Russell was likely lost for the remainder of the year, and running back C.J. Prosise is not expected to play on Saturday night. This matchup should be a good battle in the trenches, and Notre Dame’s hopes of winning on the road are likely going to rest on stopping McCaffrey. In his last home game, Hogan delivers in the fourth quarter to edge the Fighting Irish in one of the weekend’s must-see games.