by John Vannie
When Notre Dame visited Stanford last November for the purpose of securing a BCS bowl invitation, Irish fans were surprised to find themselves wringing their hands during the game’s final two minutes. This season, the Cardinal arrive at Notre Dame a winless and battered bunch, and not even the most pessimistic Notre Dame backer can envision anything but a comfortable Irish victory.
The statistics lend credence to the notion that Stanford will be unable to stay with the Irish. Injuries to key skill position starters have crippled the Cardinal offense, which is averaging only 12.6 points against an unremarkable schedule. Stanford’s offensive line has enabled a meager 87 rush yards per game while allowing 21 sacks, and senior quarterback Trent Edwards has been forced to throw to different wide receivers every week.
In last week’s loss to conference rival (and future Irish opponent) UCLA, the fifteen Cardinal possessions ended as follows:
Punts – 7
Turnovers – 5
End of the half – 2
Missed FG – 1
This performance had to discourage Stanford’s 3-4 defense, which has played respectably in the first half of each game. It has been different story in the second half, where the Cardinal has been outscored by a 100-16 margin.
Since Notre Dame has its own injury problems with players such as Asaph Schwapp, Ambrose Wooden and Travis Thomas, it would not be shocking if the game was close until the last five minutes of the first quarter. Stanford does have quality talent in nose tackle Ekom Udofia, linebackers Michael Okwo and leading tackler Clinton Snyder, and David Lofton and Brandon Harrison in the secondary. The 6’4” Lofton is the son of legendary Stanford wide receiver James Lofton.
Notre Dame must battle fatigue and an emotional letdown after five tough opponents and a long-awaited bye week staring them in the face. Coach Charlie Weis and the players would prefer to end the suspense quickly on Saturday, but they cannot afford to become frustrated if they stop themselves with mistakes and penalties or if Stanford simply does not go quietly.
The matchups favor the Irish in nearly every category except linebacker, where Travis Thomas’ absence is somewhat problematic. The Cardinal has precious few weapons to support its pair of outstanding quarterbacks, starter Edwards and backup T.C. Ostrander. Tailbacks Anthony Kimble and Toby Gerhart have been serviceable, but have scored only one touchdown between them. Coach Walt Harris has lost fullback Nick Frank to injury, as well as starting receivers Mark Bradford and 6’7” Evan Moore.
Notre Dame will wear down the Cardinal defense quickly if Edwards must run for his life and his mates generate numerous unproductive possessions. The Irish sacked Edwards and Ostrander seven times last season, and this year’s defense is sick and tired of hearing about its failure to shut down its last three opponents.
This could be the week that Notre Dame gets a chance to showcase freshman running backs James Aldridge and Munir Prince, so it will be worthwhile to watch well into the second half. Stanford will put forth maximum effort as long as its depleted personnel will allow, but this time there is little doubt that the Irish will prevail.
NOTRE DAME 42 STANFORD 7