Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Notre Dame and Stanford Battle In a Game That Doesn't Mean Much On Paper

For the first time since the Sugar Bowl, Notre Dame will be on FOX Sports. FOX has a contract with the PAC 12 for home games and this week Notre Dame goes to Palo Alto. When the schedule came out, I am sure both the Irish and the Cardinal circled this one as a match up that could be between two undefeated teams for a trip to the BCS Title game.

And both teams have had impressive wins, The Irish had signature wins over Michigan State, Arizona State, and USC who are all ranked teams. Stanford's signature moment was Oregon of course but they also had huge wins over UCLA and Arizona State.

But both teams have also had disappointing losses. Notre Dame lost to Michigan and Oklahoma in games where the losses look a lot worse now than they did at the time. Then the Pitt game was just a dark spot on the season. Stanford had an inexcusable loss to Utah who won't even make a bowl game. They also lost to USC  and not to discredit what USC has done since the coaching change but the Cardinal should have taken care of business in this one.

Based on that, that makes this game somewhat irrelevant on the national scale. Stanford will not play for a BCS title, but they will play in the PAC 12 Championship regardless of the outcome. The game is a little more relevant for Notre Dame because as I said in my last blog, they are not mathematically eliminated from the BCS, but it will take a lot of help. So being realistic, whether the Irish are 9-3 or 8-4 probably won't affect too much what bowl they get.

But whether or not the game matters nationally, it is still another huge rivalry for the Irish. It is not a rivalry like USC, Michigan, or Miami where the two teams just don't like each other. It is more of a rivalry like Navy where the two teams have a mutual respect for each other and how both teams build a strong program while still maintaining tough academic standards. But make no mistake of it, both teams want to win bad.

And this will be another physical battle. Stanford is a really tough team who loves to play smash mouth run the ball style. We all remember the overtime battle last year in which it took a Tommy Rees to TJ Jones touchdown followed by a signature goal line stand. That gave the Irish an 18-9 series lead.

What will decide this game this year is who runs the ball most effectively and on paper that favors Stanford. They have a senior in Tyler Gaffney who has rushed for 1296 yards and 16 touchdowns. That will be a tough battle for Stephon Tuitt, Sheldon Day, and Jaron Jones. Notre Dame's leading rusher on the other hand is Cam McDaniel with 608 yards and 3 touchdowns. Having said that, the Irish do have a little more depth at that position because George Atkinson has 554 yards with 3 touchdowns, and the late emergence of Tarean Folston has added more to the running game. Outside of Gaffney, Stanford's next leading rusher has 262. So while both teams want to run the ball, the Irish have to basically prepare for one guy while Stanford has to be ready for a committee who all have different running style. That could be a slight advantage for Notre Dame.

The quarterbacks have had similar seasons but Notre Dame has a clear edge in the passing game. Kevin Hogan has thrown for 2052 yards with 18 touchdowns and 7 interceptions while Rees has thrown for 2739 yards and 25 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. Hogan's best receiver is Ty Montgomery with 50 catches for 822 yards and 9 touchdowns but the next highest receiver has 22 catches for 396 yards. Rees on the other hand has Jones who has 59 catches for 986 yards and 8 touchdowns. But Jones is not the only weapon. DaVaris Daniels has 41 catches for 641 yards and 6 touchdowns while Tight End Troy Niklas has added 26 catches for 398 yards and 5 touchdowns.

It is safe to say for both offenses that this is one of the more physical defenses they have faced. Unfortunately  for Notre Dame though, Stanford's defense has stayed healthy for the most part. This will be a battle and I am glad that the players will have some time for the bowl game. They will need it to heal.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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