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  • Irish Welcome Ailing Cardinal

    by John Vannie

    Two teams that urgently need a win collide in South Bend on Saturday night when Notre Dame (2-4) hosts the Stanford Cardinal (3-2). The Fighting Irish are burdened with mid-term exams and will begin a much needed fall break following this contest, but the annual battle with Stanford has become a more passionate rivalry in recent years and won’t be taken lightly. The Cardinal has faltered from a recent spate of injuries and uncharacteristic poor play in the past two weeks, resulting in beatdowns from conference foes by a combined 86-22. NBC will televise the game nationally beginning at 7:30 PM Eastern time.

    A win for either team would help to restore confidence for players and coaches that have been shaken by recent setbacks. Notre Dame has won only twice in its last eight starts, including a soul crushing 38-36 defeat at the hands of the Cardinal last November in Palo Alto. Stanford started this season with solid wins over Kansas State, USC and UCLA, but were overwhelmed by Washington and shredded by Washington State. The powerful running game that is their signature competency has all but crumbled in the wake of offensive line malfunctions, while the inconsistent play of two quarterbacks has prevented them from taking advantage of defenses that key on star tailback Christian McCaffrey. The problems for Notre Dame have mainly been on the defensive side of the ball, where they have surrendered an average of 33 points in games not played in a hurricane.

    David Shaw Coach David Shaw has stated that his team can fix the “correctable” mistakes that have plagued his team of late. “I still believe we’ve got a very good football team,” he said. “We’re not playing as such. If we didn’t have the capabilities, I wouldn’t say it.” It won’t help Stanford if McCaffrey cannot play effectively or at all on Saturday, but his status will be a game time decision following an undisclosed injury last week. Update: McCaffrey will not play.

    Four other Cardinal starters —offensive tackle Casey Tucker, wide receiver Francis Owusu, cornerback Quenton Meeks and tight end Greg Taboada — are expected to return action. Tucker’s return should help stabilize the offensive line, where Shaw has been forced to mix and match available players to cobble together a patchwork lineup. Results have been poor, as quarterback Burns has been sacked ten times in the past two games and McCaffrey has been held to 49 and 35 yards rushing. Fullback and lead blocker Daniel Marx has also been out during this rough stretch and will likely miss Saturday’s meeting. Astoundingly, Stanford’s rushing attack now ranks 100th in the nation.

    The Irish have been relatively healthy to date, although a season-ending injury to Shaun Crawford against Texas and disciplinary issues in the preseason have taken three starters out of the secondary. This attrition has forced young players into the heat of battle. It’s therefore less surprising that Notre Dame ranks 100th nationally in pass defense, especially when one considers that the Irish are 125th in sacks.


    Stanford has pass defense issues of its own, particularly during the last two games when Meeks and fellow starting cornerback Alijah Holder were out of the lineup. Holder is not expected back on Saturday, but his replacement, Frank Buncom, had a pick six against WSU. This turned out to be the lone bright spot for the Cardinal defense, as Cougar quarterback Luke Falk completed 30 of 41 passes for 357 yards and four touchdowns. DeShone Kizer should enjoy success against this group regardless of who is trying to cover his receivers.

    The Cardinal plays a 3-4 defense, led by end Solomon Thomas and nose tackle Harrison Phillips up front, with support from outside linebackers Joey Alfieri and Peter Kalambayi. Joining Buncom and Meeks in the secondary are safeties and leading tacklers Zach Hoffpauir and Dallas Lloyd. Hoffpauir is filling in for Justin Reid, who is suspended for the first half, while Lloyd has two interceptions. This is not an elite unit even when healthy, but Stanford’s ball control offense had kept them from being exposed until recently.

