Notre Dame-Stanford Prediction

Notre Dame (4-6) is set to play Stanford (4-6) on Saturday. The Irish have won the last two in this series including the Irish 31-7 victory last year in Notre Dame Stadium. The Cardinal lead the series 4-3 when the game is played in Stanford Stadium. Both teams have struggled this year. The Irish are riding a two-game winning streak--the Cardinal will try to end a two-game losing streak. This will be the first time Tyrone Willingham and his staff return to coach on the opposite sideline.

The Cardinal has struggled on offense, and like the Irish, inexperience along the offensive line has probably been the biggest factor. Stanford has used a number of players to try to find some answers along the offensive line. The Cardinal has surrendered 26 sacks on the year due to the inexperience.

The inexperience has hamstrung the Cardinal offense. Stanford averages just 103 yards rushing per game, and just 2.7 yards per rush. The Irish average 3.9 yards per rush for comparison. Kenneth Tolon and J.R. Lemon are the two backs the Cardinal calls on to carry the football. Neither has reached 500 total yards rushing on the year.

Quarterback Chris Lewis has also struggled a bit throwing the football. Lewis completes 48.3 percent of his passes, and has thrown for 1,010 yards, seven touchdowns, but has thrown eight interceptions on the year. Trent Edwards has also played a lot of quarterback. His numbers are not very impressive either. He completes 45.3 percent of his passes, has thrown for 750 yards, four touchdowns, and nine interceptions on the year. The Cardinal averages about 183 yards per game through the air.

Irish fans will remember Mark Bradford from last year. Bradford and wide receiver Luke Powell catch most of the passes for Stanford. Powell has 40 receptions for 481 yards, and three touchdowns. Bradford has caught 30 balls for 458 yards, and two touchdowns.

Stanford doesn't use a fullback in their offense, but does start two tight ends. Tight end Alex Smith is the main weapon in the passing game at tight end, catching 22 passes for 175 yards and three touchdowns. Brent Pierce is the other starter at tight end.

Stanford averages a shade under 18 points per game, and 286 yards of total offense per game.

The Cardinal defense has also struggled at times. They allow almost 27 points, and 426 yards per game on defense. They have forced 31 fumbles, recovered 18, and have sacked the quarterback 22 times on the year.

Their rush defense allows a shade under 120 yards per game. They've allowed 12 touchdowns on the ground, and 3.7 yards per rush.

The Stanford pass defense has been a problem. They are ranked last in the country (117th) in yards allowed with almost 307 yards per game. They've also allowed 21 touchdowns through the air. That would seem like an opportunity except the Irish are currently ranked dead last in pass efficiency in the country, and likely won't try to exploit that weakness considering their success with the running game as of late.

The key factors on the Stanford defense are free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, nose tackle Babatunde Oshinowo, and linebackers Jared Newberry and David Bergeron. Corner Leigh Torrence is another key factor with 11 pass breakups on the year.

Atogwe plays centerfield for the Cardinal secondary. He leads the team in tackles with 83, and has two interceptions on the year.

Oshinowo leads the team with four sacks, and is second on the team with eight tackles for loss. Newberry is second on the team is tackles, has three sacks, and 10 tackles for loss.

Stanford kicker, Michael Sgori has converted just seven of his 13 field goal attempts on the year. Punter Eric Johnson seems solid with a 43-yard average with his punting.

Thoughts on the game

We don't expect the Irish to do anything different this week against Stanford. The Irish have been successful, and won games, when they've handed the ball off to Julius Jones and let him run. Give Jones enough chances and he won't disappoint. We expect to see Jones run often and well.

The Irish might take a few more shots than normal at the Stanford defense through the air. Stanford blitzes a lot and comes after the quarterback. We expect them to blitz often, and on run downs, so the Irish could come up with a few big plays in both the running and the passing game.

The key for the Irish will be in the trenches. If they can push the Cardinal defense off the ball early, and get Jones off and running, this could be a lopsided game.

The Cardinal offense will likely try to attack the Irish secondary. Stanford hasn't been very effective running the football, and likely won't be against the Irish, either. Their best chance is to throw the ball, find their tight ends, throw to their backs, and keep the Irish off-balance with play-calling. If Lewis has a hot hand, this could be a very competitive game. If the Cardinal stay in the game early, this could be a close finish.

The Irish defense has improved in the last few games with players becoming healthy. Cedric Hilliard, Darrell Campbell, and Justin Tuck should benefit from the extra week of rest. The Irish should be very strong up front for this game. The key will be for the front four to pressure Lewis when he's in the pocket, and to contain him so he can't get outside the pocket. We believe they will.

The Irish should win this game, and could win it by a large margin, but we're not sure they will. Stanford should show up to play with a chance to beat their former coaches. Still, the Irish are 4-6 because they played five teams currently ranked in the top 15 of the BCS rankings—the Cardinal has played one (USC). We see a close game in the first half, and the Irish pulling away in the second half—like they did last year. Final Score: Notre Dame 35 Stanford 17.


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