Lesar: Five keys to Notre Dame-Stanford

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

GRAB MOMENTUM

After two straight blowout losses – to Washington and Washington State – Stanford is vulnerable. Notre Dame has an opportunity to prove its performance in the muck at North Carolina State was a hurricane-induced fluke. The Irish need to take command early and not give Stanford any reason to feel good about itself. The Cardinal have been outscored 30-13 in the first quarter this season. Notre Dame must take advantage of that.

FIND SACKS

That has been a common refrain all season – get to the quarterback. The Irish have just three sacks all season. Stanford’s offensive line has struggled, giving up 15. Guys like end Isaac Rochell, tackle Jerry Tillery and linebacker Nyles Morgan have to turn it loose and get to quarterback Ryan Burns. The key is to get a lead, and force the Cardinal to throw the ball. That would give Notre Dame a lot less to worry about in terms of its defense.

CONTROL MCCAFFREY

A hip injury kept Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey out of the second half of the loss to Washington State. Notre Dame coaches are preparing as if last year’s Heisman Trophy finalist is going to play. That means loading the line of scrimmage with eight guys and daring Burns to win the game. Last year, while containing McCaffrey to 94 rushing yards, Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan got the same challenge and delivered a victory.

CONTAIN THOMAS

Like Stanford, Notre Dame has yielded 15 sacks this season. The Irish offensive line, which gave up five to North Carolina State, will have to pay special attention to Cardinal defensive end Solomon Thomas. Already this season, he has 10.5 tackles for loss and, in the last seven games, has turned two fumble recoveries into touchdowns. He has accumulated 39 total tackles and will be a bear for the Notre Dame offensive line to keep off of quarterback DeShone Kizer.

FINISH

The last time the Notre Dame offense was able to convert on a late drive that meant something in terms of the outcome, it was against Stanford at the end of last season. The problem was, it was the Irish defense that failed to finish out the victory. The Cardinal marched down the field in the last minute and converted a game-winning field goal as time ran out. Finishing has been a problem in the four ND losses this season. Each setback came down to a late possession – either on offense or defense – in which the Irish failed to come through. If it comes down to a final drive, that has to change.

Washington State quarterback Luke Falk, right, avoids the pass rush from Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, in Stanford, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)