Head to head: Stanford
Observer Sports Staff | Friday, November 24, 2017
The Cardinal passing attack has struggled this season, regardless of whether Keller Chryst or K.J. Costello has started under center. They have totaled under 200 yards per game through the air and just 14 passing touchdowns, although Costello has been far more accurate with a 60.7 percent completion percentage.
However, Stanford does bring plenty of size in their receiving corps, especially when tight ends sophomore Kaden Smith and senior Dalton Schultz are included.
The Irish pass defense was generally untested facing Navy’s option attack but has been relatively strong this season, letting opponents complete just 56.2 percent of their passes.
EDGE: Notre Dame
Bryce Love has arguably been the best running back in the nation this year, with 1,723 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on just 195 attempts.
Love was even better this season before ankle injuries held him out of Stanford’s win over Oregon State and limited his carries against Washington State and California. His 336 yards and five touchdowns on 60 carries since Oct. 14 would be more than substantial for almost any other running back, but they are well below his pace for the opening seven games of the season.
The Irish run defense spent much of the year playing at an elite level before struggling against Wake Forest and Miami. Against Navy’s option attack, they held the Midshipmen to just 3.8 yards per carry but gave up 19 first downs on the ground, as Navy methodically moved up the field. Preventing big run plays last week is promising for the Irish as they prepare to face Love, but even at less than 100 percent, he could be too much for the Irish to deal with.
Cardinal Offensive Coaching
Former offensive coordinator David Shaw picked up right where Jim Harbaugh left off at Stanford and continued his predecessor’s success, as he now chases the school’s all-time wins record and has proven he deserves to be talked about as one of the top head coaches in the nation.
But it’s hard to say that in-game coaching has been the source of his success. Shaw has recognized, recruited and developed elite players, but the offensive coaching of Mike Bloomgren and Shaw is not on the level of Shaw’s program-building.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame’s Mike Elko was listed as a semifinalist for the Broyles Award for coordinator of the year. Despite below-average performances in recent weeks, he’s led the Irish defense to a spectacular single-season turnaround.
EDGE: Notre Dame
Cardinal Special Teams
When the Irish and the Cardinal last met in California, then-Stanford kicker Conrad Ukropina won the game for a his team with a 45-yard field goal as time expired.
Ukropina is no longer at Stanford after graduating last year, but his replacement could prove to be just as good. Sophomore kicker Jet Toner has made 19-of-23 kicks so far this season, and his career long is 46 yards.
Junior punter Jake Bailey has also been impressive for Stanford, averaging 44.3 yards per punt with a season-high and career-high of 61 yards.
The Irish have not had much success in returns this season, as junior kick returner C.J. Sanders averages 23.2 yards per return while junior punt returner Chris Finke averages 4.3 yards per return.
Brandon Wimbush seemed to struggled early on against Navy, but he improved as the game went on and posted a career-high passer rating of 163.2.
With junior wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown injured early in the game, Wimbush’s favorite target became sophomore wide receiver Kevin Stepherson, who had a career day with 103 yards and two touchdowns.
But the Irish passing attack still appears unreliable, and it will face a serious test in Stanford. The Cardinal rank 18th in the nation in interceptions with 14 and have given up just 13 touchdowns, although they do allow a completion percentage of 64 percent.
Wimbush still appears just a little bit too mistake-prone, especially on the road, to get the best of this defense.
Josh Adams and the Irish ground game bounced back from the Miami game against Navy, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. But with limited offensive snaps, they couldn’t put up the kind of rushing yards total the team has had for much of the season. But even though the Irish dropped below the 300 yards per game marker, they have certainly earned the benefit of the doubt on the ground.
The Cardinal allow 171.7 rushing yards per game, putting them around the middle of the pack nationally. They typically have brought strong run defenses in recent years, but they don’t look good enough to stop the Irish right now.
EDGE: Notre Dame
Irish Offensive Coaching
The Irish offense was heavily improved from the Miami game against Navy but still far from back to its best, though it’s improvement as the game went on suggests that offensive coordinator Chip Long may have figured out how to get the unit back on track.
Stanford’s defense has been very strong again this year, giving up an average of only 20.7 points per game and recording 21 turnovers, despite facing likely future NFL draftees Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold early in the season. That kind of success has been the norm under Stanford defensive coordinator Lance Anderson.
Irish Special Teams
Notre Dame junior kicker Justin Yoon is 10-for-14 this season, a career-low, with struggles on kicks of 40 or more yards but automatic accuracy from close range.
Senior punter Tyler Newsome averaged only 36.3 yards per punt against Navy, but more favorable weather conditions this week should make it easier to post numbers closer to his average this season of 43.3 yards.
Stanford junior returner Cameron Scarlett averages 25.5 yards per kick return, while juniors Jay Tyler and Trenton Irwin average 7.8 and 7.5 yards per punt return, respectively.