Preview: Notre Dame Vs. Stanford

Irish Eyes takes a look at this weekend's game between the Irish and the Cardinal

#6 Notre Dame vs. Stanford
Fighting Irish   Cardinal
 
Saturday, November 26th
Stanford Stadium, Stanford, CA.
8:00 EST
ABC

 

The only thing that stands between a BCS bid for the 8-2 Irish is a win over the 5-5 Stanford Cardinal. The only thing that stands between the Cardinal and their first bowl game since the Tyrone Willingham era are the Irish. After showing Buddy Teevans the door after three seasons in Palo Alto, Stanford plucked Walt Harris out of Pittsburgh to help turn the program around. If the Cardnal doesn't make it to a bowl game, Harris can look back at two games this season and ask what if? Stanford lost early to UC Davis 20-17, a team they should have pounded. The Cardinal also allowed a 24-3 fourth quarter lead melt away against UCLA, and eventually lost, 30-27 in overtime. While Harris' first season at Stanford has had some ups and downs, the program seems to be headed in the right direction. Despite being riddle with injuries throughout the season the Cardinal has won four games decided by four points or less and they registered an impressive win over a good Arizona State team.

Stanford On Offense:

Stanford Offense '05 Rank Per Game ND Defense '05 Rank Per Game
Rushing Offense #107 102.6 Rushing Defense #39 132.4
Pass Offense #73 211.6 Pass Defense #92 248.6
Pass Eff. #45 131.3 Pass Eff. #37 116.2
Total Offense #98 314.2 Total Defense #67 381.0
Scoring Offense #73 23.8 Scoring Defense #37 22.9

There shouldn't be a whole lot of surprises for Notre Dame fans when they see the Stanford offense, as the Cardinal runs the same hybrid west coast offense that Harris ran in Pittsburgh. Harris loves to put the ball in the air and he relies heavily on the ability of his quarterback. You'll never see a run heavy offense from Harris but he will attempt to establish the run early in order to set up the play-action. If the running game is there, this offense can be very difficult to stop as Harris mixes and blends his play calling to keep the defense off balance. If the running game struggles, the offense will sputter, and that has been the problem throughout the season as the offense has frequently been facing second and long.

Harris' system is complicated and it takes time to absorb and some of the early season struggles certainly can be attributed to the learning curve. Senior quarterback Trent Edwards did have some trouble early, but under Harris' tutelage he has blossomed into the quarterback that many expected him to be coming out of high school. In many ways he has taken to Harris and his teachings much the way Brady Quinn has taken to working under Charlie Weis. Unfortunately for the Cardinal, Edwards has been dinged up several times this season so Stanford has had to turn to the inexperienced junior, T.C. Ostrander. While Ostrander has worlds of ability, Harris decided early on to give Edwards the majority of the work so Ostrander has struggled to execute the offense. Edwards suffered a hand injury two games ago, he then came back against Cal last weekend only to be knocked out of that contest in the second quarter. If Edwards can't go against the Irish, Harris' play calling is going to be limited by Ostrander's grasp of the offense.

Stanford ran for a season high 218 yards in their victory over Washington State, but for much of the season they have really struggled to move the ball on the ground. In six games this season the Cardinal offense has been held to under 75 yards rushing, including a season low 16 yards on 37 carries last week against Cal. The rushing numbers include sack yardage so they don't truly represent the Cardinal rushing numbers, but most Cardinal fans would point to the ground game as a real concern. Sophomore Anthony Kimble began the season as the starter, but he suffered a knee injury against Arizona State and has only come back recently to get some spot carries. J.R. Lemon has the experince and he's been the starter, but he has struggles to find running room, as has junior Jason Evans. Notre Dame will likely see all three players throughout the game, but as the season winds down, Stanford is still trying to find a player that can move the chains from the tailback position. Nick Frank is the fullback and he might be the most effective player coming out of the backfield.

