Preview: Notre Dame vs Stanford

Notre Dame looks to move to 5-1 when the Stanford Cardinal comes to Notre Dame Staudium. Here's a preview of the Irish opponent.

#12 Notre Dame vs. Stanford
Fighting Irish   Cardinal
 
Saturday, October 7th
Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, IN.
2:30 EST
NBC

 

Stanford wasn't expected to challenge for the PAC-10 title in Walt Harris' second season, but the Cardinal certainly should be competing better than they are in 2006. The team has suffered a number of critical injuries that have stymied the offense, but injuries can't explain the loss to San Jose State in the second game of the season. The Cardinal followed that loss up by getting pounded by Navy (37-9) in the unveiling of newly renovated Stanford Stadium. Two more losses to Washington State and UCLA bring the Cardinal to Notre Dame Stadium with a 0-5 record and searching for answers on both sides of the ball. 

Stanford On Offense:

Stanford Offense '05 Rank Per Game ND Defense '05 Rank Per Game
Rushing Offense #101 87.20 Rushing Defense #79 147.40
Pass Offense #58 202.20 Pass Defense #91 224.60
Pass Eff. #70 120.10 Pass Eff. #69 129.69
Total Offense #92 289.40 Total Defense #91 372.00
Scoring Offense #109 12.60 Scoring Defense #88 26.40

Walt Harris has the equipment on offense to produce a lot of yardage, but for some reason the offense just hasn't put anything together. Losing several players for due to injury has contributed to their struggles, but this unit should be able to put up more than 19 total points in their last three games against Navy, Washington State and UCLA. 

Harris will attempt to establish the running game, but he loves to put the ball in the air. The running game has really struggled, which really hampers what Harris likes to do, which is use play-action to keep the defense off balance. The Cardinal offense runs multiple formations, and spreads the ball around. If Harris finds a mismatch that he likes, he will wear it out. This isn't a team that is going to convert many third-and-long situations so it is vital that they get positive yardage on first and second down. 

Fifth-year senior quarterback Trent Edwards had some success last year despite being new to Harris' offense. This season his completion percentage is solid (60 percent), but he has six touchdowns tosses with an equal number of interceptions. The loss of his top receivers Mark Bradford and  Evan Moore has certainly hurt his ability to get the ball downfield, but his offensive line is doing a terrible job of keeping him off the ground. Behind Edwards is experienced senior T.C. Ostrander. Ostrander came in during in the third quarter of last year's game and led the Cardinal to a late lead before Brady Quinn responded with the game-winning touchdown drive for the Irish.

In order to run play-action the defense has to respect the run, and five games into the 2006 season teams haven't had to worry about the Cardinal running game despite having an experienced backfield with Anthony Kimble and Jason Evans. Kimble has been banged up and Evans hasn't been effective, so Harris has turned to bruising freshman Toby Gerhart

When Mark Bradford is on the field and healthy, he absolutely kills Notre Dame. It's unlikely the Irish will need to worry about him on Saturday as Bradford broke his foot against San Jose State. The second best receiver on the team, Evan Moore, also has had trouble staying healthy. Last season he dislocated his hip and this season he broke a bone in his foot. He could see the field on Saturday, but he isn't Mark Bradford. Justin McCullem is the next best wide receiver, but he hasn't seen the field this season... because of an injury. So now what?  Stanford has had to turn to freshmen and walk-ons. 

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 87 yards per contest and 2.6 yards per rushing attempt... and this is an extremely experienced unit that has experienced depth.  Irish fans will remember Allen Smith from recruiting. He'll get the call at left tackle. Josiah Vinson steps in at left guard. Alex Fletcher will start at center with Jon Cochran at right guard and Jeff Edwards at right tackle. This unit struggled last season and they appear to have regressed. In 2005 they allowed 42 sacks and averaged 92.3 yards on the ground. This season they have already surrendered 20 sacks.

Key Match Up: Cardinal pass protection. They will need to throw the ball in order to stay in this game and this unit didn't do a good job of keeping the Irish defensive front out of the backfield last season. The problem is compounded now with the injuries at wide receiver. Edwards has had to hold the ball a little longer to find an open receiver and he's been hit a lot.

