Last week, Josh Nunes led Stanford to a big 56-48 come-from-behind win over the Arizona Wildcats in overtime to improve to 4-1 on the season. However, they will face one of their toughest tests of the season when they take on Notre Dame on Saturday.
While the offense returned to form after their loss to Washington two weeks ago, they will face a very strong Notre Dame defense complete with a lethal pass rush that has already compiled 14 sacks this season.
The Stanford offensive line must pave the way up front so the Cardinal can establish the run early on in the game. This is such a necessity because Stanford’s ground attack is really the comfort zone of the offense. Josh Nunes will be starting on the road against a tough and athletic Fighting Irish defense, and will likely need to lean on Stepfan Taylor to move the ball down field.
While the Notre Dame front seven is strong against the run, they have not faced an offensive line quite as powerful as Stanford’s yet this season. Establishing the run early to get into a groove and take pressure off of Josh Nunes is absolutely key.
Once the Cardinal assert their dominance in the run game, the Fighting Irish will have to bring more pressure to try and shut it down. This will allow better opportunities to throw the ball, as Notre Dame will have to stack the box against Taylor.
Nunes must take advantage of this and exploit his tight end matchups. Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo have been unstoppable so far this season, and they have provided their first-year starting quarterback with an invaluable safe haven through the air.
Notre Dame’s strong safety, Matthias Farley, is a sophomore who spent the entire 2011 season as a reserve wide receiver. While he is a promising young talent, his inexperience has shown in some of the team’s games earlier this season. Nunes must take advantage of this matchup. An inexperienced 5’10” safety simply cannot cover his freakishly athletic, towering tight ends.
On the other side of the ball, Stanford must bounce back from allowing 48 points last week and shut down the Notre Dame ground attack. Much like the Cardinal themselves, the Fighting Irish seem to be most comfortable running the ball, with Cierre Wood, George Atkinson III, and Theo Riddick all capable of doing serious damage behind their strong offensive line.
Stanford’s potent front seven is capable of shutting down this rushing attack, and they must do it early. Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson, while an excellent athlete, is an inconsistent passer. He often throws without setting his feet, and tends to panic under pressure. The Cardinal must stack the box to shut down the run game, and keep the pressure on to eliminate Golson as a passing threat.
If Stanford can establish their run game early, exploit their passing matchups, and shut down Notre Dame’s ground attack while keeping the pressure on Everett Golson, the Cardinal have a great chance at beating the No. 7 Fighting Irish, which would be a huge win. Keep an eye on those matchups throughout the game.