Walt Harris had playmakers at the receiver position in Pittsburgh and he started this season with several talented playmakers, but the injury bug has hit here as well. Mark Bradford was having a solid season until he went down with a severe ankle injury a couple weeks back. He played against Cal, but he was very limited with what he was able to do. After Bradford went down, Justin McCullem stepped up with two 100-yard performances that included several big catches. Then McCullem suffered an injury against Oregon State so he'll be limited even if he's able to play on Saturday. Behind the top two, Stanford really doesn't have players that will make the big plays. They do have three quality tight ends in Matt Traverso, Michael Horgan and Patrick Danahy. With Bradford and McCullem limited, expect Harris to look for these guys often.

While I placed blame at the feet of the running backs for not being able to move the ball, some of that needs to be placed on the offensive line's inability to move defenders off the ball. Stanford is averaging just over 102 yards per contest and 2.8 yards per rushing attempt. As with other areas of the offense, the line has been riddled with injuries. Irish fans will remember Allen Smith from recruiting. He came on after the fourth game of the season and has really progressed. The other player that has stepped up this season is Smith's classmate Alex Fletcher. Fletcher has switched between center and guard this season due to injuries -- he'll likely get the start at center. Fletcher is very solid and he's probably been the best player on the line this season for Stanford. Right guard Josiah Vinson, left guard Ismail Simpson and right tackle Jon Cochran have at least 20 starts each, but oddly this group of seniors has been the weak link on along the line. It only takes one negative play to kill a drive and this unit is as guilty as any. The offensive line has surrendered 35 sacks on the season.

Key Match Up: Notre Dame front four against the Stanford offensive line. Derek Landri and Trevor Laws have played extremely well this season. If they can disrupt in the backfield and stop the Cardinal running game, they can stop this offense.

Anticipated Depth Chart. Returning starter = +.


  QB ATT-COMP-YRD TDs/INTs Comp %
  +Trent Edwards, Sr. 156-248-1,784 15/7 62.9
  T.C. Ostrander, Jr. 28-52-332 1/0 53.8

As I mentioned above, Trent Edwards (6-4, 220) is injured and we probably won't know who will start at quarterback until game-time. He played against Cal, but he struggled making some throws that he normally completes. He's similar to Brady Quinn in that he's improved immensely since a new coach arrived on campus. Edwards has good pocket presence and he does a good reading defenses. He's has an above average arm so he can make all the throws. He is mobile, but he's not a running quarterback.

T.C. Ostrander ( 6-3, 215) is a drop-off from Edwards, but much of that could have to due to his lack of snaps in practice as Harris opted to force feed Edwards the new offense. Like Edwards, Ostrander has all the tools to be a solid quarterback. He's a little more mobile than Edwards with a solid arm. If Ostrander gets the call, expect Rick Minter to come after him.

  RB Hgt/Wgt Rushes-Yards
  Anthony Kimble, So. 6-1, 195 65/243, 2TDs
  Jason Evans, Jr. 6-1, 190 72/248, 1TDs
  J.R. Lemon, *Sr. 6-1, 225 64/182, 0TD

J.R. Lemon (3.7 yards per carry) has started the last several games after Kimble went down. Lemon is a north-south runner. He has trouble getting the corner and so he'll do his best work between the tackles. He doesn't have much wiggle, if any.

Junior Jason Evans leads the Cardinal in rushing with 248 yards (3.4 yards per carry). He also leads the running backs in receptions with 18 for 135 yards. Evans might have a little more speed than Lemon; he's consistent, but he won't break many long runs.

Sophomore Anthony Kimble began the season as the starter until he injured his knee against Arizona State. He's the guy with some wiggle. He doesn't have great speed, but he does have a nice burst - elusive and can make tacklers miss. He has struggled in pass protection. With the trouble the offensive line has had protecting the quarterback, the Cardinal can't afford the backs to miss their blocks.

  FB Hgt/Wgt Rushes-Yards
  Nick Frank, Jr. 6-2, 260 40/134, 3TDs
  Kris Bonifas, *Sr. 6-1, 235 1/3, 0TDs

Junior Nick Frank is a player I like a lot. He's a former defensive lineman that has shed some weight and moved to the offensive side of the ball. He's big and strong, yet he has incredibly quick feet. He can pound the ball inside and you'll see him in a one-back set or get the ball in short yardage situations. He has good hands and he's a very good blocker. Did I mention he has great feet?

