Five keys to the Notre Dame-Stanford game
KEEP ON TURNING
Winning the turnover battle has led Notre Dame to success all season long. Not only have the Irish won each of the seven games in which the turnover margin was in their favor, the average margin of victory has been nearly 25 points. Notre Dame failed to win the turnover margin in their losses to Georgia (even) and Miami (-4). The Irish need to find a way to force the Cardinal into turnovers and protect the football on offense. It won’t be easy. Stanford (+11) is one of only 17 teams with a better turnover margin than Notre Dame (+8).
MOW THE FARM
For one weekend, the “33 Trucking” slogan for Josh Adams and Notre Dame’s offensive line should turn into “33 Lawn Care.” If the Irish are to escape Stanford’s campus, affectionately dubbed “The Farm,” with their first win since 2007, the running game is going to have to mow down the Cardinal defense. In the three Stanford losses, opposing offenses have rushed for an average of 188.7 yards. That would be a well-below-average day for Notre Dame’s sixth-ranked rushing game (290.5 yards).
NO LOVE LOST
Stanford running back Bryce Love almost certainly won’t be operating at full strength against Notre Dame. An ankle injury has forced Love in and out of the Cardinal lineup for more than a month. But a hobbled Love is still one to worry about. He leads the nation with 172.3 yards per game, leads all running backs with 8.84 yards per carry and has rushed for 16 touchdowns. Notre Dame’s defense can’t lose track of Love.
When Stanford’s defense needs to make a stop, the Cardinal haven’t done a great job. Stanford’s third-down defense ranks No. 107 nationally by allowing opposing offenses to convert third downs 43.8 percent of the time. The Cardinal also struggle with red-zone defense. Opponents entering the red zone score at an 88.6-percent clip with 23 touchdowns and eight field goals on 35 trips. Those numbers play into Notre Dame’s favor.
Brandon Wimbush’s debut season as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback hasn’t always been pretty. He’s looked bad in both of Notre Dame’s losses, and the Irish have had to overcome some of his inaccuracies in wins too. But in many cases, he’s allowed Notre Dame to win by making plays with his feet or timely touchdown passes. Wimbush doesn’t need to be perfect. If he can play mistake-free and make a few big throws and a couple nice runs, he could become the first Irish quarterback to win at Stanford since Jimmy Clausen (2007).