It’s Cardinal Week!

Five years ago the Fighting Irish mounted a thrilling goal line stand in Overtime against the No. 17 ranked Stanford Cardinal to win the game 20-13, and keep their undefeated season alive. It was a thrilling game, to say the least, and after watching highlights from that game throughout the week, it’s hard, as a fan, not to feel some sense of frustration at the state of Notre Dame Football this season, especially on defense; though the Irish offense looked worse last week than anything we saw in 2012. So now the Irish have lost four out of six games, fired their Defensive Coordinator, and after a seemingly poorly conceived, and horribly executed, offensive game plan against North Carolina St., Brian Kelly, Notre Dame’s Head Coach, seems to have found himself seated on a very hot seat of his own all of a sudden. It’s enough to make an Irish fan drink, more. So, with the Stanford Cardinal coming to town, it’s time to stock up on the Jameson, or whatever your booze of choice is, and settle in for another uncomfortable and frustrating, though hopefully not futile, episode of Notre Dame Football.

The Match-Up

After their loss to North Carolina St., the Irish have fallen to 2-4 on the season, and will need a miracle finish down the stretch to even be bowl eligible. For the Stanford Cardinal, the game against Notre Dame provides an opportunity to stop a two game losing streak, after having won the first three games of their season. And, the Cardinal didn’t just lose their last two games, they were blown out in both of them, to Washington, and Washington State, respectively.

The History

Notre Dame and Stanford will face each other for the thirty-first time in a series dating back to 1925. The Irish have the overall lead in the series, 19-11, but they’ve been trading home field wins with the Cardinal since 2011, giving the Cardinal three wins out of the last five.

 

Players To Watch

Fighting Irish

DeShone Kizer

After going 9-26 for just 54 yards, and 1 INT, against North Carolina St., Kizer’s looking for a bounce back game against a Stanford defense ranked 95th in passing yards allowed, giving up an average of 258.8 passing yards per game; to put that in perspective, the Irish are ranked 76th in passing yards allowed. The weather shouldn’t be a factor here, so we should be able to expect a much more productive game from Kizer after having his streak of three games with 300+ passing yards broken against the Wolfpack.

Equanimeous St. Brown

After two straight 100+ yard receiving games, including a 182 yard and 2 TD game against Syracuse, St. Brown was held to just 30 yards on 3 receptions against the Wolfpack. That was an aberration caused by the poor weather conditions, more than anything else, though, and I think we can expect St. Brown to reach the 100 yard receiving mark, and reach the end zone a couple of times, against a shaky Stanford pass defense.

Nyles Morgan

Despite a season tying low 4 tackles against North Carolina St., Morgan still leads the team in tackles, with 51, as well as in sacks, with 2. Morgan’s been one of the few constants on the Irish defense, and with the Irish set to face Stanford’s run first offense led by Christian McCaffrey, he’ll need to deliver another strong performance to keep the Cardinal run game in check.

 

Players To Watch

Cardinal

Christian McCaffrey

After suffering an undisclosed injury in the 2nd Quarter of their loss to Washington St., McCaffrey didn’t return to the field, though he did return the sideline, and is questionable to play against Notre Dame. If he is able to go this Saturday, he’ll be the focal point of the Stanford offense. He’s fallen off pace to match his 2015 totals when he rushed for over 2,000 yards, but through five games he does have 520 yards rushing and 3 TDs on 99 carriers.

Solomon Thomas

He’s just fifth on the team in tackles, with 18 (just 6 fewer than the leading tackler, but he leads the team in TFL with 4.5, and has 2.5 sacks, as well. More importantly, it’s what he does that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, that makes him a player to watch, and that’s his ability to eat up blocks, often double teams, to get to the ball carrier. He’s a big reason the Cardinal are ranked 26th in run defense, and a big reason the Irish may have trouble running the ball inside this weekend.

 

Fighting Irish Keys To Victory

Shake Off The Losses

As fans, it’s hard not to dwell on the losses, and what could have been, but as a team, the Irish will need to put their blinders on and focus on the team directly in front of them. Clinging to the hope of a miracle, the Irish still have an outside chance of being bowl eligible, albeit barely. That possibility too will die if the Irish aren’t able to execute on the field and pull off four more victories, and a win against Stanford would certainly help their cause.

Contain McCaffrey

McCaffrey may be banged up, but if he’s good to go this Saturday, he’ll be the most explosive player the Irish have faced this season. In 2015, the Irish were able to contain him, holding him to just 94 yard rushing on 27 carries. That was a much different Irish defense, though, than the one taking the filed this Saturday. McCaffrey has three 100+ yard games this season, including a 172 yard game against USC, but he’s also been held to just 84 yards, and no touchdowns, in Stanford’s last two games, both blowout losses.

 

Final Analysis

I’ve been going back and forth on this one all week. As embarrassing a loss as last week was, it was an aberration, one caused by a bad game plan in Hurricane driven weather conditions. In other words, the Irish are bad, but they’re not that bad. On the other side of the coin, Stanford is coming off two humiliating losses of their own, and they don’t look to be team they were just last year, either. So, a lot will depend on whether or not McCaffrey even plays, and if he does play, just how banged up he is. Because of that, and because Stanford has played poorly their last two games, this game is a toss-up to me. And, in the case of toss-up games, I always tend to give the benefit of the doubt to the Irish, and I see no reason to change that up here, and I think the Irish will win a close one decided on their last possession in the 4th Quarter.

Final Score: Notre Dame 38 – Stanford 35

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