It’s Cardinal Week!

It’s been one hell of a season for the Fighting Irish, and their fans, from the extreme highs of blowing out rivals USC and Michigan St., to the extreme low of a humiliating loss to Miami. The Irish are still holding on to slim hopes of making the College Football Playoffs, but a win against Stanford would most likely assure them of a top-tier New Year’s Six bowl game.

Luck has not been with the Irish in Palo Alto for some time now; since 2007, in fact, when the Irish last beat the Cardinal 21-14 at Stanford Stadium. This will be the fifth game the Irish have played at Stanford since they last won; I’ve been to each one of those previous four losses, and they’ve all been hard to take, in one way or another, though 2015’s defensive collapse to give the Cardinal the win, and cost the Irish a possible spot in the College Football Playoffs, still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Of course, I’ll be making the trip to The Farm once again this year, with the full expectation that the Irish will come away with the victory, this time! And I don’t think that’s just hopeful thinking, either. The Irish bounced back from their loss to Miami to win a hard-fought game against Navy, a game even Coach Kelly acknowledged they would have lost just last season. To say that the Fighting Irish have made a remarkable turn-around from last season would be an incredible understatement, and from the play of Wimbush, Adams, McGlinchey and company, Coney, and Love, they’ve been a hell of a lot of fun to watch this season, and I’m looking forward to seeing them play in person, and put an end to their losing streak at Stanford.

 

The Match-Up

Notre Dame is coming off a hard-fought 24-17 win over the Navy Midshipmen, and hold on to their No. 8 spot in the College Football Playoff rankings with a record of 9-2. The Cardinal enter the game with a record of 8-3, having held on to a 17-14 win against Cal last week; the Cardinal are far out of the playoff picture, but are ranked 21st in the College Football Playoff rankings, and will be playing for the Pac-12 Championship next weekend.

 

The History

Notre Dame still holds an 18-12 series lead over the Stanford, but the Cardinal have controlled the series as of late, having won six of the last eight meetings. Stanford won the last two meetings, with the Irish’s last win coming in 2014 at Notre Dame Stadium.

 

Players To Watch

Fighting Irish

Brandon Wimbush

His numbers still won’t jump off the stat page at you, but Wimbush rebounded from an abysmal game at Miami to put on a fairly strong performance against Navy. Even with his two top receivers going down to injury in the first half, Wimbush still threw for 164 yards and 2 TDs, finding a new favorite target in the speedy Kevin Stepherson. Wimbush added another 41 rushing yards, and pushed his record-setting QB school single season rushing TD mark to 14. Through 11 games, Wimbush now has 1,569 passing yards with 14 TDs to just 4 INTs, and has rushed for 821 yards and 14 TDs, as well.

Josh Adams

Adams also had a comeback of sorts, and after rushing for just 66 yards on 21 carries in the last two games, against Wake Forest and Miami, he reached the century mark for the seventh time this season with 106 rushing yards on 18 carries. Despite those two sub par games, not to mention sitting out quarters at a time in blowout wins, Adams is the 11th leading rusher in the country with 1337 rushing yards, and has 9 rushing TDs, as well.

Kevin Stepherson

If the Irish are without St. Brown who is in concussion protocol this week, look for Stepherson to have an expanded role in the Irish offense, just as he did last week against Navy when he came up big for the Irish. Stepherson’s career day came to the tune of 103 yards and 2 TDs on just 5 receptions. The Irish haven’t been that pass happy this year, so no Irish receiver has put up huge numbers, but Stepherson is now the third leading receiver for the Irish with 247 yards, and has a team leading 4 TD receptions.

Te’Von Coney

Coney’s been a standout for the Irish defense all year, and the linebacker always seems to be in the right place at the right time to come up with a big time play when the Irish need it the most. Despite starting in just 5 games this season,  Coney sees plenty of time on the field, and is the team’s leading tackler with 93 Total Tackles (47 solo, 46 assisted); the second leading tackler on the team (Morgan) has 76 Total Tackles. Coney’s also come up with 11 TFL, 4 QBHs, 3 Sacks, 1 FF, and 1 FR this season.

 

Players To Watch

Cardinal

Bryce Love (RB)

Love’s been suffering through an ankle injury the last few weeks, sitting out the entire fourth quarter of the Stanford win over Cal last week, so there’s some question as to whether, or how much, Love will play this weekend; my guess is that despite the injury, we’ll still see quite a bit of the Heisman hopeful on the field this Saturday. Even with the nagging ankle injury, love ran for 267 yards and 4 TDs over the last two games. With 1,723 rushing yards on the season, Love’s the second leading rusher in the country, and he has 14 rushing TDs on the season, as well.

Harrison Philips (DE)

The senior defensive end is a legitimate All-America candidate this year, and was a 2017 Bednarik Award semi-finalist. Philips has made plenty of big plays for the Cardinal this season, but none bigger than his fumble recovery against Oregon St. with just over two minutes left in the game that helped Stanford avoid the upset, and kept their Pac-12 Title hopes alive. He likes to play physical, and he’s the leading tackler for the Cardinal from his defensive end position with 80 Total Tackles (28 solo, 52 assisted), and likes to wreak havoc behind the line of scrimmage with 13.5 TFL, and 5 sacks; he also has 6 QBH, 2 FF, and 2 FR on the season.

 

Fighting Irish Keys To Victory

Get Adams Rolling

Earlier this season this looked like it would be a match-up between two Heisman hopefuls, but things took a bit of a detour for Adams with the Wake Forest game, where he left the game early due to headaches, and his performance against Miami effectively ended any Heisman hopes there may have still been for him. Still, he bounced back against Navy with another 100+ yard performance, including a 30 yard run that helped set up the winning score for the Irish. Facing the 69th ranked rushing defense giving up an average of 171.7 rushing yards per game, Adams should have plenty of opportunity to add to his 1,337 rushing yards and 9 TDs so far this season.

 

Contain Bryce Love

As mentioned above, even if Love plays, he may be limited this week after sitting out the fourth quarter last week with an ankle injury; but, if he does take the field he’s going to be the guy that the Irish defense will need to contain. The Cardinal barely got by a bad Oregon State team without Love four weeks ago, and the following week, when Love was held in check with just 69 rushing yards, the Cardinal lost a close game to Washington State. Love is unquestionably the most dynamic player on the Cardinal offense, and there’s a pretty steep drop between him and his backup, Cameron Scarlett, so if the Irish are able to contain Love, they’ve got a very good chance of leaving Palo Alto with the win.

 

Final Analysis. Will this game be a return to form for the Irish? Can we throw out the Miami game as an aberration, and the close Navy game just a sign of how tight these two teams tend to play? The optimistic Irish fan in me says yes, to an extent. As Wimbush goes, so to go the fortunes of the Irish, and outside of the game against Miami where he looked absolutely lost, he’s done enough in the passing game to keep defenses honest. The Irish may be without St Brown this weekend, but Stepherson and Claypool have both shown that they can step up and make big plays downfield, so, as long as Wimbush has even an average (for him) passing game, the run game should have an opportunity to shine against a middling Stanford run defense. The big question mark for me is Bryce Love and how much impact he will have on this game; if he’s not a full go, or slowed down enough for the Irish to make him a non-factor, they Irish should win the game going away; on the other hand, if Love’s a full go, and the Irish have trouble containing him, the game will be much tighter, though I still have the Irish winning.

Final Score: Notre Dame 34 – Stanford 24

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