No. 25 Notre Dame Fighting Irish head out west to face the No. 8 Stanford Cardinals in their final game of the season. The Irish are bowl eligible and there is little at stake except pride against the Cardinals.
Regardless of the outcome, Stanford is set to take on Arizona State next week in the Pac-12 championship. Losing to the Irish won’t change that, nor will it hurt their chance of playing in the Rose Bowl. Notre Dame will have to wait a couple weeks for its bowl fate to be determined.
The Irish sit at 8-3 while Stanford is 9-2. The Cardinals suffered losses at Utah and USC (the latter a team Notre Dame edged by four).
This isn’t the first time these two have met, with Notre Dame holding a 18-9 edge in the series. Last season, the Irish pulled off an overtime win that came down to a goal line stand.
Since the departure of Andrew Luck, Stanford’s hallmark has been tough defense. They currently rank 22nd in the country in yards allowed and are 13th in points, giving up just 19 per game.
Here’s what to watch for:
- Protect Tommy Rees. The Cardinals have one of the best pass rushes in the country, and average over three sacks per game. Give Rees time in the pocket and he is a capable QB, but if he’s pressured heavily than turnovers will come in bunches.
- More than TJ Jones? Rees’ favorite target this season has been Jones, and for good reason. He’s completed 65-percent of his passes towards Jones. Everyone else? Well, he’s completing just under 48-percent of those passes. There is a fair amount of talent in the receiving corps (looking at you DaVaris Daniels) and someone needs to step up in the final game of the season.
- Can the Irish run? They haven’t had much success running the ball against Stanford in recent years. When the Irish pound the ball they have much more success on offense. It gives Rees more time to work with and takes the pressure off his shoulders. Stanford is giving up less than 90 yards rushing per game. The play calling is going to have to get creative when it comes to running the ball. If the run game is shut down and Stanford gets a double digit lead, those pass rushers will be unleashed to make life miserable for Rees.
- Defense? The Irish don’t have the same defense as last season, and that’s more than clear now. Stanford is averaging 33 points per game and has only been held under 20 one time this season (in the loss to USC). The offense produces over 400 yards per game and averages 6.25 yards per play.
- Find a way to stop the run. The Cardinals average 203 yards rushing per game. The Irish’s defensive line is littered with injuries and locking down Stanford’s run game is easier said than done.
- Turnovers? The Irish rank 117th in takeaways this season. They’ve had just 11 all year long. If they can’t give the offense a short field, its going to be a very long day for the visitors.
Stanford has won 15 straight games at home, and most of them have been blowouts. Even with nothing to play for, the Cardinals are too well coached to overlook this game. The Irish might not get an A+ effort from Stanford, but it likely won’t take that to come away with a win.
I don’t see how Notre Dame is going to stop the Stanford offense. It’s also going to be very difficult for Notre Dame to move the ball. They have to capitalize off any mistakes the Cardinals might make and will need to have some luck if they’re going to pull off the upset.
Notre Dame falls to Stanford, 28-14.
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