The Stanford Cardinal will not get a break before heading into the Pac-12 Championship game, as David Shaw’s squad has to host Notre Dame in the final regular season game of 2013 before taking on Arizona State for a spot in the Rose Bowl.
A week removed from the “Big Game,” one of college football’s most historic rivalries, Stanford will now enter another high-stakes, prestigious showdown. Despite the tough matchup, the Cardinal has played well in most big games this season, defeating ranked Oregon, Arizona State, and UCLA teams.
This offseason, Notre Dame was projected to have one of the best defensive fronts in the country, led by Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix III. While they have not exactly been bad, the Irish have not lived up to that billing this year, allowing 167 rushing yards per game.
Tyler Gaffney will have to establish the ground game early. While Kevin Hogan dissected the Cal Bears with ease last week, the Irish are significantly tougher on the defensive side of the ball, making Stanford’s strong running game extremely important against Notre Dame.
Hogan’s role will still, of course, be significant in moving the ball against the Irish. If he can find Ty Montgomery early and often, as he did last week against Cal, the two-dimensional Cardinal offense will be hard to slow down.
Hogan will likely have plenty of time to throw the football as well. His elite offensive line should have little trouble holding off a Notre Dame pass rush that has only recorded 16 sacks this season.
The Irish have also been mediocre on the offensive side of the ball this season, averaging just more than 400 total yards per game. The Cardinal have been dominant on defense lately, and currently sit at No. 3 in the nation in rushing defense.
The key for Stanford on defense will be putting pressure on Tommy Rees. Notre Dame has allowed only seven sacks this season, so the Cardinal will need to make him uncomfortable early in order to contain him and his offensive playmakers such as T.J. Jones and George Atkinson III.
The game kicks off at 4 p.m. Pacific, so be sure to tune in to this prestigious matchup.