    Although Notre Dame is certain to attack the Cardinal through the air, the team really needs to reinvigorate its running game after a 59 yard output last week in 38 attempts. While the conditions were beyond poor, the Irish showed no confidence with a half-hearted effort to run the ball even after it became obvious that throwing it was a fool’s errand. Expect Stanford to shore up its pass defense in this game and try to put as many hits on Kizer as possible. The Irish can counter this by running straight at the Cardinal, but Kelly’s pattern to date has been to run slow developing plays parallel to the line of scrimmage. Results have been decidedly mixed and even worse near the goal line.


    Much to the consternation of the Stanford faithful, Shaw is still tinkering with a two quarterback rotation. Ryan Burns is the primary performer, but Keller Chryst comes into the game at specified intervals to run the show. The results have been disappointing of late, and local media is urging Shaw to go exclusively with Burns. The senior is a 66% passer, but has been unable to put many points on the board as drives seem to stall for one reason or another.

    The Cardinal has talent at wide receiver with speedster Michael Rector and emerging sophomore J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who has caught a touchdown pass in each of the last three games. Coincidentally, those are the only offensive scores recorded by this offense during that span. The return of Owusu to the lineup along with Taboada at tight end gives Burns a chance for success if he can get some protection in the pocket. Conversely, the Irish simply must get pressure this week – there may not be a better opportunity to generate sacks against a Stanford team.

    McCaffrey The elephant in the room for the Cardinal is the potential absence of McCaffrey. Unconfirmed reports indicate he will not play at all or participate very sparingly. Reserve tailback Bryce Love is equally fast but not as elusive or versatile. Still, he is capable of giving the Irish problems. Rector is also a lock to run a reverse coming out of a change of possession, and he has been very successful on these occasions.

    If Tucker can return to play right tackle, David Bright can get back to his normal left guard position where he teams with Johnny Caspers on the right side to stabilize the line. Graduation losses have left an unsettled situation up front this season, and Shaw has struggled to plug the leaks.


    Stanford kicker Conrad Ukropina, who booted Notre Dame out of the playoffs last year, continues to perform effectively for Shaw and the Cardinal. He did miss his first two field goal attempts last week by hitting the upright each time, but has otherwise been reliable. Punter Alex Robinson has averaged 44.5 yards per attempt, although he often leaves room for a return. Once again, the status of McCaffrey is important to the Cardinal return game as he is the primary person in this role. Even if he is healthy enough to participate in the offense, however, Shaw will most likely find another volunteer to bring back kicks and punts.

    Tyler Newsome had a punt blocked in last week’s monsoon, but hopefully will return to form on dry land. Justin Yoon has converted five of eight field goal attempts this season, and not been tested from longer than 42 yards. Eventually, he’ll have to hit one from fifty yards or so to win a game. C.J. Sanders continues to add value as the Irish return man, and will try to give the hosts a field position advantage on Saturday.


    Stanford is struggling on both sides of the ball due to injuries and the fact that this year’s talent level in the trenches is down from recent norms. Notre Dame should be able to exploit the Cardinal secondary, but should also run the ball to control time of possession. An early advantage on the scoreboard will put added pressure on Stanford’s shaky quarterbacks to make plays and ultimately lead to mistakes. If the Irish fall behind, the Cardinal may just regain the confidence and swagger they have lost during October. Burns and a healthy receiving corps have the ability to do damage to the Notre Dame defense if there is plenty of time for plays to develop, but the Irish rushers should be able to generate pressure. It should be noted that neither Burns nor Chryst is much of a running threat.

    Here are a few questions that will shed light on the outcome:

    Which offense will control the clock and keep its defense off the field?

    Can Notre Dame’s anemic pass rush break through Stanford’s porous offensive line?

    Will Bryce Love pick up the slack for McCaffrey?

    Which team will shake off its recent losses and play inspired football?

    Can the Irish rediscover the running game?

    Which offense will convert its red zone opportunities?

    Will Irish fans just stay home and watch the Cubs?


