There is no question Stanford is a much better team than the team the Irish crushed last season, 57-7. People remember the score, but many forget the Irish rushed for 334 yards in that game. The Cardinal appear to have fixed their problems up front on defense and are allowing just 85 yards per game.
The Irish just don't have the same explosive running game this year, or Julius Jones. The Irish are averaging just 108 yards per game on the ground.
The return of senior running back Ryan Grant should help, and one shouldn't discount the improvement the Irish have made in the passing game.
But the Cardinal also have an experienced secondary and have allowed just two touchdowns through the air all season.
The main difference for the Cardinal offense this year has been the improved play of their quarterback Trent Edwards. Edwards is completing 61 percent of his passes and has thrown seven touchdowns on the year.
In last year's game, the Irish defense harassed Cardinal quarterbacks into seven sacks and an interception. While the Irish do have what many consider a better defense in 2004, the ability to harass and contain Edwards will be key in this game.
As I said last week, I've been worried about Notre Dame's ability in pass coverage. And not just in the secondary, but with their linebackers.
Senior tight end Alex Smith is Stanford's leading receiver with 19 catches on the season. I expect to see Smith used a lot in the Stanford game plan to test the Irish linebackers in coverage.
The key for the Irish on offense is to get their running game going in this game. If the Irish can run the football, and win the turnover battle, the Irish should win this game.
I think Stanford's rush defense numbers are misleading. I don't think they've played a good rushing team this so far this season, and that includes USC. I think we'll see the return of the Irish running game on Saturday.
Probably the most damming stat for the Cardinal is their record on the road under third-year head coach Buddy Teevans. The Cardinal are a dismal 1-10 on the road under Teevans with their lone win coming last year against a porous BYU team. In fact, the average margin of defeat is 24 points—not a good a stat.
We do expect a close game through three quarters with the Irish pulling away in the end. The Irish have more to play for, and I believe they have the senior leadership to bounce back in this game.
Notre Dame: 27 Stanford: 17