5 keys for Notre Dame against Stanford: How should the Irish handle Book, Williams?

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

WILLIAMS NEEDS TO BE AHEAD OF SCHEDULE

Reports suggest running back Jafar Armstrong will be out Saturday due to a knee infection. Coming off his four-game suspension, Dexter Williams was expected to receive a light workload. A game with single-digit carries would have helped the senior reintegrate himself and shake off any rust. Instead, Williams could snag a share of Armstrong’s touches. It took until game three for Armstrong — and even Tony Jones Jr. — to establish himself. Williams, Jones and Avery Davis must deliver in Armstrong’s absence.

ROLL WITH BOOK UNTIL YOU CAN’T

Although he impressed against Wake Forest, Ian Book has not cemented himself long-term. The Demon Deacons rank 114th in pass efficiency defense and fired their defensive coordinator, Jay Sawvel, following the lackluster performance. The Cardinal boasts the best pass efficiency defense (33rd) of the eight teams remaining on the Irish schedule. Book — who for the first time will attract a defensive game plan — will likely be challenged to throw deep. Even under Book, the Irish struggle against 3-4 defenses, three-man rushes and at times press coverage on the perimeter. The Book experiment is not a guaranteed success, so a Brandon Wimbush appearance cannot be ruled out.

WIN THE BATTLE OF THE TRENCHES

The Cardinal’s talented offensive line has been plagued by injuries so far. In turn, star running back Bryce Love has just one game over 100 rushing yards this season. He ran for under that mark just once in 2017. Love combined for 254 yards in his two games against the Irish — with the first being his breakout game. Although Stanford’s OL has not reached its potential, quarterback K.J. Costello has been sacked a mere five times this season. Coming off a three sack, 10 tackles for loss game, the Irish must prevent Love and the Stanford OL from fully returning to its 2017 ways.

LIMIT THE TREE(S)

Like Notre Dame, Stanford has many towering playmakers. The Cardinal receivers differ in their production. The 6-3, 225-pound JJ Arcega Whiteside ranks No. 2 in the country with seven receiving touchdowns and comes in at No. 7 with 24 yards per catch. The tight end duo of 6-5 Kaden Smith and 6-7 Colby Parkinson pose a threat in the middle of the field and red zone. Teams can’t load the box to limit Love, as K.J. Costello continues to exceed expectations and feed his lengthy receivers well. Rover Asmar Bilal and linebackers Te’von Coney and Drue Tranquill will need to answer the call when matched up against Stanford’s receivers.

HOT START

Wake Forest’s early field goal marked the only time Notre Dame has trailed in the first quarter this season. The Irish hold a 38-6 advantage in the opening frame and would benefit from continuing that success. For starters, this will be the first top 10 matchup in Notre Dame Stadium since 2005. Ian Book already must handle the pressure of potential replacement if he does not play up to standard. Once Book pieced together his first scoring drive last week, he started rolling. A hot start against Michigan similarly helped Brandon Wimbush gain confidence and make winning plays.

RIGHT: Notre Dame’s Dexter Williams will make his season debut against Stanford this Saturday following his four-game suspension.

At Notre Dame Stadium (77,622), South Bend, IN

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m.

TV: NBC

Series history: Notre Dame leads series 18-13 (record includes vacated win in 2012)

Betting line: Notre Dame by 5½