Notre Dame, IN (Sports Network) - Continuing a gauntlet of top-notch
competition, the seventh-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish play host to the
17th-ranked Stanford Cardinal this weekend.
Brian Kelly's Irish have been one of the real surprises this season, jumping
out to a 5-0 start, including impressive victories over Big Ten powers
Michigan State and Michigan. The team added Miami-Florida to the list last
weekend in Chicago, dispatching the Hurricanes, 41-3. Even more impressive
than the wins, is the fact that each of those teams failed to score a
touchdown against Notre Dame, which last allowed an opponent in the end zone
on Sept. 8 (Purdue).
It was supposed to be all doom-and-gloom in the post Andrew Luck era, but
David Shaw's Cardinal have not folded up. Instead, the team has won four of
its first five games, including knocking off then top-ranked USC in mid-
September (21-14). Stanford suffered a loss next time out at Washington
(17-13), but was able to get back in the win column with a 54-48 overtime
thriller against Arizona last time out.
This marks the 27th all-time meeting in this series. The Fighting Irish hold a
17-9 series advantage and are 10-3 all-time against the Cardinal in Notre Dame
Stadium, although Stanford has won each of the last three meetings.
Despite humbling losses the last two years to Stanford, Kelly thinks the Irish
are much more capable in 2012.
"I think we're stronger physically across the board, said Kelly at his weekly
press conference. "We're a mature football team. We have veterans on defense.
From an offensive line standpoint we feel like we can handle ourselves much
better. We had a ton of negative plays last year. We had 50 plus running plays
and we had one negative play against Miami. Whereas last year we had 20
negative plays, we had penalties. We're a more disciplined team, so much
further along as it relates to taking care of the football and turnovers, and
as you know, last year, it was a turnover mistake, negative play every other
seemed like every other play, so I think we're so much further along."
The Cardinal have been fueled by a suffocating defense, but it was the offense
that led the way in the win over Arizona, with the team posting 617 yards, the
most for the program since 1999.
Quarterback Josh Nunes had the unenviable task of replacing Luck under center,
but he definitely came through against the Wildcats, leading the team back
from a 14-point deficit with less than 10 minutes remaining in regulation to
Despite the strong finish, Nunes has been up and down this season, completing
just 54.1 percent of his passes, for 1,150 yards, with 8 touchdowns and 4
interceptions. His favorite target has been tight end Zach Ertz (21
receptions, 316 yards, 2 touchdowns).
The best offensive weapon for Stanford though is found in the backfield in the
form of veteran tailback Stepfan Taylor, who is averaging 112.0 yards per
game, amassing 560 yards and 5 TDs, adding a sixth score via the pass.
The Stanford defense has neutralized some top offensive programs this season,
although the Cardinal were taken to task by Arizona last time out. Overall,
the unit has been strong against the run (77.2 ypg), but weak against the pass
The linebacking corps highlights the defensive play, thanks to seniors Chase
Thomas (31 tackles, 6.0 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, 1 interception) and Shayne Skov (26
The ground attack is starting to find its groove for Notre Dame, as the team
amassed 376 yards rushing against Miami last week, the most by the Irish since
2000. It isn't a workhorse back generating all the yards, but rather a trio of
talented rushers in George Atkinson III (9.3 ypc, 3 TDs), Theo Riddick (3.9
ypc, 3 TDs) and Cierre Wood (6.1 ypc, 2 TDs).
Kelly has two capable quarterbacks in Everett Golson and Tommy Rees, but it is
Golson who is making this team his. The sophomore has completed 60.4 percent
of his throws, for 827 yards and 3 touchdowns.
While the offense is peaking midway through the season, the Irish defense has
been running on all cylinders all season long. Notre Dame ranks second
nationally in scoring defense (7.8 ppg) and 13th in total defense (290.0 ypg).
The heart-and-soul of the unit is two-time All-American Manti Te'o. The
senior middle linebacker is a favorite for the Butkus Award this season and
has been dominant, with a team-high 48 tackles, with 3 interceptions and 2
A stout defensive line featuring a trio of 300-pounders helps keep Te'o free
to make plays. Headlining the group up front is sophomore end Stephon Tuitt
(6-6, 303), who leads the team in TFLs (6.0) and sacks (6.0).
The secondary is led by senior safety Zeke Motta (28 tackles) and junior
cornerback Bennett Jackson (23 tackles, 3 interceptions).
Kelly has his team keeping its fast start in perspective.
"We don't talk from that level from 30,000 feet because it doesn't do us any
good," said Kelly. "All we can focus on is what we can control on a day to day
basis. When I do press conferences or talk to the media, sometimes I let our
team know, listen, I'll talk in those terms. But among us, it's about today
and what we do today."
The Sports Network