Five keys for Notre Dame against Stanford: Irish need answers in the running game

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune


That quarterback Ian Book finished the last four games as Notre Dame’s leading rusher shows just how dire the Irish ground game has become. Once expected to be Notre Dame’s lead running back, Jafar Armstrong did not record a carry in last week’s blowout win over Boston College. Whether the Irish finally feature Armstrong or turn to a combination of Tony Jones Jr. and others, it’s likely they will need to establish the run because of the weather. Palo Alto, Calif. has an 80% chance of receiving precipitation with 18 mph winds and temperatures in the low 50s on Saturday, according to


Future pro cornerback Paulson Adebo, who decommitted from Notre Dame’s 2017 recruiting class before choosing Stanford, has been ruled out for Saturday due to injury. Senior safety Malik Antoine also won’t play for a Cardinal defense that already ranked No. 110 nationally in pass efficiency. If the weather permits a healthy dose of passing from Book, Claypool should record impressive numbers again. The senior has 27 catches for 392 yards and five touchdowns through four games this month. Maybe a hot start from Claypool could also set up the run for the Irish.


Losing defensive linemen Julian Okwara (fractured fibula) and Daelin Hayes (shoulder) for the season — along with others in the short term due to minor injuries — has not kept Notre Dame’s front four from being productive. The same can’t be said for Stanford’s offensive line. The Cardinal has faced challenges since losing first-team all-conference left tackle Walker Little in the opener to a season-ending knee injury. Three of Stanford’s starters are freshmen. The Cardinal roster comprises only six healthy scholarship offensive linemen. The Irish are poised to have a productive day against backup quarterback Davis Mills.


Self-inflicted wounds have come for the Irish in the form of 29 false start penalties this season, according to this week’s film analysis from ND Insider’s Tyler James. That includes six such penalties against Boston College. The Georgia game proved how those type of penalties can stall drives or turn touchdown opportunities into field goals. Left tackle Liam Eichenberg leads Notre Dame in false starts with seven. He and the Irish offensive line must handle the conditions and Stanford Stadium environment in order to not cost the offense opportunities.


The Irish are playing their best football in November, winning their last three games by a combined 130-34 margin. Notre Dame’s starting defense has allowed just four touchdowns in the last four games and the offense ascended to No. 15 in scoring average. Losing as a double-digit favorite to a four-win team would require Notre Dame to regress to a surprising degree. Maybe the weather or Notre Dame’s troubles in Palo Alto could also play a role in Stanford making the game closer than expected. But staying focused and having fun should allow the Irish to finish the regular season on a strong note.

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Notre Dame running back Tony Jones Jr. (6) tries to break free on a run against Boston College on Nov. 23.
Stanford freshman Walter Rouse replaced Walker Little after the standout left tackle suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener.


At Stanford Stadium (50,000), Palo Alto, Calif.

Kickoff: 4 p.m. EST


Series history: Notre Dame leads 20-13

Betting line: Notre Dame by 16.5