    The Irish have a significant advantage at quarterback, and have no excuse to allow the Cardinal lines to push them around on either side of the ball. The home crowd and pent-up frustration of recent defeats should motivate Notre Dame to play up to its capabilities, although Stanford will undoubtedly be up for this rivalry game as well. The Irish should prevail unless they have collectively decided to mail in the rest of the season, which seems highly unlikely. Still, Shaw will probably conjure a better plan than Kelly and will make this contest closer than it needs to be.


    31 Responses to “Irish Welcome Ailing Cardinal”

    1. I and several others that I know are going to stay home to watch the Cubs; it’s much better entertainment. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anyone that wanted my tickets.

    2. Here’s my prediction:

      # of false starts by ND + Stanford tackles for a loss >= 10

      I feel like every year Stanford knows our snap sequence better than our own team.

    3. The downward momentum continues this weekend as ND will make Stanford look like a Playoff team.

      It doesn’t even matter if MCCAFFREY plays or not.. Our defense will allow some no name backup
      to rush for a hundred yards and shred our D.

      More shameful preparation from BK and his inept staff..

      Stanford 38
      ND 24

      • BaldKnobber says:

        While I find it hard to believe that the same team that lost to Duke can beat Stanford, I am hoping against hope that the guys will pull themselves together and beat a rival for the sake of pride. GO IRISH!

        • John Vannie says:

          I had the same preconceived notion when I started my research – that ND is going to lose. However, after looking closely at this year’s Stanford team, I became convinced that ND should win. If Kelly blows this game, whether he blames the players or not, he should be shown the door immediately.

          • If we lose this weekend to Stanford…my question is….in your opinion….will the administration and AD fire Brian Kelly. I understand he had his contract extended I believe last year so my gut feeling is that we are stuck with him for awhile. I do not think he is a great coach (maybe good and much better then the three who preceded him) and I do not think ND under coach BK has ever been prepared to play the top tiered teams (Alabama, Ohio State, etc)

            Finally…if they did fire him, where realistically would they go. I know these are just opinions.

            I love ND but I have to say it has been very hard to watch them knowing they are just not very good. This has been going on for a long, long time …long before BK. Thank you.

            • John Vannie says:

              Unfortunately there are a few caveats that make this more than a yes or no question. First, my threshold of pain and tolerance for mediocre football is lower than the people in ND’s administration, who still seem to be manufacturing excuses for Kelly. While losing to Stanford would be bad for Kelly’s long term employment prospects at ND, the administration’s perception of how well the team plays, how well Kelly prepared the team and constructed his game plan, and how the players respond to him would enter into the calculus. You can have all of these boxes checked and still lose a game because the other team performed even better or just got a few more breaks. So, I think it will take not only a loss, but also a poor overall showing by the team to bring about his firing. We are close to the point where any reasonable person must realize that Kelly’s time at ND has run its course, but ND has a lot of money invested in him and won’t pull the plug as easily as, say, my Fortune 100 company would let me go if my results went south like Kelly’s have done.

              I will say this year’s Stanford team is not very good, and a loss to them would convince me if I were on the fence that Kelly and his system have to go now.

    4. “The Irish can counter this by running straight at the Cardinal, but Kelly’s pattern to date has been to run slow developing plays parallel to the line of scrimmage.” What I have seen out of the run game has been exactly this – running straight at teams, particularly on first down, looking like the latter years of the Holtz staff and Davie’s years of predictable offense. The successful teams of the last 5-7 years have all run the ball effectively by using misdirection, read option and balanced unpredictability. That is what this team has lacked since Zaire was taking snaps against LSU. I’m not pushing for Zaire to supplant Kizer but there needs to be more emphasis on the run game and more creativity in doing so. Running off tackle nearly every first down run play isn’t cutting it. With an apparent lack of play-making tight ends I can’t understand why Kelly does not insert mutliple back formations.

    5. “If Kelly blows this game he should be shown the door immediately ”

      Amen I say Amen.

    6. Carlos Bauza says:

      Looking at results one can only deduce ND will lose this game. If so, Kelly should be fired immediately.

