Noie: Four players to watch when No. 5 Notre Dame visits Stanford
PLAYERS TO WATCH
RB AUDRIC ESTIME
Ever seen a freezer with feet? Quick feet? A freezer that can run you over? That was the 5-foor-11 ½, 228-pound Estime in his college debut as a running back late in Saturday’s win over Georgia Tech. A staple of special teams, Estime hadn’t carried the ball all season. Until the last home game.
Whoa. Talk about a change-up back. He’s not as nimble/dynamic/energized as Kyren Williams or as quick as Chris Tyree or a combination of the two like Logan Diggs. He's just … different. Fans who stuck around for all four quarters were given a treat when Estime was given a chance. He sure knew what to do with it.
Estime carried six times for 61 yards. That 10.1 yards per carry average will get your attention. So does Estime’s style. He’s a whole lot of power with some speed and some savvy, like when he tried to pull a Diggs and leap over a tackler. This game gets sideways like the Georgia Tech game, sure would love to see more of No. 24 in the second half. The kid’s a specimen. Oh, yeah, he’s also pretty good.
DE RYLIE MILLS
Last time Notre Dame went on the road, Mills slid over from his usual nose guard spot and out to defensive end against Virginia. He took his game to a new position and to another level, registering two sacks, earning a game ball and getting to sit in line coach Mike Elston’s first class seat on the way home.
How about more of the same from Mills — and from the Irish defense? If this one follows the same script as last week, Mills and many others along the two deep will see their share of snaps. Mills will be one to watch next season, but he’s been really good THIS season. He has 14 tackles and three sacks in 11 games. Like a lot of the guys along the interior, he just continues to get better every week. Expect more of the same from him and from Notre Dame in the regular-season finale.
A first-class eat on the long charter back from Northern California might have a player’s name on it. Time to earn it.
QB TANNER MCKEE
A team that’s won three games all season and was blown out by its rival the previous week likely doesn’t have much going right for it offensively, and Stanford is no exception.
McKee tries to make it all go, but who knows where any of it is actually going. He’s got some pretty decent stats, having completed 63.9 percent of his passes for 2,155 yards and 14 touchdowns against seven interceptions. McKee has thrown for an average of 239.4 yards per game. When he gets time and can see the field, he’s pretty good.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly agreed, saying earlier this week of McKee, "when he's in the game, they have a chance to win." Stanford has allowed 29 sacks and averages a meager 3.3 yards per carry. None of that is good news for Cardinal fans and exactly what an Irish defense that’s been downright dominant the last three weeks wants to hear. It might be a long night for McKee and the Cardinal offense. They may have some fight, but not as much as the Irish.
DE THOMAS BOOKER
We try to highlight one player on offense and one player on defense every week for you to watch. This choice is rough, not because there’s nobody worth watching, but because the Cardinal defense is not very good. OK, they’re bad.
Stanford has lost seven straight and just doesn’t seem to want to stop anybody. The Cardinal allow 31.2 points per game, 445.9 total offense, 5.8 yards per rush and 12.1 yards per catch. There are big plays beckoning all over the field for the Irish, especially after how they played and what they did last week.
But the 6-4, 309-pound Booker is worth watching, mainly because it seems like he's been there forever. He's the one guy on the other team where you look and say, wait, he's still there? A four-year contributor, Booker's collegiate career comes to a close Saturday. He's fourth on the team with 57 tackles and has 1.5 sacks to go with six quarterback hurries. Saturday is career game No. 43 for the two-time team captain from Ellicott City, Md., who was senior class vice president and member of the Chinese Honor Society at the Gilman School.
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI