Notre Dame football: Keys to the game
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has been preaching the concept of "tough gentlemen" lately. Players ideally will be tough on the field and gentlemen off. If the Irish, two-touchdown underdogs, are going to have a realistic of competing with Stanford, they will have to be really tough. The Cardinal won't be nearly as soft as BYU, last week's opponent.
Stanford's offense is loaded with big-play players. Receiver Ty Montgomery is as dynamic as they get. He scored five touchdowns last week against next-door rival Cal — running one in from 31 yards, and catching scoring passes of 50, 12, 72 and nine yards. Just about the time the Irish defense decides to focus on him, running back Tyler Gaffney (1,296 yards, 16 TDs, on 251 carries) causes problems. Stanford is explosive on land and in the air.
Somehow, the Notre Dame offensive line has to figure out a way to contend with Trent Murphy, Stanford's 6-foot-6, 261-pound monster outside linebacker. Kelly compared him physically to Irish tight end Troy Niklas, with a "really, really, really bad attitude." Murphy leads the country in sacks per game (1.2) and is fourth in tackles for loss per game (1.7).
RUN THE BALL
That's the mandate for the Irish offense. Notre Dame has what amounts to a makeshift offensive line — adding center Matt Hegarty (filling in for injured Nick Martin) and right guards Steve Elmer and Conor Hanratty (filling in for Christian Lombard). Regardless of who's there, Notre Dame must be physical up front and have Cam McDaniel, Tarean Folston or George Atkinson be effective on the ground. Without that threat, quarterback Tommy Rees will be an easy target.
Notre Dame's overtime victory last season was secured when, on fourth down and inches, Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor was stopped short of the goal line and officials whistled the play dead before Taylor's second effort got him in the end zone. Needless to say, the Cardinal weren't thrilled with the outcome, which was finally confirmed by replay. Though already having clinched a spot in the Pac-12 championship opposite Arizona State, Stanford still feels it has a score to settle and something significant for which to play.