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  • Irish Seek Elusive Win in Palo Alto

    by John Vannie

    Notre Dame will travel to the West Coast to battle Stanford on Saturday in pursuit of its tenth victory of the season and first in Palo Alto since 2007. The 8-3 Cardinal have won six of the previous eight contests between these schools. Stanford Coach David Shaw has won five consecutive home games against teams ranked in the top ten, but the eighth-ranked Irish hope to put an end to that streak and reclaim the upper hand in this series. ABC will provide national television coverage beginning at 8:00 PM Eastern time.

    The teams have traveled different roads to reach this destination. Notre Dame raced to an 7-1 record with strong showings in September and October, only to struggle in its last three outings. Dominating performances by its powerful running game and strong, opportunistic defense have regressed to levels more closely resembling previous November fades in the Kelly era. Meanwhile, Stanford has recovered from an alarming 1-2 start to win seven of its last eight. The Cardinal are undefeated at home this season.

    Costello Stanford’s resurgence can be linked to a change at quarterback, where Shaw replaced senior Keller Chryst with sophomore Kevin Costello against UCLA and ultimately settled on him as the starter. This brought balance to an offense that featured star tailback Bryce Love but little else. Costello is the more accurate passer and has developed into a confident leader. This helped the Cardinal withstand an ankle injury to Love that has severely hampered his production in the last few games.

    Love’s season track mirrors that of Notre Dame’s Josh Adams, whose recent but undisclosed health issues have also limited his carries and rush yards per game. Quarterback Brandon Wimbush has been inconsistent as a passer while attempting to pick up the slack, and the Irish offense has struggled as a result.

    While Notre Dame’s defense has appeared to be tired and increasingly vulnerable of late, Stanford has improved on this side of the ball. The Cardinal have surrendered only 17 points per game over the last six weeks. The Irish sailed through the first two months of the season by allowing only 16 points per game, but that number has risen to 29 in November.


    Phillips The Irish will attack a Stanford 3-4 defense that lacks size up front but is comprised of six senior starters, including all four linebackers. Nose tackle Harrison Phillips is the anchor, which is underscored by the fact that he leads the team in both tackles and sacks. Inside linebacker Bobby Okereke is a solid player who is equally adept as a blitzer in passing situations and as a run stopper. The overall unit is only average against the run, however, and Notre Dame should have an advantage if they choose to emphasize the ground game.

    The Cardinal secondary has endured the loss of cornerbacks Terrence Alexander and Alijah Holder due to injury, yet has managed to hold it together over the second half of the season. Safety Justin Reid is the best player in the unit, while cornerback Alameen Murphy has raised his game since being elevated to a starting role. Opposite Murphy is Quenton Meeks, one of the best corners in the PAC-12. Reid has five interceptions and is versatile enough to play corner if the need arises. The other safety, Frank Buncom, has developed into a solid player over the course of the season.

    This defense is neither statistically impressive nor stocked with star players, but Stanford’s recent success lies in its ability to tighten up in scoring territory with key stops or timely turnovers. The team holds a 21-10 positive turnover margin, which is no small factor in its ability to win close games.

    The Irish need to run the ball early and often against this unit, as Stanford will not be able to hold up to a more rigorous physical assault than it has seen all season. The question is whether the brain trust will press the ground attack and stick with it. The decisions by Brian Kelly and Chip Long to accentuate the passing game at the outset of recent contests will not be a winning strategy in this one. Adams, Dexter Williams and the rest of the Irish backs can have a good night, particularly if center Sam Mustipher can hold his own against Phillips.

    If Wimbush is asked to throw the ball, the Cardinal will focus on stopping Kevin Stepherson while Notre Dame will attack Murphy’s side of the field. Both Equanimeous St. Brown and Chase Claypool are banged up, and may be limited. The Irish have underutilized tight end Durham Smythe, who has excelled when given the opportunity. Alize Mack, on the other hand, has been unreliable as a receiver.


    Love The health and stamina of the Irish front seven is the chief concern heading into this contest. Love is capable of running downhill despite a gimpy right ankle and needs only a crease to break into the secondary. Notre Dame’s Daelin Hayes, Jerry Tillery, Jay Hayes, Nyles Morgan and Drue Tranquill have not played at the same high level they did earlier this year, and one has to wonder how much fuel remains in their respective tanks.

