September 24, 2010

WeIs Week 4 Pick: Notre Dame - Stanford

Dan: Notre Dame
Notre Dame has beaten Stanford 7 straight times at Notre Dame. Additionally, Stanford, in recent years, seems to be the team that we somehow pull it off at the very end, despite playing poorly (last year notwithstanding). Now the Cardinal arrive toting Heisman candidate and likely #1 NFL drafted QB Andrew Luck and their high scoring offense. Can Kelly rally the troops?

On offense, ND has started to gel. I think three things need to happen to make this an incredibly potent offense: 1) Michael Floyd needs to get his head out of his ass. He continues to drop catchable balls, make mistakes, and run sloppy routes. I think he’s frustrated because, point blank, Dayne Crist is not Jimmy Clausen. But he never will be and Floyd needs to get over it. 2) Timing  and rhythm need to continue to improve. This got better last week, and I expect it to continue to do so. Stanford’s defense does not have enough speed to cause our O-line too many issues, and our new tackles are starting to adjust to game sped. 3) Armando needs to see at least 15, and preferably 20, carries a game. He’s running possessed right now. He sees the gaps, hits them with much more determination than in the past, and is running through tacklers. I can’t envision a scenario where we don’t hang at least 30 on Stanford this week.

On defense, I think ND’s strengths match up well against Stanford. On the ground, Stanford plays a tough, bruising up the gut style that plays right into one of the few strengths of the ND defense – stopping the run up the middle. Teo needs to continue to improve tackling, but he’s all over the field right now. I think it’s an issue of him over-pursuing or feeling like he needs to make the big play with a monster hit. This will improve as he gains more trust (whether justified or not) in the rest of the ND defense. The other strong point of the defense is Gary Gray. I have been incredibly impressed with his play. He’s practically taking away one half of the field. I don’t think Stanford’s receivers are athletic enough to really abuse our terrible, terrible unathletic safety play, so that is also a plus.  (Please get healthy soon Slaughter).

In the end, I feel oddly comfortable with this game – much more so than last week. Maybe I’m delusional, but I think we match up well with Stanford. And I think Kelly rallies the team and they come out at home and shock everyone. That said, and not to channel Doug “Kool-Aid” Riddell, but… it’s STANFORD. I don’t care how well they are playing now. It’s still STANFORD.

Notre Dame 34 Stanford 31

Jeremy: Stanford
I’d love to go with my heart and pick a big upset here, but I really think the Irish are going to struggle with the lethal Stanford rushing attack.  The ND defense should get a big lift from the return of Jamoris Slaughter, but the backups on the defensive line will really struggle with the experienced Stanford OL. 

On offense, Crist continues to improve every week, and the emergence of Theo Riddick is huge for the Irish attack.  This game will almost certainly end up being a shootout, but the Irish have just been too inconsistent to keep up with the Cardinal attack. 

How can the Irish win?  First and foremost, the Irish must win the turnover battle.  ND has not been that careful with the ball thus far, and it hurt in a big way last weekend on the road. 

On defense, the secondary will have to bait Luck into some poor throws, and the OLBs need to generate some more pressure and big plays this week.  I don’t expect the Irish to shut down the running game, but if they limit the “explosive” running plays and make the Cardinal work hard for every 1st down, things could be interesting in the 4th quarter.

On offense, Kelly must make a more significant commitment to the running game, if for no other reason than to keep the defense off the field.  If the Irish have more than two 3-and-outs, I think they’re really going to have a tough time hanging around. 

Ultimately, I think the Irish are primed for a big game, but they’re still a week away from getting a big win. 

Stanford  37  ND  34

Jimmy: Stanford

For all the Chicken Little ND fans , slow your roll.  The sun is not careening into an alternate apocalyptic orbit.  Sure, the state of Michigan currently owns the deed to St. Mary Lake, but that’s why Western Michigan is on the schedule.  Double (St. Joseph Lake) or nothing. 

Brian Kelly’s sky-high (unrealistic, some would say) expectations have been tempered by an individual performance for the ages and a brilliant (desperate) all-or-nothing play call.  So Notre Dame stands at 1-2.  Much more important than those numbers on either side of the hyphen is the makeup of that record.  Coming out after halftime three times now, I’ve seen a team make adjustments, find offensive rhythm and actually sack the QB when they send men.  Yes, there are still mistakes and room for improvement, but overall I’m happy with the outward signs of progress in many areas.  This season is about changing the way ND competes and executes in practice and in games.  So far, the results are positive, even if the record paints a different picture.

