Opponent Outlook: Stanford, Love enter South Bend coming off emotional win

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

Had Oregon taken a knee three times — instead of handing it to running back C.J. Verdell, who coughed it up — Stanford likely would have lost its college football game late Saturday night.

Instead, the No. 7 Cardinal (4-0) roll into South Bend undefeated, becoming the first top 10 team (at the time of the game) to visit Notre Dame Stadium in the Brian Kelly era.

No. 8 Notre Dame (4-0) has not fared well against Stanford, who owns a 4-1 advantage since 2013. The lone victory for the Irish came in 17-14 fashion to improve to 5-0 in 2014.

The Irish might have found a quarterback, though, in Ian Book. In his first start this season against Wake Forest, Book threw for a career-high 325 yards and two touchdowns.

Will Book’s spark give Notre Dame enough against Stanford? We caught up with Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle for more insight on the Cardinal.

Oregon had plenty of chances, but Stanford found a way to pull off a crazy win at Eugene. Overall, what stood out to you?

FitzGerald: “Mainly how resilient this team is. The Cardinal didn’t look good at all in the first half; they were completely outplayed. But they came back in the second half and played very well. They were fortunate that Oregon didn’t score on an end-around in the third quarter; a replay review put the ball at the 1-yard line.

“Oregon then lost nine yards on a fumble and had the bad-snap fumble that Joey Alfieri took 80 yards for a touchdown. Instead of being down 31-7, it was 24-14. The other big takeaway from this game was how good cornerback Paulson Adebo is. He had four pass breakups and was especially good in the overtime.”

All the talk before the season was about Bryce Love, but K.J. Costello sparked the comeback with his 327 yards and three touchdowns. What does Stanford have in its quarterback and how has he grown in the last two years? How impressed were you by Costello’s cast of receivers and two tight ends?

FitzGerald: “Costello was excellent in Eugene. He’s not afraid to throw balls downfield, sometimes in what might be 50-50 chances for his receivers. He knows how athletic and sure-handed they are. He has improved in his pocket presence, is very accurate with his passes and is a natural leader. The other guys really look up to him.

“He has a terrific group of receivers, mainly JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Trent Irwin at wide receiver and Kaden Smith and Colby Parkinson at tight end. Redshirt freshman Osiris St. Brown has become a fine deep threat. and when Connor Wedington returns from his injury, he’ll add a lot to that stable too.”

Love had just one game with less than 100 rushing yards last season. He has one game with over 100 yards in 2018, although he missed UC Davis because of minor ailments. Why have Love’s numbers regressed and what are teams doing to limit him?

FitzGerald: “The drop in his numbers are mainly due to problems in the offensive line. I’d like to say it’s all because of injuries – center Jesse Burkett missed the first two games, and guard Foster Sarell missed the Oregon game. Guard/tackle Devery Hamilton and tackle A.T. Hall have been banged up, but both played in Eugene.

“The line in that game was a mishmash of guys forced to play different positions than the ones they had the previous week. The O-line has a new coach this year in Kevin Carberry, who came from the NFL. There may be some growing pains as they get used to his new system. They’ve been better at pass-blocking than run-blocking, and Love isn’t getting nearly as many holes as he did last year.”

Oregon’s Dillon Mitchell terrorized Stanford’s secondary for 236 yards on 14 receptions. Most of that can be credited to quarterback Justin Herbert, who threw just two incompletions in regulation. Did the secondary’s setback surprise you?

FitzGerald: “Mitchell was marvelous, and of course so was Herbert. Those passes got to Mitchell in a hurry. I was a little surprised at his big numbers because cornerbacks Adebo, Alijah Holder and Alameen Murphy have been very good. And, as I said, I thought Adebo overall had a great game.

“But Stanford was without starting safety Ben Edwards, a late scratch with an injury. Malik Antoine started in his place, and somehow things weren’t the same. I don’t know Edwards’ status for the Notre Dame game, but everybody is going to have to be on their toes against Book.”

Do you feel last week’s win could drain the Cardinal or will they head into Saturday with momentum? Why do you think Stanford has been so successful against Notre Dame in the past five seasons (4-1)?

FitzGerald: “I don’t see any detriment or benefit from the Oregon game going to Notre Dame. The Cardinal would have been emotionally high for the Irish in any case. All of those five previous games have been close, even last year’s 38-20 win, in which Notre Dame had two takeaways in the fourth quarter and Costello threw two of his four TD passes.

“Stanford’s key players, Costello and Love last year and Kevin Hogan and Christian McCaffrey in some previous games, have been great. I’d say they were the difference.”

Who:  No. 8 Notre Dame (4-0) vs. No. 7 Stanford (4-0)

When: Saturday at 7:30 p.m. (EDT) 

Where: Notre Dame Stadium; South Bend, Ind.

TV: NBC

Radio: WSBT (960 AM, 96.1 FM), WNSN-FM (101.5)

Line: Notre Dame by 3½