    Love runs behind a typically strong Stanford offensive line, and is often led by fullback David Marx. Guard David Bright and center Jesse Burkett are the leaders up front, and their battle with the Irish interior defensive linemen will matter most on first down runs where the Cardinal expect to gain 5-7 yards. Notre Dame’s ends match up well with Stanford tackles Austin Hall and Devery Hamilton, who is replacing injured starter Walter Little on the left side. This advantage may be in evidence on passing downs, although it should be noted that the Cardinal emphasize short, quick passes and have allowed only 12 sacks this season.

    When Love needs a breather, backup Cameron Scarlett has been adequate but certainly less effective than the Heisman candidate. This has given rise to sophomore Trevor Speights, a fan favorite who brings speed and a hard-running style whenever he is inserted into the lineup. Costello is also an effective runner who has a knack for keeping drives alive with his legs.

    Stanford does not have elite speed at wide receiver, but is effective in executing a ball-control passing game. Costello’s improved accuracy over Chryst certainly helped the offense put up more points and commit fewer turnovers. His primary third down target is J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who uses his 6’3” 225-pound frame to screen out defenders and run through tackles. Trent Irwin, a capable possession receiver, is also in the mix. He and Arcega-Whiteside lead the team with 37 catches apiece. The Cardinal tight ends are fully utilized in the passing game as well. Senior Dalton Schultz and sophomore Kaden Smith are solid contributors, although Schultz may be less than 100% healthy on Saturday.


    Notre Dame’s return and coverage units continue to be cringe-worthy. Chris Finke fumbled a punt last week that led to a Navy touchdown, and C.J. Sanders rarely sees any daylight when he brings back a kickoff. Conversely, the Irish give up more yards per return than they gain, which often results in unfavorable field position.

    Kicking specialist Justin Yoon remains perfect on extra point attempts and field goals inside 40 yards. Punter Tyler Newsome has been slightly above average, but every now and then will hit a shank or boot a returnable line drive.

    The Cardinal are not quite as explosive in the return game without Christian McCaffrey, but their positive differential in average return yards gained versus return yards allowed is among the best in the country. Scarlett does a credible job on kick returns while 5’8” Jay Tyler averages eight yards on punts. In short, Stanford’s special teams are motivated and well-coached.

    Kicker Jet Toner took over the job this season after being recruited out of Hawaii. (The rumor that he was discovered in the Computer Peripherals section of Best Buy is flat out wrong.) The 6’4” Toner has made an impressive 19 of 23 field goals and has excellent range. Punter Jake Bailey sports a 44-yard average, while the stingy Cardinal have allowed a grand total of 37 yards in returns all season on Bailey’s 41 punts.


    Irish Defense Stanford’s strong running attack, efficient short passing game and overall offensive personnel bear a resemblance to North Carolina State. Of course, the Wolfpack’s star tailback Nyheim Hines went down in the first series against Notre Dame and did not return, but Love remains a dangerous weapon for the Cardinal despite his injury. The Irish defenders need to stay strong in their gaps and play the same type of tight, aggressive coverage against the plus-sized Stanford receivers that they did a month ago in that victory.

    When Notre Dame has the ball, it’s important to establish the run first. Wimbush can get into the act with designed runs as well, and they should be effective unless Stanford elects to spy on him with Okereke. Doing so, however, would open other doors for the Irish. Double team blocking on Phillips will help wear down the Cardinal’s leading disrupter and lead to defensive breakdowns in the second half. Stanford’s secondary is opportunistic and aggressive, so a plan to challenge them from the outset could easily backfire.

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

    Will the Irish have the patience to maximize their strength in the running game?

    Can Notre Dame stop the short passes by Costello on third down?

    Will Love and the other Stanford backs be able to gain 5+ yards on first down?

    Can the Irish avoid turnovers in the passing game?

    Which quarterback will have adequate time to throw?

    Can Adams and Williams return to early season form?

    Which defense will do a better job in the red zone?

    Is it a futile exercise for me to ask another question related to special teams?


    Notre Dame has better overall talent, although recent outings cast doubt as to whether this team can muster the inspired effort needed to win a 60-minute fight. Stanford’s coaches are simply better at playing to their strengths, identifying opponent tendencies and attacking weaknesses. The Irish will land a few big punches but the Cardinal will not panic and abandon their game plan. Instead, patience, determination and coaching acumen will carry the hosts to victory once again in this series.