Tomorrow is the first game this season the Irish are truly the underdog.  Stanford may be ranked #16, but they are playing like one of the top 10 teams in the land.  Jim Harbaugh has earned a gig in greener pastures for creating a bonafide Pac-10 power in Palo Alto (as opposed to the mirage Tyrone L. Willingham won a conference title with, parlaying that into multiple counts of program grand larceny.  Great, now I need to take a walk).  I’m anxious to see if Kelly uses the role as motivation, tapping into the dormant, intangible edge this team has lacked for many, many years. 

Andrew Luck has looked anything by lucky, expertly engineering a high-octane offense that is firing on all cylinders.  The return of Jamoris Slaughter to the defensive backfield should help the Irish unit slow the Cardinal down, but I don’t see them stopping Stanford a whole lot without the aid of turnovers.

Crist is looking more and more natural running the show.  He even found a new weapon in last week’s Theo Riddick Coming Out Party (no, not that kind of party…not that there’s anything wrong with that).  Still have an APB out for Duval Kamara’s whereabouts and Floyd remains a bit of an enigma, though his end zone prowess will be pivotal tomorrow.  If Crist is flinging the ball 50+ times, all the WR need to slide in and make plays when their number is called.  I really wish Kelly’s spread incorporated the run more, both to take advantage of the talented stable of RBs and give the defense a little more recovery time. 

If Notre Dame is to turn the tables on Stanford and be the one pulling off the upset, they’ll need to win a shootout.  It could happen, but it requires 4 quarters of execution, not a half.  Unfortunately, I haven’t seen enough to talk myself into an Irish W.

Stanford 42  Notre Dame 38

Matt:  Stanford

Do I think that ND can win this game?  Yes.  Cmon, it’s still Stanford.  Notre Dame has just as good, if not better athletes than Stanford – always has and always will.  But last week’s performance by the Cardinal against my second alma Wake Forest has me a little concerned.  Being that it was an 11:20 East Coast start time, the specifics are a little hazy, but obviously the scoreboard reflects that they just destroyed a decent Wake Forest team by hanging 68 on them.  (Although I could have done without Harbaugh calling a timeout late in the 4th quarter to ice the Wake kicker while up by 40.  There’s gamesmanship, and then there is being an a**hole.  That was the latter.  You want to pull that stuff against USC or UCLA, fine.  But why against Wake?)  Stanford obviously has Andrew Luck, but they also have a ground game averaging 5.8 YPC and some decent receivers, including Chris Owusu, who made several big plays against Wake and I predict will light up the Irish D in place of the injured Ryan Whalen.

On the other side of the ball, ND should be able to move the chains and produce points against a decent Stanford D that already has a shutout of UCLA on its resume.  I would love to see Cierre Wood get more involved in the gameplan, Theo Riddick continue his emergence as a slot receiver, and Mike Floyd eliminate some of the careless drops and fumbles that have plagued him so far this season.  And really, I would love to see some sustained drives to keep Luck and company off the field and keep the defense a little fresher for the 4th quarter, but at this point that seems to be wishful thinking under Brian Kelly.  The return of Jamoris Slaughter eliminates the whitewash at safety and should lead to more leeway to run the nickel and allow Motta to slot in and give Smith and Slaughter breathers.  Overall, I see a shootout developing that the Cardinal win in another 4th quarter heartbreaker.  As I said last week, I hope I am wrong.

Stanford 37 ND 35

Mike: Stanford

After watching the Notre Dame games over the last two weeks, Jim Harbaugh must be licking his chops this week.  Stanford is averaging 475 yards per game and now the Cardinal have the luxury of facing a Notre Dame defense that is yielding an average of 444 yards per game (good for 102nd nationally).  Considering Harbaugh’s track record, he will be looking for every opportunity to humiliate Brian Kelly and the Irish, even if the game is out of reach.  On the bright side, at least I’ll be able to catch the second half of Alabama-Arkansas after this game becomes unwatchable.

Stanford 51 Notre Dame 31

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