    7. I agree both teams are in a similar position, they both need a win. Also, Shaw and Kelly have to push the reset button and win in the second half of the season and everyone at the school and in the national media knows it. Stanford has looked horrible but I think Shaw is a good coach and he can get his team playing at a high level. It will be interesting to see which team responds to the challenge.

      I give the edge to Shaw and his staff in the coaching department but Notre Dame has better players. I think a game like this will shed more light on Kelly’s lack of coaching ability. I hate to see the team lose because I think Notre Dame has some very good players it’s a shame these young guys don’t have a real coach. But after this game and Miami Kelly is done.

    8. I am fine with exploring coaching alternatives but the idea that this is the game he has to win or be fired makes no sense. Either the loss to Duke did it and there is nothing he can do to be retained aside from running the table or he is going to be given one more year. Losing to Stanford even if they are a notch or two below the last few years isn’t getting him fired. With that said, I think they lose this game 27-24.

      • John Vannie says:

        I’ll bet you have a hard time deciding on “paper or plastic” in the grocery store.

        • Paper when my in-laws come over and the good stuff the rest of the time…With that cleared up I’m not sure why my comments seem to be the only one you react with hostility towards. Sorry we have some differing opinions while still loving the school and ultimately wanting the same thing —long term sustainable success.

          • John Vannie says:

            There’s no hostility whatsoever. I continue to be amazed – and amused – by the state of denial that the few remaining holdouts choose to live in with regard to Brian Kelly. The excuses for his failed system and utterly unprofessional behavior would not hold up if Notre Dame were run like a business instead of an organization staffed by weak, insular and timid administrators.

            If he loses to Texas I’ll be surprised…
            Well, if he loses to MSU I’ll really be disappointed…
            Gee, if he loses to Duke I’ll be really, really mad…
            Wow, he threw the players under the bus. I guess I’m very angry now…
            What an awful game plan against NC State, and he blamed the players again. Boiling mad!…
            Hmmm. If he loses to Stanford, we just might have to do something….
            Maybe the bye week will help….
            We have to beat Miami – and this time I really mean it!

    9. Solution for both Stanford and ND. Join the Ivy League.

      • Truthfully…I have said the same thing and especially Notre Dame. This is just my opinion but I am convinced that the administration and the people in the acedemic circles up there don’t care about the status of Notre Dame football which is primarily the reason the university is what it is. Let’s face it…if Knute Rockne had gone somewhere else….Notre Dame would probably be some small mid-western college that not too many people talk about. What Rockne and Notre Dame did for the glory of the game of football and the worldwide notoriety of the university is incredible. Those that serve in administration and acedemics probably owe their employment and about everything else people think good about Notre Dame to the great winning coaches and football championships that brought forth the wealth they all enjoy today. All I know is something is wrong up there and it has been almost 30 years since the last championship. Look at all the universities that would be considered great traditions in college football. They make moves to get the course corrections. And I am not talking about curriculum courses. Maybe they need to call Lou back for a quick fix. If he showed up on a Monday on the practice field…by game day Saturday…you would see a much improved footbally team. Why? Great coaches know what to do!

    10. irishhawk50 says:

      Kelly sounded confident in his last presser. Not sure if that is good or bad. It’s hard to pick the Irish as favorites in any more games this year, except Army, based on how they have played to date, but I will suck it up and watch.

    11. ND could win by a score of 27-23 or they could lose by a similar score. It could go either way and you never know which ND seem will show up from week to week. I don’t think in seven years of Kelly’s tenure that they’ve ever played well in all three phases in a game.

      I think Kelly just made a totally serving statement about how in 1999 at GVS they went 5-5 with an inexperienced team then went 48-6 thereafter. ND may not even win 5 games this year and even if we do I can guarantee we won’t win 48 out of the next 54 games. People who say it’s ok to have a bad season forget that we suffered through one in 2014 going 7-5 and of course Kelly was an innocent bystander like always.