Anticipated Depth Chart. Returning starter = +.


  QB ATT-COMP-YRD TDs/INTs Comp %
  +Trent Edwards, 5th 143-87-959 6/6 60.8
  T.C. Ostrander, Sr. 10-4-52 0/0 40.0

Trent Edwards (6-foot-4, 220) 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's not a running quarterback, but he has good mobility and he can pick up yardage if he decides to run. Harris even looked like he has used a couple design runs for Edwards. In two games against Notre Dame he is 29-for-58 for 417 yards and two touchdowns. He struggled in last year's game and eventually left early in the third quarter with an injury. 

T.C. Ostrander ( 6-foot-3, 215)  has all the tools to be a solid quarterback. He came on in relief last year and played very well as he completed 11-of-15 passes for 197 yards and one touchdown. He's a little more mobile than Edwards with a solid arm. 

  RB Hgt/Wgt Rushes-Yards
  +Anthony Kimble, Jr. 6-1, 195 36/134, 1TD
  Toby Gerhart, Fr. 6-1, 229 56/233 0TD
  Jason Evans, Jr. 6-1, 190 6/23, 0TD

Anthony Kimble is the starter, but he suffered a concussion against Washington State. He didn't play against UCLA, but he could be back for ND. 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. He has 11 catches for 95 yards.

Toby Gerhart is a bullish type runner that has been very effective when he has been given the ball. He doesn't have much speed, and he isn't going to make defenders miss, but he will drag tacklers and punish smaller players. He has eight catches for 64 yards, so he can catch the ball. He has the size to be a very good blocker, but due to his youth, he'll make a mistake from time to time. 

Jason Evans has a lot of potential, but he hasn't developed into the player he was expected to be. He probably has the best speed of the three, but he won't break many long runs. He lead the Cardinal in rushing in 2005 with 248 yards on 72 carries.

  FB Hgt/Wgt Rushes-Yards
  Emeka Nnoli, Sr. 6-1, 235 4/14, 0TDs
  Josh Catron, So. 6-0, 230 1/3, 0TDs

Stanford starting fullback Nick Frank was diagnosed with a narrowing of a vertebra in his spine so he had to retire from football. This was a big blow to the Cardinal because Frank was incredibly versatile. 

Emeka Nnoli is a nice player, but he's probably a bit undersized for a fullback. He's almost in the Raeshon Powers-Neal mold. He's a good athlete. He can carry the ball and he can catch it coming out of the backfield.

Josh Catron is in his first season at fullback after playing linebacker as a freshman. I doubt Notre Dame will see him. If Stanford has to find another body for fullback, they'll likely bring in one of the tight ends.

  WR Hgt/Wgt Stats
  Kelton Lynn, Jr. 6-2, 190  14 rcpt/162 yds/ 1TDs
  Richard Sherman, Fr. 6-3, 185  11 rcpts/137 yds/1 TDs
  Michael Miller, Sr. 6-1, 195  4 rcpts/39 yds/0 TD
  Evan Moore Sr. 6-7, 235  8 rcpts/146 yds/2 TD
  Austin Yancy, Fr. 6-0, 170  7 rcpts/96 yds/0 TD

Losing Mark Bradford is a huge blow and he's a guy that has simply kills Notre Dame. In three games against the Irish, Bradford had 13 receptions for 262 yards and two touchdowns. Bradford is the guy Stanford will miss the most. He's the player that stretches the defense.  

Marcus McCutcheon and Evan Moore have been injured as well, which has completely hamstrung Edwards the past three games. It is possible that either player could find their was back for Notre Dame. Neither receiver is in Bradford league, but they both have the ability to make plays. If the can't suit up Saturday, Stanford is really going to struggle stretching the field against the Irish. 

Richard Sherman and Austin Austin Yancy are the freshmen that have been asked to step up and make plays. Both appeaar to have good athletic ability, but their youth has shown at timies. So despite some glimpses of productivity, Walt Harris has relied more on the steadiness of the walk-ons, Kelton Lynn and Michael Miller. 

