Heisman Trophy Favorite QB Andrew Luck

Date: Nov. 26, 2011
Site: Stanford Stadium, Palo Alto, Calif. (85,500)
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET
Television: ABC
Coaches: Notre Dame — Brian Kelly (16-8, second season),
Stanford — David Shaw (10-1, first season).
Spread Stanford -6.5

Notre Dame’s offense was a mess last week against Boston College, and if it weren’t for David Ruffer’s three field goals, and a defense that finally found its footing, the Irish may have not been able to hold off a late Boston College rally for a 16-14 victory.

But a win is a win, and it was the eighth in the last nine games for the Fighting Irish.
Despite, Notre Dame’s inability to sustain multiple drives –converting just 8-of-19–fortunately the Eagles were even worse with just 3-of-13 translating to points on the scoreboard.

Stanford running Game vs. Notre Dame run defense
Stanford junior Stepfan Taylor joined the 1,000-yard rushing club last Saturday in a win over California. The Cardinal workhorse averages 94.1 yards per game. Behind a veteran offensive line that averages more than 300 pounds per man, Stanford has been very good as a whole in
keeping the pile moving forward. In 426 attempts they had only 30 yards worth of negative running plays.

Notre Dame’s run defense has been strong when healthy this season, and a lot of its success against Stanford will rest on a few wobbly ankles on star players. Leading tackler Manti Te’o averages 9.4 stops per game despite being slowed for much of the second half of the season by an ankle injury. Overall, Notre Dame gives up an average of 142.6 yards per game on the ground. They will have a hard time trying to hold Stanford in check.

EDGE: Stanford

Stanford passing Game vs. Notre Dame pass defense
Redshirt junior quarterback Andrew Luck has spent most of the season as college football’s favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. He showed a few chinks in his armor with two interceptions in the team’s only loss this year, to Oregon, but is still the best quarterback Notre Dame will face this season. Luck has completed 70.3 percent of his passes and thrown for 2,937 yards and 31 touchdowns this year. Luck’s top two targets this season have been Chris Owusu and Griff Whalen. The two senior wide receivers combined for 82 catches, 1,028 receiving yards and six touchdowns. A lot of Stanford’s success in the passing game has come from a trio of very talented tight ends that are all at least 6-6, led by fifth-year senior Coby Fleener (28 catches for 551 yards and eight scores).

Notre Dame has the 31st-ranked passing defense in the country (198.8 yards allowed per game), and the Irish have a little more depth at cornerback than many people thought. Still, slowing the fourth-highest scoring attack in the nation will not be easy.

EDGE: Stanford

Notre Dame running Game vs. Stanford run defense
Notre Dame has a major question mark in the running game after losing breakout senior Jonas Gray to a knee injury against Boston College. Junior Cierre Wood will get the bulk of the carries this week, but the Irish will need someone to step up and help carry the load. Not all hope is lost with Wood and a veteran offensive line that has been averaging 175.9 rushing yards per game
this year.

Stanford lost All-America linebacker candidate Shayne Skov early in the season, but has had no problem filling that void. The Cardinal currently has the fifth-best rush defense in the country (93.4 yards allowed per contest). Part of that is due to opponents giving up on the run after
they fall behind early. Stanford’s defense has faced 372 pass attempts and only 318 runs. Senior LB Chase Thomas leads the Pac-12 in tackles for loss with 14.5. He is one of five Stanford players in the balanced front seven that have more than 40 tackles.

EDGE: Even

Notre Dame passing Game vs. Stanford pass defense
Notre Dame picked up the pace on offense during the second half of the season, but struggled to find that rhythm against Boston College. Oregon torched Stanford for 53 points thanks to its fast-paced offense. This will be the last regular-season game for Michael Floyd in the blue and gold, and maybe junior tight end Tyler Eifert, and one would expect him to finish with some fireworks. Floyd quietly surpassed 1,000 receiving yards in the win against Boston College.

Stanford’s secondary sees a lot of action in the pass game and had only four interceptions in 11 games. The Cardinal allows 240.1 yards per game through the air.

EDGE: Notre Dame

Special Teams
Notre Dame is dead last nationally in the punt return category after falling there in its 45-21 win over Maryland. Junior punter Ben Turk showed some improvements in his leg, booming a 58 yarder and pinning the Terps inside their 20 twice and a couple more 50-plus yarders against Boston College. Fifth-year senior David Ruffer has returned to his consistent self in the second half of the season, hitting his last eight attempts.

Stanford’s two field goal kickers missed their first attempt from inside the 40 this season last week. Eric Whitaker, younger brother of former Notre Dame transfer Nate Whitaker, took over kicking duties during the past month, but it appears Jordan Williamson is healthy and will return to his starting spot. Junior Drew Terrell is a threat returning punts, averaging 12.2 yards per return, the 12th-best mark in the country.

EDGE: Stanford

Prediction: Notre Dame 35-41 Stanford