Stanford and Notre Dame are eerily similar teams, who will each look to run the ball, control the time of possession and punish opposing offenses with a strong defense. Notre Dame has yet to allow a rushing touchdown this season, but could see that come to an end when running back Stephan Taylor steps onto the field at South Bend.
The Stanford running back has been the steadying presence in the Cardinal backfield as they adjust to first-year starter Josh Nunes, who has had his share of ups and downs in his first season replacing Andrew Luck.
Taylor scored the game winner in the overtime win over the Arizona Wildcats last weekend after falling behind early when Nunes threw two costly interceptions. Averaging 111 yards per game on 4.7 yards per carry, Taylor was also the key cog in the upset victory over then #2 USC September 15th.
Notre Dame has the most daunting defense the Cardinal has faced thus far and Manti Te’o and company will have their hands full trying to contain a team that scored 54 points a week ago. Through five games, the Irish defense has been up to the test as they have the second ranked scoring defense in the nation at 7.8 points per game.
Last week, they held Miami to a single field goal one week after they scored 44. The game before that the defense held Denard Robinson and Michigan to six total points, and the week before that they held Michigan State without an offensive touchdown for the first time in over a decade.
The Notre Dame defense is an elite unit. The same cannot be said for the Irish offense, although they are coming off their best performance of the year when they racked up 587 yards of total offense. The staggering part of the number is the 376 yards compiled on the ground. Coincidentally, it was the first time Notre Dame gained more than 300 yards in a game since a 2003 game with Stanford.
Cierre Wood and George Atkinson were the first duo to eclipse the century mark in over a decade and Everett Golson even chipped in 51 from the quarterback position, but I am not convinced they can manage that much running room against a tough Stanford defense.
This game will largely be dictated by which defense can force the other team’s young quarterback into mistakes. Golson and Nunes have each had their mental lapses and physical errors, so whichever one blinks first may create all the difference the other team needs in what figures to be a tight game to the final whistle.
Stanford has averaged 35 points in the last three wins against Notre Dame, but facing a team that has allowed a total of 39 points all season will be tough to repeat. Stanford has been too inconsistent this season for me to believe they can win on the road vs. an elite defense and an offense that is gaining steam.
Prediction: Notre Dame wins 26-17
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Patrick is a diehard Chicago sports and avid college football fan, and the host of “The Wake-up Call,” a weekly sports show on Sportstownchicago.com Wednesday mornings from 8-10. View his show’s website here.