No. 17 Stanford at No. 7 Notre Dame
Saturday, 3:30pm NBC
Line: Notre Dame -7
Has this rivalry game ever meant more? Both of these schools have a chance to really crash the BCS party this season and win in this one can cement either as a legitimate player on the national level.
Stanford has proven they can play at the highest of levels already, taking down then 2nd ranked USC 21-14, but they slipped up the next week on a trip north to visit the Huskies of Washington. Lose on Saturday and you create a narrative that the USC win was a fluke and this team isn't for real.
Notre Dame wins on Saturday in their home stadium and the Irish really could see their stock on the rise heading into a huge game against Oklahoma in two weeks. Not to mention they'd snap a three game losing streak in the series too.
No matter who wins this game hasn't meant more to either team in quite some time if you ask me, so this should be a heck of a football game. Perhaps the biggest game of the week? Add in ESPN's Game Day being on site and you have an atmosphere that could be very interesting to say the least.
But, all of those platitudes don't tell us anything about the actual game that will be played on Saturday afternoon, so let's look at how these teams stack up, shall we?
For Stanford to Win: They need to control the Irish running game plain and simple. Both teams will look to control the clock, but in different ways. Notre Dame averages 187 yards rushing per game and uses it to control how the game flows. Stanford needs to take away the run game early and force the Irish to pass the ball. So far this year opponents are only running the ball at a 77 yard a game clip and that needs to stay that way for Stanford to win.
Offensively Josh Nunes needs to be more like the USC version of himself and not throw the stupid INT. He'll also need the offensive line to protect him and so far they've done a great job, only allowing 5 sacks, but this is the best defense with the best player they've faced and will face all season. Keep Nunes from being rattled and he'll produce for you, but if not this young QB could fold.
For Notre Dame to Win: Keep the ball in Wood's and Riddick's hands. The combo of Woods and Riddick has been awesome for the Irish this season and they need to keep Stanford's front from getting comfortable. The best way is to throw Riddick and Woods at them during unexpected times. Riddick is also a huge threat receiving and therefore can really help keep Stanford guessing.
Oh, and don't forget about leading rusher George Atkinson III either. The dude gets lost in the shuffle of Riddick and Wood a bit, but he's got 269 yards rushing on just 29 carries, yes that's a 9.3 yards per carry average, and has 3 TD's. Those three simply need to be as productive as they've been together as unit for the Irish to win.
Defensively Manti Te'o needs to be the stud linebacker he's been all year. He'll really need to come through in the passing game against one of the best tight end duo's in the country.
Key Player, Stanford: O.k., I'm going to cheat a bit here as it's actually two players in tight ends Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz. Ertz leads the team in receiving with 21 catches for 315 yards and 2TD's. Those are good numbers for any receiver let alone a tight end and add in Toilolo's 13 catches for 278 yards and they combine to be huge weapons. They'll be going up against the best defense they've seen and need to be open for Stanford to be successful on Saturday.
Key Player, Notre Dame: Everett Golson - the Irish QB has been decently accurate, completing 60 percent of his passes this season, but he needs to be someone that Stanford fears can beat them on Saturday if they are going to back off the running game. He's got just 3TD's passing to go with 3INT's on the season and those TD numbers won't scare anyone into respecting the long passing game until he proves he can do it. If he backs off the defense with his arm look for Notre Dame to be in control of this game.
Key Stat: 8 to 5 - That's the number of sacks allowed by Notre Dame and Stanford respectively. Now, some of those numbers are due to the mobility of their QB's, but either way those numbers are damn good especially when you see that the defenses from these two teams have combined for 30 sacks (14 for ND and 16 for Stanford). Something will have to give on Saturday or these QB's could well pick apart the opposing D's.
Everything you look at for this matchup points to each team's offensive strengths going against the opposing D's strengths so this could be a hell of a matchup, but then again we could see the numbers and stats thrown out the window as the Legends Trophy is on the line.
This game is about as big a toss up as you can have and the betting line of -7 tells you people aren't buying into the Cardinal enough and that's a dangerous assumption.
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