    50 Responses to “Irish Seek Elusive Win in Palo Alto”

    1. Big Game Brian says:

      Agreed although I think the score is worse then that due to the apparent regression of Wimbush and a team who looks like their limping to the finish line. Stanford 31-20

      • Stanford players and coaches have admitted they’ll be scoreboard watching because their chance at a Pac 12 title rest on the game up in Seattle. I think that distraction and the possibility of holding Love back to play in a possible conference championship game merit consideration.

        • Mike Coffey says:

          That likely will have some sort of effect. I would be surprised if he keeps Love out unless he’s truly banged up and they want him healthy.

    2. You’ve earned your pay once again with the preview of Stanford. I enjoy the depth of these. Prefer yours to any media sources available.
      The Trees depth in the defensive front seven, and a persistent game plan based on attacking the tiring Irish front seven, combined with opportunistic short to medium ball-control type passes, will be hard for ND to overcome. Think Stanford can be vulnerable off-tackle but only if the Irish can run more downhill and not parallel to the LOS because the Stanford nose tackle will penetrate and stop the play or allow the backers into the gaps. Not too sure the Irish will game plan to the Irish apparent advantage, nor be patient enough to avoid temptation to try a passing game that asks too much of Wimbush.

    3. I think ND has the capability to win this and win it big, but it’s November, and as is typical under BK, they will most certainly fall apart due to poor game planning and the inability to make adjustments during the game. Stanford will force them to be one dimensional, and the defense, while improved, is just too porous. They cannot be on the field as long as they were against Navy. Hope I am wrong, but we have seen this so many times before and the trend does not look good right now. If they are to have any chance, they need to generate some turnovers and not turn it over themselves. Oh, and how about throwing in a special teams play for a game changer? Christmas would come early!

    4. Irish will surprise us with a ND 35 Stanford 27 Win!

    5. The Stanford Defense takes it to us and controls the line of scrimmage.. How could we not dominate the
      line of scrimmage last week against a small Navy D.. Pathetic!!

      Wimbush looks lost at the moment.. Adams not the same the last few weeks.

      Stanford’s big WR group will have a field day..

      And whoever runs the ball for Stanford will find huge holes.

      The dream died in Miami.. It showed against Navy… And the Cardinal take it to us..

      Stanford 29
      ND 17

    6. I have no confidence in BK in big games. Stables are poor special teams play and QB that throw the ball to the other team. The key to the game will be Wimbush – if he plays well they can win but Kelly track record with QB’s is awful. Crist, Golson, Ziare, Kizer, the current QB coach his name escapes me – all regressed. All throw way too many interceptions.

    7. Most of you clowns point to ND struggling against Navy.
      Well, Stanford beat mighty Oregon state by 1, mighty Call by 3 and lost
      To an extremely talented San Diego State. Wait, don’t they
      Have 3 loses! #firebrey … lol
      hilarious analysis and opinions. Keep up the clown show OP’s
      Irish roll 28 13

      • Bye bye Kelly says:

        Not sure why the name calling but Kelly and the Irish track record on the road is why most have no confidence. Oh and Kelly can’t win at Stanford so not sure why pointing to a few losses by Stanford this year is relevant to that argument. Add in they have looked awful for roughly 10 quarters and you are just about the only person who sees an ND route.

        • Thanks for that input. I agree and have previously posted that BK has a piss-in-pants record when it comes to Saturday night road games against formidable opponents. If the Irish rely on the passing game in their first (and likely second) offensive series, I think we can all just play the game in the background and get the Guinness out to put out the flames while either Clemson/South Carolina or the Apple Cup diverts our attention.

      • Laura,
        Let’s chat on Monday after the Irish get rolled again!!!

        • John Vannie says:

          You can bet his real name isn’t Laura. It must be a rule in the real clown world that whenever Kelly shits the bed and another season goes down the tubes, anonymous douchebags and drive-by flamers respond by attacking NDNation.

          • Bye bye Kelly says:

            Absolutely absurd to defend the indefensible at this point. Just to add fuel to the fire Miami lost at Pitt and the only blowout they had all year was against the ill prepared and flat Irish. Amazing!!!

          • JVan,

            I’m with you.. I’m so sick and tired of our Irish “underperforming” every year under Kelly..

            I hate watching the Navy game as we can’t seem to control either line of scrimmage.. Did you see
            how Houston beat Navy today and just shut them down!!