      I love the photo with the many grimaces and shades of purple of Kelly’s game day face over the years.

    12. Austinirish says:

      One game this year we will put it all together, and I have a hunch this may be the game. 41-17 Irish.

    13. Carlos Bauza says:

      ALL the hubris about ND football funnels into ONE solitary reality: coach Kelly reached HIS level of incompetence at Notre Dame. This level of football is beyond him.
      As long as Kelly coaches ND Football, the team will be incompetent.

    14. I am headed to the game this weekend, but unfortunately, I think the walk around campus and the pre-game festivities will be the highlights of this visit. I did not expect the team would be as good as last year’s team, but very few of us expected them to be 2-4 at this point including a home loss to Duke. With a little luck, the team will put a fight in the early going, but then again this isn’t Duke. I do not see any fight or leadership in this team, and the play calling will be as predictable as the rising and setting of the sun. ND has gotten into the habit of hopelessly trying to secure a good coach with long-term contracts after they have a few good years trending in the right direction. I do not understand why they do that. It’s not working and has not been working for the last 20 years. Once the coach gets the long-term contract, he just rests on his laurels and waits for the big windfall. This game is going to be ugly. Hope I am wrong, but I think not given how this team has been playing.
      Stanford 42 Notre Dame 10

    15. IRISH eyes will be cryin’ after this game because there isn’t going to be a complete game plan, inconsistent play calling, no tackling, O-Line will not dominant on a consistent basis and above all the IRISH will beat themselves not Stanford they will take advantage and score and win the game like most games this season.

    16. This offense just stinks! The D steps up and does it’s job over and over and over and the
      offense sucks the wind out of the sails. BK once again gets outcoached and has no business
      coaching at this level. Why won’t this program get a head coach who has won at this level instead
      of getting these up and comers?

    17. Abandon hope. For now and for the future. Notre Dame’s best days are far behind it.

    18. Dink Stover VI says:

      Second down, I think it was, Zaire taking snap almost back in the end zone, and the play call has the receivers twelve to twenty yards down the field. Time to let the players call the plays. What’s coming from the sidelines isn’t real football, it’s a faulty algorithm or something.

    19. irishhawk50 says:

      The sum of the parts is lesser. There are talented players on Notre Dame but they are poorly coached. Washington State, NOT WASHINGTON, put up 40 some points on Stanford’s defense. Notre Dame 10! Really? Game day coaching bad and getting worse. Kelly has lost this team. Maybe 4-8, maybe!

    20. Total failure in all facets. The oline is downright awful. Some had it ranked number 1 preseason. Its not even top 100. Every week i hear how good it is. Well they are atrocious. Why is no one replaced? The errors make me wonder just how bad this staff has recruited and developed talent.

    21. Adios Kelly. I was even forced to agree with Doug Flutie…I wouldn’t’ve benched Kizer. He was a little off today, missed some throws, the first interception was a good defensive play. And the 2nd was just chucking one deep on a 4th with nothing to lose- almost like a punt. Maybe that’s why he was scared to toss it up for grabs at the game’ s end which is unfortunate. Those two dead duck sacks and no throws were nuts. Shouldn’t spiked the ball either but called simple pass play and hurried. He’s still our best player. I mean really Zaire ain’t got it anymore! So you won’t play him as a running QB in a hurricane but 3 drives this week?

      So who wants a cushy Notre Dame job next year?? Who might be in the market? Is Doug Flutie interested? Lol

    22. PS- who is the back up center? Can he be any worse? Can someone else
      on the line trade spots and snap the g.d. ball? So mustioher
      Can just be a body to block. Mental block or not c’mon- can’t snap a ball?? Saddest safety I’ve ever seen and after last weeks 4th down. No more excuses

    23. Bocceman2 says:

      I have posted here consistently on the hiring of Harry Heistand as O line coach after he was fired by Derek Dooley at Tennessee. You reap what you sow BK. BYE BYE