Perhaps the biggest reason why Stanford has limped out to an 0-5 start is the injuries to starting receivers Mark Bradford and Evan Moore. Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis referred to Bradford as a "front-line player," a phrase he often uses in describing Rhema McKnight and Jeff Samardzija. With those two gone, as well as Marcus McCutcheon, talented fifth-year senior quarterback Trent Edwards has had to deliver the ball mostly to freshmen and walk-ons.
"Any time you've had a lot of injuries it's kind of hard to build chemistry and get a steady flow for how you want to do things," Irish linebacker Maurice Crum assessed.
Like its defense, the Stanford offense ranks near the bottom nationally in every major category. They can't run the ball averaging 87.2 yards per game (101st nationally). They are averaging 289.4 yards per game (92nd), and are only scoring 12.6 points per game (109th).
In Stanford's defense, they have played the nation's fourth toughest schedule based off opponent's winning percentage (.659). Losses have come at No. 11 Oregon (48-10), at San Jose St. (35-34), versus Navy (37-9), versus Washington State (36-10) and at UCLA (31-0). Numbers aside, those five teams cumulatively aren't as good as the five teams the 12th-ranked Irish have led the season off with.
"If you are looking at where they are and how they got there, you have to look at the opposing defenses this team has played," Notre Dame defensive coordinator Rick Minter explained. "They've played some really good teams and naturally the last team they played, their defense is really really good as noted by the national stats. I think they've been thrown right into the heart of their conference right off the bat, had to compete against some of the very best. Things haven't gone their way but I think they are very capable."
The offensive line should be capable with the 147 career starts the big guys have combined, tops in the country. However, the big uglys have been less than impressive getting no push in the rushing game and allowing Edwards to be sacked over four times per contest, ranking 115th in the land in that category.
"A lot of teams have brought pressure against Stanford and they've have been successful at times, they've been unsuccessful at times," defensive end Victor Abiamiri said. "They've been able to get after the quarterback a little bit, defenses, we've seen that on film and hopefully we are going to try the same thing."
"Again part of it is who they play," Minter stated. "They play teams that if you look at them at the end of the year and see how many sacks lets say for example how many sacks that team has, those teams will be high in sacks. That's their style, that's their ability."
That's something the Irish have been trying to achieve for quite awhile. The one-big game the ND defense had in this department last season was against Stanford, when they brought down the signal-caller seven times. Through five games this season, the Irish have only eight sacks.
"We're just working on a relentless attitude in trying to rush the quarterback," Abiamiri said.
Even though the rest of the offense is bad, Edwards has been able to post solid numbers, completing 60 percent of his passes for 959 yards with six touchdowns and six interceptions.
"He does a nice job," Minter said. "He can only do so much in their offense in terms of production but I really think he does a nice job of running their offense. Any time you are in the second year of a system as our quarterback would tell you, everything goes a lot smoother. You are looking at a real veteran that understands where to put the ball. He can't help who he has around him or why he doesn't have them there and things, but that's just part of the game."
Minter said things go a lot smoother, that hasn't been the case on every play for Stanford. They've had a few big plays but not many.
"They have a whole plethora of plays where they shine like they should, it's just consistency," Crum said, judging by the film.
"When you say they're not good at anything, I don't think that's a true statement," defensive end Victor Abiamiri said. "They've shown evidence on film to be able to make big plays, they have playmaking ability and some playmakers on their team so you have to be prepared every week to go out and play your best game."
If the improving Notre Dame defense plays its best game, the Cardinal might get shutout for the second straight week.