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Irish can’t underestimate Cardinal

Heather VanHoegarden | Friday, October 8, 2004

It was supposed to be the turning point of the season. The team who won that game was the one to go on to a great season. And Purdue hadn’t won at that stadium in 30 years. No-tre Dame would surely win.But then, Pur-due won. And the Irish were left to evaluate their 41-16 defeat.It was Purdue’s game to win – they had the experienced quarterback, they had the better team this year. So the loss wasn’t devastating – at least not yet.Stanford brings a football team to Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday that is perhaps the best they’ve had since Irish coach Tyrone Willingham left to roam the Notre Dame sideline.This is a team that was beating last year’s co-national champion USC 28-17 at halftime. It is a team that has just one loss – to the Trojans. It is a team that beat Brigham Young handily, just one week after the Cougars beat the Irish. But most of all, it is a dangerous team, especially if you’re Notre Dame.Stanford was defeated easily last season by the Irish, but this year should be different. This is not the same team. The Cardinal are not the pushover they once were, and the Irish are not the dominating powerhouse they once were.So where does the challenge come for Notre Dame? After all, Stanford has yet to play a road game this season. They haven’t beaten the Irish at Notre Dame Stadium since they were ranked No. 19 in 1992. But don’t worry, Stanford will present plenty of challenges for Notre Dame.Quarterback Trent Edwards is much-improved from last year. He completes over 60 percent of his passes, and he will test the inconsistent Irish secondary. The sophomore was recruited to Stanford by Willingham, and the Irish coach knows what he can do.But Edwards and his 131.65 pass efficiency ratio are just the beginning of Notre Dame’s challenges.Kick returner T.J. Rushing is becoming a star in the return game.The junior has the nation’s best return average, and quite frankly, the Irish have trouble defending kickoffs. Carl Gioia has struggled to get the ball to the end zone and coverage has struggled, with players missing assignments and tackles.Tuesday, Willingham attributed his team’s struggles in kickoff coverage to technique and breakdowns. But when Jerome Brooks raced 100 yards last week for a touchdown, it wasn’t an unfamiliar site this year. Images of Michigan State’s DeAndra Cobb scampering 89 yards for a touchdown just two weeks earlier were renewed.But don’t forget about Oshiomogho Atogwe – and with a name like that, how could you? The senior free safety is a playmaker. He has picked off one pass and forced two fumbles thus far this season. He’s someone the Cardinal count on for a big hit on defense.But don’t count on the Irish for a win. This game will be a battle. The 57 points Notre Dame scored last year in Palo Alto, Calif., are still a sore spot for the Cardinal. And why wouldn’t it be? Stanford scored just one touchdown.Maybe the scariest part of this game for Notre Dame is the pressure. The Irish need this game. They can’t lose two weeks in a row, especially after a blowout.They can’t start a downward spiral that would eerily resemble last year’s. This team has been “blown-out” in the last two years by Michigan, USC, Florida State, Syracuse and Purdue. Notre Dame needs to bounce back from last week. They need a win over a good team, like Stanford.The Irish have lost two games but could still have a successful season, despite last weekend’s loss to a very good football team. They just have to know it’s not over because of the score.In fact, it all starts again Saturday afternoon.The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.Contact Heather Van Hoegarden at [email protected]