Stanford Cardinal Look to Get Back on Track Against Notre Dame

October 8, 2016; Stanford, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal quarterback Ryan Burns (17) runs with the football against Washington State Cougars cornerback Darrien Molton (3) during the second quarter at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
October 8, 2016; Stanford, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal quarterback Ryan Burns (17) runs with the football against Washington State Cougars cornerback Darrien Molton (3) during the second quarter at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

The Stanford Cardinal face the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on the road with hopes of ending a two-game skid. South Bend, Indiana has been unkind to Stanford with only one win in ten games against Notre Dame.

Ryan Burns looked poised in the pocket his first two games as starting quarterback for Stanford Cardinal. His performance at home against USC showed Burns was ready for Pac-12 opponents despite having no starting experience. Cause for concern, however, emerged on the road against UCLA where Burns struggled to move the Cardinal offense. Burns was able to deliver in the fourth quarter but has to thank the defense for keeping them in the game.

The concerns on offense became evident in Seattle. Stanford unraveled quickly against a potent Washington team, facing an early deficit. The Cardinal could not figure out how to get back in the game resulting in their first loss of the season.

Problems continued the following week at home against Washington State. Inability to block, missed tackles, and leaving players open caused Stanford to suffer their second-straight loss.

With Pac-12 and College Football Playoff aspirations out the door, David Shaw and Stanford need to take this season one game at a time. Crazy results have happened previous years in the Pac-12 and Stanford could well be right back in Pac-12 Championship contention.

However, scoreboard watching is not the focus as Stanford needs to take care of their own business.

Turbulent times have hit current Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly. A storied program, the Fighting Irish haven’t gotten off to a great start under Kelly. Unless a fan of Duke, nobody would have thought the Blue Devils could beat the Irish on the road. However, Duke left Notre Dame stunned, pulling out a 38-35 victory. Sporadic play by the Irish has cost the team in their four losses this season.

Of the four losses, last week’s loss to NC State should have been rescheduled. Hurricane Matthew caused havoc on the east coast. Both teams were slipping and sliding ten yards after each tackle from the rain. The teams combined for a total 10 turnovers and 311 yards. Like Stanford, expect Notre Dame to be playing for team pride on Saturday.

As evident the last two games, Stanford’s play at the line of scrimmage needs to improve. The status of Christian McCaffrey is unknown after leaving last week with an injury. Bryce Love will likely carry the load should McCaffrey not play. Although the offensive line does give Burns time in the pocket, creating gaps and blocking has been dormant.

Along with the line play offensively, Stanford’s receivers need to make plays advancing down the field. Michael Rector was solid last game and he will look to build off his performance. JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Trenton Irwin dropped critical passes that could have been game changers against Washington State. The two will have to step up this week when targeted.

On the defensive side, Stanford expects to have starting cornerback Quenton Meeks back. His presence will be much needed for a struggling Cardinal secondary. However, Meeks may be limited as Stanford cannot afford to lose him for the season. Alijah Holder is still out from his injury. Expect Dallas Lloyd and Frank Buncom to make an impact as both had good performances last week.

Line play is not only essential for Stanford to succeed but Notre Dame will be looking to do the same. Defensively, the Irish have been giving up big plays at critical junctures. A thin secondary and lack of depth has caused problems this season for the Irish to secure wins.  If the Irish want to succeed, the defense will have to get off the field as fast as possible to allow the offense to work.

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For Notre Dame’s offense, quarterback DeShone Kizer is a threat with his arm and his feet. He has thrown for 14 touchdowns this season but has a tendency to make mistakes with five interceptions on the year. Equanimeous St. Brown leads all receivers on the Irish with six touchdowns.

Along with St. Brown, receivers Torii Hunter Jr. and C.J. Sanders also will look to exploit Stanford’s secondary. On the rushing end, Kizer will scramble for yards as he has six touchdowns on the ground. Dexter Williams is also a threat on the ground who will look to turn up the field and make a few Cardinal defenders miss.

College Football Playoff implications no longer reside with Notre Dame as four losses eliminate them from the picture. A win against Stanford will provide a boost for the team, but won’t hold significance from past victories. Kelly could possibly be fighting for his job the rest of the season no matter the result.

A win for Stanford will get them back to winning ways. The Cardinal have the depth on both sides to defeat Notre Dame on the road. With a win, confidence will be added before their next conference game at home against Colorado.

Next: Stanford Cardinal: The Pac-12 and CFP Out of Reach

Pride is on the line for both teams. Both believed College Football Playoff berths could be reached but were shattered early in the season. Expect a physical battle on the gridiron as Stanford and Notre Dame jockey to gain an edge over the other to pull out a win.