Senior Kris Bonifas won't see much action unless something happens to Frank. He might come in around the goal line if Frank is moved to tailback.


  WR Hgt/Wgt Stats
  +Mark Bradford, Jr. 6-2, 200  32 rcpt/485 yds/ 5TDs
  Justin McCullum, *Sr. 6-4, 220  30 rcpts/438 yds/4 TDs
  Gerren Crochet, *Sr. 6-0, 175  29 rcpts/387 yds/0 TD
  Marcus McCutcheon, Sr. 6-0, 200  3 rcpts/36 yds/0 TD
  David Marrero 6-1/201  - rcpts/- yds/0 TD

Notre Dame fans should know Mark Bradford. He was on his way to having a very solid season until he was injured early against UCLA. He played against both Oregon State and Cal, but he was used mainly as a decoy. I doubt he'll be full-go against ND, but I expect him to try. Bradford is a guy that can stretch the field and then go up and get the ball.

Justin McCullum is more of a possession receiver. He had two 100-plus yard games when Bradford went down, but then hurt his shoulder against Oregon State. He missed the Cal game. I expect that he'll try to go against ND, but like Bradford, I don't think that he'll be 100 percent. He has good hands, runs the medium routes well. Stanford tries to get the mismatch against smaller defensive backs much like Notre Dame does with their receivers. Several of his big plays came on the sideline fades against single coverage.

Marcus McCutcheon is solid, but there isn't anything particularly impressive about his game. He hadn't caught a ball prior to this season. You can't forget him, but he won't stress the defensive backfield.

Gerren Crochet has decent hands, and he does a lot of the small things to help the team, but he won't make a lot of plays and he isn't a particularly strong receiver. He does have good speed, so with the receiving corps thin, he will be asked to go deep against the Irish.

David Morrero was the No.1 running back coming out of spring, but he was injured and then was moved to receiver. He isn't a natural receiver, but he does have the speed. If the other players are healthy, he probably won't get his number called.


  TE Hgt/Wgt Stats
  Matt Traverso, Sr. 6-4, 250 12 rcpts/138 yds/ 0TDs
  Michael Horgan, Jr. 6-6, 250 9 rcpts/65 yds/1 TDs
  Patrick Danahy, Jr. 6-4, 240 6 rcpts/49 yds/0 TDs

With dinged up wide receivers, Notre Dame will likely see more two tight end sets from Stanford and they have three good ones. Senior Matt Traverso is probably the most complete tight end of the bunch. He is the best blocking tight end and he's a solid receiver that the offense can rely on. Stanford generally looks for him over the middle of the field. Since the receivers have been injured, the tight ends have seen increased action.

Michael Horgan, has very good size and he's a very good receiver, but he's still working on developing as a blocker.

Patrick Danahy was the No. 1 tight end coming out of spring, but suffered a back injury. He's a solid all-around tight end.


  Offensive Line Hgt/Wgt Experience
  LT Allen Smith, So. 6-4, 300 7 starts
  +LG Josiah Vinson, Sr. 6-4, 315 23 starts
  C Alex Fletcher, So. 6-4, 295 11 Starts
  +RG Ismail Simpson, Sr. 6-4, 305 25 Starts
  +RT Jon Cochran, Sr. 6-6, 310 21 Starts

102 yards on the ground and 35 sacks. Those numbers probably tell you what you need to know about the offensive line. Former Notre Dame offensive line coach and current Stanford offensive line coach John McDonnell has had to move pieces around because of injuries, but three players on the line have more than twenty starts, so they need to step up for Stanford to be successful against Notre Dame.

Allen Smith didn't get to start at the beginning of the year, but after an injury he was pushed into action. That might have been the best thing in the long run for the Cardnal program, because Allen has really started to emerge as a player. He will still make a mistake from time to time, but that should be expected. Allen has good size and mobility. He's probably a better pass blocker than run blocker at this stage. There might be some concern as Allen did not finish the Cal game.

