11-0. That is now Notre Dame’s record in Shamrock Series games, which is rather impressive if you ask me! The Irish improved to 3-2 on the year with a 28-20 victory over then 16th ranked BYU. With the game taking place in Las Vegas, we got to see some of the glitz and glam – Michael Mayer breaking records, Jayden Thomas doing his best Randy Moss impression, and TaRiq Bracy intercepting the first Cougars’ pass of the game. Overall, it was not a perfect game, but it was enough to come out victorious and continue to add to this year’s win column.
Last week, Drew Pyne completed 22 of his 28 pass attempts for 262 yards in the air, three touchdowns, and one interception. The crazy thing is, of those 22 completions, half of them were caught by one man – you guessed it, Michael Mayer. Mayer is making another strong push for this year’s Mackey Award and, although we are only five games into the year at this point, I would be shocked if he doesn’t win it. With that being said, what makes me nervous coming out of last week’s game is the heavy reliance on Mayer. Notre Dame has teams coming up on the schedule that are going to be able to throw more at him in the coverage game and minimize his overall impact. Although we saw some very positive flashes from the Irish wide receiving corps against BYU, there still hasn’t been enough proven and repeated production for me to feel complete confident in that group. Lorenzo Styles, Jayden Thomas, Braden Lenzy – all dudes. I know that they have big-time playmaking ability, but for some reason, that hasn’t translated as well to Saturdays. As I called for prior to the BYU game, Tobias Merriweather finally made multiple appearances, although not targeted, but hey…baby steps, I guess. On the defensive side of the ball, Bracey came up with the interception and Jack Kiser was credited with a sack. I am still waiting for the game where both sides of the ball are able to play up to their standard for an entire 60 minutes of football, and I’m hoping that this weekend’s matchup against Stanford can be just that.
The Cardinal come into Notre Dame Stadium with a 1-4 record, their only win being a 41-10 victory over Colgate in this year’s season opener. Since then, Stanford has fallen to USC, Washington, Oregon, and Oregon State. Now, is this a game that Notre Dame should win rather convincingly? Yes. But, the Irish cannot afford to just sleepwalk through this contest and come out with their 4th W of the season. Stanford, by looking at their schedule, is a battle tested team that will not be overwhelmed by anything that Notre Dame brings to the field. If the Irish can play up to their standard on both sides of the ball, I expect them to cover the 15 to 17 point spread rather easily.
Covering the spread starts on offense for Notre Dame. With this being Drew Pyne’s first home start in nearly a month since the Cal game, Tommy Rees needs to call an offensive game plan that allows Pyne to get in a rhythm. I expect the Irish to be able to run the ball well against Stanford, a defense that is giving up an average of over six yards per play. Efficient bully ball in the run game should open up some big, explosive pass plays and as long as Pyne can connect with the Irish receivers, this has the chance to be a fun game for ND fans to watch. As long as Pyne and the Irish can take care of business early, this will be a great game to get meaningful reps for players like Tobias Merriweather (WR), Steve Angeli (QB), and the other underclassmen looking to break out. Of course, because I’m saying that now, we will all be sweating out a game that has no reason to come down to a last second field goal…I’m sorry if that’s the case.
Let’s keep thinking positively though – for Notre Dame to cover the 15 to 17 point spread that I mentioned earlier, this needs to be a “get right and dominate” type of game from the Irish defense. Stanford marks the start of a multi-game stretch for Notre Dame where they aren’t going up against the highest powered offensive attacks and the Irish defense needs to capitalize on that. What has been killing the defensive unit this season is the big plays that have stemmed from blown assignments. There have been just enough of those in each game that it has really made things more interesting than it needed to be. This game needs to be a starting point to fix that. Up front, Stanford will be missing two of their starting offensive linemen, and another that will be coming off an injury. Knowing that, the Notre Dame defensive line needs to absolutely dominate. After playing the likes of CJ Stroud, Drake Maye, and Jaren Hall at quarterback, Stanford’s Tanner McKee (although he does have an NFL arm) is significantly less mobile and I’m expecting a few sacks this game. The Cardinal’s advantage on Saturday will likely come in the pass game. Although they don’t run the ball very efficiently, their wide receivers and tight ends have some significant size. Going up against smaller Irish defensive backs, this is where I would guess Stanford will try to attack. In Stanford’s most recent game, Brycen Tremayne and Elijah Higgins were the Cardinal’s two leading receivers averaging 13.7 and 17.0 yards per catch respectively. Treymayne is 6 foot 4 and Higgins is 6 foot 3 and are typically paired in the passing game with 6 foot 4 tight end Benjamin Yurosek. Yurosek hauled in five receptions for 58 yards in Stanford’s most recent game against Oregon State and has even broken a 50-yard end around run earlier in the season; a true offensive weapon. The Irish can minimize the passing game damage by crowding the throwing lanes and trusting that the defensive line will get the push up front that will lead to errant throws and rushed decisions.
Yes, the Cardinal have a great quarterback and huge targets in the passing game, but their inability to efficiently run the ball on offense and the lack of stopping the run on defense will be too much for them to overcome. I expect Tommy Rees to call a game plan that will keep Drew Pyne confident, and Notre Dame’s offensive line will keep a clean pocket to provide running lanes for the backs. I hope that this is the first game where both sides of the ball put together a grade-A performance and if that’s the case, I think the Irish will cruise to a 38-17 victory. Go Irish. Beat Cardinal.
A Look at Notre Dame’s Opponents:
Ohio State: 6-0 overall, currently ranked #2, beat Michigan State 49-20
Marshall: 3-3 overall, lost to Louisiana 23-13
California: 3-2 overall, coming off bye week
North Carolina: 5-1 overall, beat Miami (FL) 27-24
BYU: 4-2 overall, lost to Notre Dame 28-20
Stanford: 1-4 overall, lost to Oregon State 28-27
UNLV: 4-2 overall, lost to San Jose State 40-7
Syracuse: 5-0 overall, currently ranked #18, coming off bye week
Clemson: 6-0 overall, currently ranked #4, beat Boston College 31-3
Navy: 2-3 overall, beat Tulsa 51-21
Boston College: 2-4 overall, lost to Clemson 31-3
USC: 6-0 overall, currently ranked #7, beat Washington State 30-14