Opponent Outlook: Stanford stabilized after slow start

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Notre Dame hasn’t won a football game at Stanford Stadium since 2007.

When the Irish return on Saturday, the task of beating the Cardinal won’t be much easier than it has been in the last four winless trips to Palo Alto, Calif. Once again, AP No. 20 Stanford (8-3) features a star running back and a typically stingy defense.

What else can the AP No. 9 Irish (9-2) expect to see from the Cardinal this time around? We caught up with Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle for a closer look at Stanford.

• From afar, it looked like Stanford might be in for a long season after the loss to San Diego State in September. How has the Cardinal stabilized following the 1-2 start to the year?

FitzGerald: “The two big reasons were 1) much improved performances by the offensive line and 2) the emergence of redshirt freshman K.J. Costello at quarterback.

“After the rocky start, Stanford juggled the line, moving freshman Walker Little — one of the top recruits in the country — in at left tackle, 5th-year senior David Bright from left tackle to left guard and sophomore Nate Herbig from left guard to right guard. It helped a lot.

• Stanford has seen plenty of productive running backs since head coach David Shaw joined the program as offensive coordinator in 2007. Whether it’s been Toby Gerhart, Stepfan Taylor, Tyler Gaffney or Christian McCaffrey, they’ve all put up big numbers. What makes Bryce Love (1,723 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns in 10 games) different than his predecessors?

FitzGerald: “When he's 100 percent, Love is the fastest man I've seen on a football field in over 40 years of sports writing. Trouble is, he hasn't been 100 percent since he injured his right ankle in the Oregon game Oct. 14.”

• Like Notre Dame, Stanford’s defense has done a good job of preventing opposing offenses from scoring with teams averaging only 20.7 points per game against the Cardinal. What is the greatest strength of this Stanford defense?

FitzGerald: “I hate to use this cliché, but Stanford's is definitely a bend-but-don't-break defense. There are two absolute studs, tackle Harrison Phillips and safety Justin Reid. Linebacker Bobby Okereke and cornerback Quenton Meeks are not far behind. The pass rush is not overpowering, but coordinator Lance Anderson does a marvelous job of making in-game adjustments.”

• K.J. Costello has started the last three games at quarterback for Stanford after Keller Chryst had been the starter for 13 of the previous 14 games. What does Costello bring to the offense that makes him a better option than Chryst?

FitzGerald: “Costello has much better pocket presence than Chryst and is more willing to throw downfield. Also, he's much more of a leader and inspirational figure to his teammates.”

• Beyond Love, who is Stanford’s most dangerous threat on offense?

FitzGerald: “The top receiver is J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, a very athletic 6-foot-3 redshirt sophomore. He has excellent hands and decent, but not great, speed. He knows how to get separation, and he's super on 50-50 balls. Trent Irwin is also a fine receiver, but I wouldn't put him in A-W's class.”

tjames@ndinsider.com

574-235-6214

Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Quarterback K.J. Costello has started the last three games for Stanford. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

WHEN: Saturday, 8 p.m. EST

WHERE: Stanford Stadium; Palo Alto, Calif.

TV: ABC

RADIO: WSBT-FM (96.1), WNSN-FM (101.5)

LINE: Notre Dame by 2