            • From the sidelines tomorrow night:
              BK: “Why are you guys playing like crap out there?!?”
              ANY PLAYER: “Sorry coach, but it’s a Saturday night road game against a ranked team.”
              BK: “What?!?”
              ANY PLAYER: “Well, don’t you remember what you said in your presser earlier this week about how it’s tough to win on the road? The team saw the whole thing and we bought into it!”

      • Haha ok Laura. When Stanford played Oregon State they weren’t at home and didn’t have their running back Bryce Love. Playing on the road is a totally different animal than playing at home as ND exhibited in Miami by shitting the bed. I do not have faith in Brian Kelly on the road or as a big time coach in big games. I think he will lose it again for us by throwing the ball 62 times because he has a fetish for passing and really wants to show everyone how much Wimbush can throw a football. Stanford 30, ND 20. So I am going to keep up the clown show too.

      • I believe that Laura is a faithful ND fan as I am and whether or not they win/lose its faith in your team that counts. The other naysayer Notre Dame fans commenting on this board are fair-weather fans that cheer when they win and curse them when they lose. The rest of you are ND haters and don’t belong here making stupid comments.

        • Mike Coffey says:

          Sorry, Doc, you can do what you like, but I don’t believe blind allegiance is a benefit to anyone. I don’t think criticizing fixable mistakes made by the coaches qualifies someone as “fair-weather”.

          And I certainly agree with your stance on the ND haters.

    8. Watching Pitt beating Miami, and taking it to them. Unbelievable, that the Irish were so totally dominated by Miami.


    9. On the road.
      Big game on the road.
      BK coaching a big game on the road.
      Enough said.
      Stanford 28-20 over the Irish.
      The best 3/4 loss coach in the country reigns again.

    10. Irish are favorites, but If you read ndnation, they are double digit dogs..
      I realize this will never get posted
      It’s amazing how these get deleted

      • Mike Coffey says:

        Phil? I thought your name was Laura. You’re posting from the same IP address.

        • Looks like Mike and Vannie will allow dissent when it’s easy to pick apart. Just because you own the domain name, does not mean you are ND Nation. You represent a dying fan base stuck in the early nineties with no clue what goes on in college football outside ND. When ND does win you will be even less relevant because you won’t have anything to complain about. Oh wait, you can still complain about the Jumbotron or the music at games or the crossroads project or the fact they didn’t ban cars on campus and keep it to horses and buggies. Kelly may not be the answer but you guys are just plain miserable.

          • Mike Coffey says:

            We weren’t very miserable earlier in the season when the team was winning and looking good doing it. Then all of a sudden we started passing like crazy, got our doors blown off by a proven-to-be-mediocre Miami team, and barely squeaked by a service academy at home. If that doesn’t bother you, I don’t know what team you’re watching.

        • Laura/Phil doesn’t match Kilcar does it?

    11. Miami loses to unranked lowly Pitt. How did we get so dominated by Miami indeed? I hate to be
      pessimistic about this Stanford game but I just don’t see any fire left since halftime vs Wake Forest.
      This team better show some fire tomorrow or we are gonna get spanked in prime time on the road
      Get it together Irish!! Beat the Trees!!

    12. Mike you should now we have 13 Nd nation readers is this
      Group home. I truly pray for you daily. No shit it’s the same IP you
      Damn idiot

    13. so without name calling and without emotion here is a simple fact: since 2012 Kelly and the Irish are 0/9 against ranked teams on the road.
      With that fact in mind, it is hard to be optimistic because Kelly cant prepare his teams against good competition on the road. Against Miami we were intimidated, scared and confused and it all starts with the coach.
      With that said I think ND is better than Stanford. If we were playing like we did up to three weeks ago we would win going away easily. but at this point I think a very close is wha I am hoping for

      • Mike Coffey says:

        If the team we saw against SC and NCST reappears, fantastic. Trouble is, we haven’t seen them the last 10 quarters, so unless there’s some kind of indication a re-emergence is imminent….

        • Yes we can argue back and forth on this forum but if you somehow can rationalize the above stat ( 0-9) vs ranked Teams on the road after 2012 with BK… pass me the Kool-Aid you’re drinking.

    14. With Miami’s lost today! There is no reason not to be motivated for tomorrow’s game!!!! Get it done IRISH!,☘️

    15. irishhawk50 says:

      This is not a dominant Stanford team as in years past. If ND can’t win this year then when? Oh, that’s right there is always next year.

