Stanford looks to right ship without McCaffrey
Marek Mazurek | Friday, October 14, 2016
With a 2-4 record midway through October, it’s safe to say Notre Dame’s season is not going as planned.
However, when the Irish host Stanford on Saturday, they will take on a team in the same boat.
Stanford opened the season ranked eighth in the country in the AP preseason poll, and the Cardinal promptly rolled off wins over Kansas State, USC and UCLA. However, in its past two games, Stanford has been outscored by a 64-point margin and now sits at 3-2 after losses to No. 5 Washington and Washington State.
A point of concern for the Cardinal is the offensive line, which has surrendered 12 sacks in the last two games, but Cardinal head coach David Shaw said the whole offense unit was to blame in his press conference Wednesday.
“We have been inconsistent from one through 11 with guys on the field,” Shaw said. “Receivers, tight ends, quarterbacks [and] running backs as well. It is not just the offensive line. It looks like the offensive line just because we did not run the ball very well and have given up sacks in the last two weeks. It’s not just on those guys. They have a hand in it, and we all have a hand in it.”
Another huge question mark hanging over Stanford’s head is the health of star junior running back Christian McCaffrey. Last year’s runner-up for the Heisman Trophy, McCaffrey left last week’s game against Washington State in the second half and did not return to the game. Shaw said McCaffrey’s status is questionable for the matchup with the Irish and stated a decision regarding his availability will not be made until later in the week.
“He just got banged up over the course of the game,” Shaw said. “We’ll be cautious with him, as we are with all of our guys that are pretty beaten up. We’ll see where he is. We probably won’t have an answer until Friday or so or maybe game time unless we rule him out before then, but I don’t think that will happen. He already felt a little bit better, but it will be a late-week decision.”
Regardless of his status, Notre Dame is preparing as if McCaffrey is playing and at full health, Irish senior linebacker and captain James Onwualu said.
“He’s the guy that kind of wants to get on the edge and use his speed,” Onwualu said. “So containing him in the box and playing well against that run game [is important]. Again, he’s trying to get outside, stretch the field. Once he gets in open field, he’s tough to take down and really contain. So whatever we can do to keep him as confined as possible.”
Last season, the Irish held McCaffrey in check, allowing him only 97 yards on 27 runs, good for an average of 3.5 yards per carry.
The real hero for the Cardinal one year ago was now-fifth-year kicker Conrad Ukropina, who nailed a 45-yard field goal in the game’s final seconds to end then-No. 6 Notre Dame’s playoff hopes and give the Cardinal a 38-36 victory.
In recent years, the Cardinal-Irish rivalry has picked up. In each of the last four seasons, the game has been decided by only one score, and in each of those four contests, both teams were nationally ranked heading into the matchup. In fact, this Saturday’s game marks the first time since 2009 that neither team will be ranked the week before the clash.
“I think for both of us, we’ve been wounded, both literally with injuries and with a couple of losses,” Shaw said. “But you got two proud football teams, two talented football teams [and] two physical football teams that every year, really in the last seven years, this has been one heck of a football game. It’s going to be physical. It’s going to be intense. The records don’t matter: It’s going to be a good football game.”
Irish senior receiver and captain Torii Hunter Jr. agreed with Shaw and said Notre Dame fully understands the depth of the rivalry.
“I think it’s definitely a game we highlight. I think everybody in the locker room highlights [it], and especially this year,” Hunter said. “Because, you know, they took us out of the playoff [picture] last year from what we thought. So we’re eager to go out there and play these guys and get a little bit of revenge.
“I was actually here for that Stanford game, and they kind of stressed how important the game was and how big of a rivalry it was. And also went to a game the year before that at Stanford, and they talked about it there, too. So I knew it was a big game coming into Notre Dame and, being able to play in those games, I see why.”