David Marrero, a former Notre Dame commitment that ultimately selected Stanford is no longer with the team after three unproductive seasons. 

  TE Hgt/Wgt Stats
  Jim Dray, So. 6-5, 230 11 rcpts/96 yds/ 1TDs
  Patrick Danahy, Sr. 6-4, 245 1 rcpts/10 yds/0 TDs
  Erik Lorig, So. 6-4, 250 - rcpts/- yds/- TDs

Notre Dame will likely see two tight end sets from Stanford and they have some depth and talent at this position. Senior Matt Traverso is a very productive player, but he has has been injured all season and has only seen limited action.  

Jim Dray is a player Irish fans should remember. Notre Dame recruited him when he was coming out of Bergen Catholic high school in New Jersey. Dray has started the last four games for the Cardinal. He is a very good athlete that has the ability to get down field. He is a tough match-up for linebackers. The downside is that he is young and he doesn't have the size to be a strong blocker.

Patrick Danahy has been up and down the Stanford depth chart, and I'm a bit surprised that he has been used more often this season. He's a solid all-around tight end.

Erik Lorig is another player that Notre Dame recruited out of high school. After a lengthy recruitment Lorig finally settled in Palo Alto. He certainly isn't the receiving threat of the other tight ends, but he is a very good blocker. Expect to see him in the game in short yardage situations. It also generally indicates that Stanford is going to run the ball. 

  Offensive Line Hgt/Wgt Experience
  +LT Allen Smith, Jr. 6-4, 300 13 starts
  +LG Josiah Vinson, 5th 6-4, 315 25 starts
  +C Alex Fletcher, Jr. 6-4, 295 16 Starts
  +RG Jon Cochran, 5th. 6-6, 310 25 Starts
  +RT Jeff Edwards, 5th 6-6, 290 31 Starts

Notre Dame fans have learned that an experienced offensive line doesn't necessarily mean you get a productive offensive line. But despite Notre Dame's offensive struggles, they pale in comparison to Stanford's 12.6 points per game, 87.2 yards rushing per game, 2.6 yards rushing per carry, and 20 sacks allowed. 

Allen Smith has good size and looks much bigger than his listed 300 pounds. I'm not sure it is good weight, because he looked much more mobile in the past. He's a very solid player, but he just doesn't appear comfortbale. He's probably a better pass blocker than run blocker at this stage. 

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. He has a ton of experience, but I'm not sure he'd be starting if Stanford had a better option. I think he's the weak link up front.

Alex Fletcher is 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.

The right guard is Jon Cochran. He is a big guy with a good deal of experience. He played just about every position on the offensive line. He has experience, but he is not impressive. Fellow fifth-year senior Jeff Edwards ( 6-foot-6, 290) has been in and out of the starting lineup, but he's the most experienced player in this unit. He's a solid player, but he will have his hands full with Victor Abiamiri

Ben Muth (6-6, 285, Jr.), Ismail Simpson, (6-4, 305, 5th) and Mikal Brewer, (6-3, 295, Sr.) have experience. All come come in and provide relief if necessary. 

Stanford On Defense:
Stanford Defense '05 Rank Per Game ND Offense '05 Rank Per Game
Rushing Defense #119 282.80 Rushing Offense #100 87.40
Pass Defense #37 176.00 Pass Offense #11 281.80
Pass Eff. #66 129.30 Pass Eff. #38 139.69
Total Defense #117 458.80 Total Offense #45 369.20
Scoring Defense #114 37.40 Scoring Offense #34 30.20
 

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 linebackers are Stanford's strength and there are question marks just about everywhere else. The Cardinal defense is struggling almost as much as the offense, although the defense did battle UCLA fairly well despite being hung out to dry by their sputtering offense.

The Irish running game started to show some life against Purdue, and it should be able to sustain itself this weekend. Stanford not only gives up a mind-boggling 282 rushing yards per contest, but they allow 5.8 yards per rushing attempt. Even more troubling for the Stanford defense is that they are allowing teams to convert 60 percent on third down.