    16. Ok, I’m hoping someone can answer this or point me to another article to answer the question. Realizing that the odds of a CFP playoff berth are like that of the Buffalo Bills making the NFL playoffs, who should I root for today to give the Irish the top spot for the best bowl game (or a miracle day). I know there is strength off schedule involved and it’s not just rooting for the top 7 ahead of the Irish to lose. Anyone able to fill me in?

    17. Bye bye Kelly says:

      I’d go even further then most on here in saying if Kelly lays another egg on the road I’d fire him and let Chip Long coach the bowl game. Enough is enough- win a road game against someone solid and then win a big bowl game or go away. It’s not about who can we find that’s better it’s about someone deserves a chance to do more for this University then Mr 8-4 with no significant bowl wins.

    18. The fact that Kelly is 2-9 against ranked teams on the road doesn’t fill me with hope and optimism. This means we only have a 22% chance of winning based on Kelly’s poor record.

      I don’t know what happened after NC State, but ND hasn’t been the same team since and it looks like shades of seasons past where they let mediocre teams hang around all game and must rely on late game heroics to win at the end rather than breaking the opposing team’s will has they were doing for most of this season.

      I’ll take an ugly win, but it’s very probable that ND will come up just short in this one as Vannie predicts owing to coaching and team preparation issues.

    19. Austinirish says:

      Let’s stop the sniping. The BK track record in such games is not great, but if the Dee recovers the form of the first eight games (especially tackling) and we stick with the run, I think we can wear them down. Yes, two big ifs, but let’s call it Irish 31 Stanford 27.

      To Tim. My thoughts: Root for Michigan to beat Buckeyes, who will then undoubtedly whip Wisconsin, eliminating the BiG from the hunt. Also, Bama over Auburn, making them a three loss team, and for Bama to go ahead and destroy GA. SC over Clemson probably would help, especially if Miami can right the ship and beat Tigers next week. WVA over OK probably not necessary, or possible. In the above case, Bama, Miami, OK, and maybe, just maybe, the Irish, obviously only if they win tonight.

    20. AlumniDawg97 says:

      Thanks Again Vannie and Happy Thanksgiving to all.

      That said, everyone quit being so damn snarky. I feel like I’m back at the dinner table. We are on the precipice of 10-2 and the chance to beat State Penn’s ass in a big bowl game. Totally different spot than this time last year.
      Yes Kelly said hard to win on the road. Ask Miami. He also said this is a huge opportunity for the team. I am no Kelly lover, but that’s a correct statement.
      ND gets back to running and outwork the Trees. ND 24 Stan 20.

    21. Bye bye Kelly says:

      As I watch this game all I can think is 3 things: we have the most predictable play calling in the country, our offensive line is really overrated and our defense is what we thought it was at the beginning of the year which is to say not good (to be kind). Sad shit to watch.

    22. AlumniDawg97 says:

      I stand corrected. Once again we snatch defeat from the hands of victory. Terrible.

    23. F-ing embarrassing!!! 9-4 season! This season is all about second half season collapse of 2017!!!!! No answers, fire, or desire from the coaching staff or players!!!! We are officially a 2nd tier program!!!!!

    24. Enough. BK runs this place and for 8 years runs this place into complacency. What do we not see?

    25. Ghost of Joe Moore says:

      Once more, Irish not ready for prime time.
      This was a prime time game, resulting in
      Another pathetic loss. I know things didnt go
      well with Tyronne but David Shaw for coach.
      He would be a perfect fit for the PC culture
      at ND but has bigger balls then the admistration
      to return ND football to prominence…..

    26. Get a special teams coach BK…special teams are the character of a winning team. That squad is supposed to be the maniacs who would do anything for your team. Return guys are supposed to be the skill guys who have to show you how passionate they are about winning … neglected terribly with BK. It’s a huge deficit when you give teams field advantage on offense and defense when they have a short field. Elite teams put you in a vice grip when they start your offense behind the twenty. Elite teams also gain an advantage when they return beyond the twenty. No coincedence BKs lack of caring or coaching or recruiting on special teams have killed us for eight years. When we give great teams in big games a short field what do we expect?

    27. It is time for Brian Kelly to look for another coaching job at a different school or just retire. He has had enough time to produce a team that Notre Dame deserves, a team that can win a game against
      a quality program. He can blame the assistant coaches and the players but it is really him that should
      recognize his own inadequacy. As long as Brian Kelly is the coach at Notre Dame, fans will never see a
      national championship. “IT IS TIME FOR BRIAN KELLY TO GO”