Josiah Vinson is a solid player, but he has been inconsistent throughout the year. He's a good athlete that can get out and pull, but he's struggled pushing people off the ball. If Stanford is going to compete against Notre Dame, he'll need to bring his "A" game.

Tim Mattran, a former walk-on, was the second strong center until he was injured. He could be back but it's likely that Alex Fletcher will once again hold down the middle of the Cardinal line. Fletcher already has proven himself and he's likely the best player on the offensive line. He's strong, aggressive and he plays with a lot of intensity. Fletcher could play for just about anyone in the country.

If Mattran is out, which is likely, Ismail Simpson will play right guard. He started for two seasons and then dropped to the bottom of the depth chart when McDonnell arrived. He's a pretty good athlete, but he's struggled with the mental side of the game. Like Vinson, Simpson has the ability, he just needs to get it done. If they can come to play against Notre Dame, they will move the ball.

The right tackle spot might be the biggest concern for Stanford. Jon Cochran is a big guy with a good deal of experience, but he has struggled with his consistency. Senior Jeff Edwards ( 6-6, 290) started the season as starter, and he had played well in the past, but once he fell out with an injury, he hasn't been able to really get back into a groove and has since struggled.

Stanford On Defense:
Stanford Defense '05 Rank Per Game ND Offense '05 Rank Per Game
Rushing Defense #62 148.5 Rushing Offense #58 147.2
Pass Defense #103 271.3 Pass Offense #4 324.5
Pass Eff. #93 136.7 Pass Eff. #5 160.7
Total Defense #96 419.8 Total Offense #10 471.7
Scoring Defense #90 29.9 Scoring Offense #7 38.2

The Irish offense will see the 3-4 defense when they line up on Saturday. The Cardinal defensive coordinator, Tom Hayes, was at Kansas and the Washington Redskins prior to landing in Palo Alto. The front seven for Stanford is the strength of the defense and the team. The overall defensive rating is low, and the main culprit is that they are allowing opposing offenses to convert 45 percent of their first downs.

The three big men up front are junior defensive end Chris Horn, senior nose tackle Babatunde Oshinowo and senior defensive end Julian Jenkins. Gustav Rydstedt will mix in with Horn, but these are the main guys that Stanford will use throughout the game. If the Cardinal offense has trouble maintaining drives, this unit could tire in a hurry. This group can put pressure on the quarterback and they are difficult to run at. If Notre Dame is going to get their yards, they will need to do a better job of working to the outside.

The linebackers are a little deeper than the defensive line, and they are just as good. Jon Alston and Udeme Udofia are the outside backers with Kevin Schimmelmann and Mike Silva working on the interior. Junior Michael Okwo (6-0, 220) suffered an injury earlier in the season, but he's a fantastic player that goes sideline to sideline. He hasn't regained his starting spot but Notre Dame will see him throughout the game. Hayes will blitz at any time and bring a linebacker or two from any direction.

The defensive backfield is rather thin and Hayes is looking for someone to step up and make plays. Senior T.J. Rushing has played a lot of football for the Cardinal and he's probably the best of the bunch, although Nick Sanchez has come on as of late. Junior Brandon Harrison and senior Trevor Hooper are the safeties. Stanford will mix some zone and man coverage. This unit has played well at times, but more often than not they have not made enough plays to halt opponent's drives.

Key Match-up: This week I'm going to go with the Irish offensive line against the Stanford front seven. Stanford does a good job against the run and they won't make it easy for ND. The Irish have stuggled to move the ball on the gorund against a lot of beef, and I believe the personnel the Irish have along the offensive line is better suited to go against a 3-4 defense.