The three big men up front are senior defensive end Chris Horn, sophomore Ekom Udofia and junior Pannel Egboh. Horn is the lone returning starter. Last year's front three had some success, but for the most part they struggled. Losing two of those players hasn't helped the Cardinal defense. Teams are simply doing whatever they want with this front and this unit is not applying pressure to the quarterback. The bigger issue is depth, which there is very little.

The linebacking corps is very solid and they are the strength of the team. There appears to be three new starters, but at least two of those have moved past last year's starter to earn the spot. One of those is outside linebacker Will Powers. Powers will struggle with his inexperience, but he looks like he is going to be a playmaker. Michael Okwo is probably the best athlete among the linebackers

Despite registering their first three interceptions of the season, the defensive backfield is really struggling, and Brady Quinn and the Irish receivers should be a huge challenge for them. This unit has two new players and a strong safety (Brandon Harrison) that is now playing corner... not a good mix. I imagine the numbers for this unit would be worse if opposing offenses had difficulty running the ball.

Key Match-up: For the third straight weekend Notre Dame will face a very suspect defensive backfield. I'd make that my key match-up, but the defense is giving up so much ground that Weis will work Darius Walker early and often as he showed against Purdue.  Notre Dame's offensive line must start establishing itself. 

Anticipated Depth Chart. Returning starter = +


  Defensive Line Hgt/Wgt Experience
  +SDE Chris Horn, Sr. 6-5, 270 12 Tckls/ 1.5 sacks
  NT Ekom Udofia, So. 6-2, 310 23 Tckls
  Pannel Egboh, Jr. 6-6, 280 23 Tckls/ 1.5 TFL

Chris Horn is probably the best player on the line due to his experience, but he needs to be more productive for this unit. He doesn't apply much pressure and struggles at times to hold his ground in the 3-4. Because Notre Dame isn't extremely physical upfront, he could have a big game.

Ekom Udofia and Pannel Egboh will start at the other slots, but Notre Dame will see a rotation of several players. Both Udofia and Egboh have made plays, but they're not making enough of them near the line of scrimmage.

  Linebackers Hgt/Wgt Experience
  SAM Will Powers, 6-4, 235, So. 6-4, 240 34 Tckls/ 5.0 TFL
  ILB Pat Maynor, 6-2, 215, Jr. 6-3, 228 78 Tckls/ 6.5 TFL
  +ILB Michael Okwo, 6-0, 225, Sr. 6-2, 225 51 Tckls/ 2.5 TFL
  WLB Clinton Snyder, 6-4, 230, So. 6-1, 220 48 Tckls/ 9.0 TFL

I'm not sure what has transpired in with the linebacking corps for the Cardinal, but they aren't making a lot of plays behind the line of scrimmage. They have a bunch of talent here, so I'm going to guess that the new defensive line is having trouble holding ground. There are several players that have started in the past, but they are now down the depth chart. Udeme Udofia (6-4, 240, Sr.) and Mike Silva (6-2, 230, Sr) are two of those players. 

Clinton Snyder leads the defense in tackles while Michael Okwo is third. Okwo will fly all over the field to make plays.

  Defensive Backs Hgt/Wgt Experience
  CB Brandon Harrison, Sr. 6-2, 215 36 Tckls/ 1 INTs
  CB Tim Sims, Sr. 5-11, 190 30 Tckls/ 0 INTs
  SS David Lofton, 5th 6-4, 220 33 Tckls/ 0 INTs
  FS Trevor Hooper, 5th 6-1, 205 38 Tckls/ 1 INTs

Brandon Harrison was the starting strong safety last season and at times he looks like a strong safety playing cornerback. I think he's playing out of position because of need. the other cornerback, Tim Sims, hasn't done much better. Both players have struggled making plays on the ball.

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: There is no reason Notre Dame shouldn't dominate this contest. then again the Irish should have pushed this team all over the field last season and they didn't. The difference this season is that Mark Bradford will not be roaming the Notre Dame secondary. He is the guy Stanford needs to stretch the field on offense and he has given the Irish a bunch of trouble in the past.

The defense played more inspired last weekend against UCLA, but if their offense struggles, the defense is going to have a difficult time holding up under the pressure of Notre Dame's offense.



 


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