Stanford's second-year head coach Jim Harbaugh is quickly turning things around in Palo Alto, and has the Cardinal football program aiming for their first bowl game since Tyrone Willingham left the school for Notre Dame back in 2001.
Stanford heads into this week's game against the Irish playing well and with its first two-game winning streak since 2005. The Cardinal followed a 23-10 victory over San Jose State, with a 35-28 win at Washington last weekend.
The key to Stanford's offensive success is Toby Gerhart. The 6-foot-1, 232-pound junior has been physical and shows great cutting ability in running for 421 yards with an average of 5.7 yards per carry. Gerhart is also a threat out of the backfield, tied for second on the team with eight receptions for 85 yards.
Gerhart left last week's game against the Huskies with a minor concussion on the game's second possession. He should be ready to go against the Irish. In his place, the speedy senior Anthony Kimble stepped up to rush for a career high 157 yards and two touchdowns, including Stanford's longest play from scrimmage of the season, an 83-yard scoring run. Kimble has 13 career touchdowns, tying him for the ninth most in school history.
Another guy the Notre Dame defense is going to have to keep an eye on is 5-foot-11, 185-pound sophomore receiver Doug Baldwin. Another burner, Baldwin has eight catches for a team-high 159 yards and one touchdown, including a long of 61 yards. He has run after the catch ability, and also scored on a 38-yard reverse play.
Tight end Jim Dray returned to the lineup against Washington and caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tavita Pritchard. With Dray back on the field, that could open things up even more for Gerhart and Kimble.
Achilles Heal(s): Stanford lacks a downfield passing attack.
The junior Pritchard is coming off the best game of his career against winless Washington, and that includes the win over USC last season. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound passer completed 16-of-24 passes for 222 yards and three touchdowns, with zero interceptions. Coming into the game against the Huskies, Pritchard's job as the starter was definitely in danger.
The Cardinal just haven't been able to throw the ball downfield all season. Most of the offense has come through Gerhart, with Pritchard only averaging 138.2 yards passing per game. The Irish can definitely think about stacking the box and forcing Pritchard to equal his performance from a week ago.
Miscellaneous: Stanford is 26-of-65 (40 percent) on third down this season. They're losing the time-of-possession battle, 26:34 to 33:26. The Cardinal have been outstanding in the red zone, scoring on 12-of-13 opportunities, including nine touchdowns. Ryan Whalen is the team's leading receiver with 14 catches for 138 yards and a touchdown. Receiver Richard Sherman could miss the Irish game with tendonitis in his knee. The fullback isn't a threat to carry in Stanford's offense. Kicker Aaron Zagory's range is generally from 45 yards in, but he does have a long of 52 yards. He is 6-of-7 on field goals this season. True freshman Delano Howell took over the kick returning job against Washington, and had four returns for an impressive 114 yards.
Threat(s):Linebackers Patrick Maynor and Clint Snyder, along with safety Bo McNally lead this defense that is pretty stout in the middle.
The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Maynor is a very aggressive weak-side linebacker, that sometimes draws a penalty with his emotional play. His 42 tackles and four sacks are team highs for Stanford.
Snyder's numbers aren't there, just 23 tackles, but the strong-side linebacker is always in the middle of things. McNally has 34 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery.
Achilles Heal(s):The secondary has been getting torched through the air.
This is good news for Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen, who is coming off a career-high 275 yards passing in last week's win over Purdue. The Irish sophomore could better that this weekend.
Stanford is giving up nearly 260 yards passing per game, ranking 105th nationally.
Miscellaneous: Teams are 34-of-72 (47 percent) on third down against the Cardinal. Teams are averaging 10.6 yards per pass completion against Stanford. Starting free safety Sean Wiser was Clausen's top receiving target in high school. Perhaps the most touted punter in his recruiting class, red-shirt freshman David Green is averaging 40.2 yards per boot with eight punts being downed inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Cornerback Kris Evans leads the team with two interceptions. Cornerback Wopamo Osaisai is the school-record holder in the 100-meter dash, with a time of 10.39 seconds.
Game Notes: This is the 23rd-ever meeting between Notre Dame and Stanford. The Irish lead the series with a 16-6 record. The Vegas line has Notre Dame opening as eight-point favorites. Charlie Weis' record against Stanford is 3-0. Jim Harbaugh's record against Notre Dame is 0-1.
Prediction: Notre Dame 31, Stanford 14.
The Irish offense showed a resurgence against Purdue, and the Stanford game is a perfect place to pick up where they left off. Clausen should be able to pick apart a suspect secondary, finding the freshman Floyd for three touchdowns .
Game Forecast: Stanford Week
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