Anticipated Depth Chart. Returning starter = +


  Defensive Line Hgt/Wgt Experience
  +SDE Chris Horn, Jr. 6-5, 270 12 Tckls/ 3 sacks
  +NT Babatunde Oshinowo, *Sr. 6-2, 320 47 Tckls/ 4.5 sacks
  +WDE Julian Jenkins, Sr. 6-4, 275 46 Tckls/ 7 sacks

Chris Horn is the fourth defensive end that Stanford has used at defensive end. Two players were lost to injury, before they tried Gustav Rydstedt. Rydstedt had some success, but he had limited experience, so Horn has taken over and started the last two games. He can apply some pressure, but does struggle defending the corner against the run. He should be lined up against Notre Dame's two best run blockers in Dan Stevenson and Mark LeVoir.

Babatunde Oshinowo is a player. He does a very good job stuffing things up the middle and he should end up in the NFL. He's a fireplug type player that is very difficult to move off the ball. He has good quickness and he can pressure Quinn up the middle. Notre Dame recruited his brother Timi briefly.

Another player on the Stanford roster Irish fans should remember is Julian Jenkins. He has real good size and strength - very good athlete. He runs well, he has very good quickness and he can put pressure on the passer. He comes off the corner well, so this will be an interesting match-up with Ryan Harris. Harris has struggled with players like Jenkins in the past. Stanford will run twists and bring Jenkins up the middle. He's a tireless player that brings it every down. Jenkins leads the team with seven sacks.

  Linebackers Hgt/Wgt Experience
  +SAM Udeme Udofia., Jr. 6-4, 240 34 Tckls/ 5.0 TFL
  +ILB Kevin Schimmelmann, *Sr. 6-3, 228 78 Tckls/ 6.5 TFL
  +ILB Mike Silva, Sr. 6-2, 225 51 Tckls/ 2.5 TFL
  +WLB Jon Alston, *Sr. 6-1, 220 48 Tckls/ 9.0 TFL

Jon Alston is a playmaker and you'll generally find him on the weak side. He's fast and he's a solid tackler. He's fifth on the team in tackles and he is tied for the team lead in tackles for a loss. Stanford will bring him from the backside as he is second on the team in sacks with six.

Udeme Udofia is generally lined up to the strong side and he's a load. He's a physical player but he can track plays down from behind. He does a great job of stuffing the run and he's difficult to block. He does a decent job in coverage.

Kevin Schimmelmann came to Stanford as a safety and he's developed as he's been in the program. He isn't your typical bruising middle linebacker, but he is a sure tackler. He leads the team in tackles and he's a very good blitzer.

Mike Silva will rotate with Michael Okwo (6-2, 225). Silva has started the last several games. He has the prototypical body of a middle linebacker. He works hard and makes plays. He has a good nose for the ball -- solid overall. Okwo is probably the best athlete among the linebackers and chases plays all over the field.

  Defensive Backs Hgt/Wgt Experience
  +CB T.J. Rushing, Sr. 5-11, 180 40 Tckls/ 2 INTs
  CB Nick Sanchez, Jr. 6-0, 185 60 Tckls/ 2 INTs
  SS Brandon Harrison, Jr. 6-1/218 60 Tckls/ 2 INTs
  FS Trevor Hooper, Sr. 6-1, 205 33 Tckls/ 0 INTs

T.J. Rushing is the most experienced player in the defensive backfield and he's started the most games. He isn't very big, but he has very good speed. He's played better in the past and he's been beaten deep several times this season. He's been in position to make plays, but he's struggled to make them.

Nick Sanchez is a solid athlete, but with average speed. He plays the ball well and he makes plays. He's improved as the year has moved on, but he will be tested on Saturday.

Brandon Harrison won't knock your helmet off, but he is a solid tackler and does well in run support. He is solid in coverage with average speed.

Trevor Hooper is the best cover safety. He's a smart player and he's generally around the ball. He can support the run, but doesn't do so with authority.



Final Thoughts: This is a team Notre Dame should have success against. The Irish have shown that they can move the ball against anyone and while the Stanford defense is solid against the run, they have struggled defending the pass. The Irish have struggled to move the ball on the ground, but they simply make plays through the air. On defense, the Irish secondary has struggled this season, although they have improved tremendously since the beginning of the year and Stanford simply has too many injuries on offense to keep up with the Irish offense.




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