4 players to watch when Stanford visits Notre Dame

Tom Noie
ND Insider
Oct 8, 2022; Stanford, California, USA; Stanford Cardinal quarterback Tanner McKee (18) throws a pass against the Oregon State Beavers during the second quarter at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

STANFORD CARDINAL (1-4)

(18) TANNER MCKEE

Quarterback 

When in doubt, or when nobody from a bad team absolutely jumps up and demands your attention, go with the quarterback, right? 

Such is the case with McKee, a 6-foot-6, 230-pound junior from Corona, California who delayed his entrance to Stanford to serve a two-year Mormon mission in Brazil. Five games into his second season as a starter, McKee is solid, but unspectacular. Just kind of good. 

A team captain, McKee has completed 98 of 154 passes (63.6 percent) for 1,249 yards with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions. He has myriad options — 12 Cardinal have caught at least one pass this season while five have at least 12 receptions. With the lack of a consistent run game —key running back E.J. Smith is out for the season with injury while main back Casey Filkins averages only 67.8 yards per game — a lot of what Stanford might do relies on McKee’s right arm. 

He at least gives an overmatched team staggering through a bad season (still winless in the Pac-12 at 0-4) a chance at some success. Maybe. One of his backups is Charlie Mirer. Yeah, that Mirer. As in Rick’s son. 

Sep 4, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; Stanford Cardinal linebacker Ricky Miezan (45) reacts after making a play in the third quarter against the Kansas State Wildcats at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

(45) RICKY MIEZAN

Inside linebacker

Put on the tape of last year’s game against Notre Dame, and you’re bound to see No. 45 running all over Stanford Stadium making plays. In his first full season as a starter after missing much of the previous two to injuries (not disclosed), Miezan was everywhere. He tied for the team lead with nine tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss in the Notre Dame win. 

He’s not the top tackler this season, but does a little of everything to stand out. He’s fourth on the Cardinal in tackles (25), tied for second in tackles for loss (four) and sacks (two) and leads the group with two quarterback hurries. 

A fifth-year senior from Alexandria, Virginia, the 6-2, 237-pound Miezan has played in 16 games the last two years after appearing in only seven his first three. Athleticism runs deep in the Miezan family. His father was a sprinter for the Ivory Coast on the 4 x100 relay team that competed in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. His grandfather also coached the Ivory Coast kayak team. Miezan lettered in football, soccer, lacrosse and track in high school. 

Notre Dame safety Brandon Joseph (16) celebrates after his team made a safety against BYUduring the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Analysis:How a double dose of Ademilola helped Notre Dame defense hold off BYU

NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH (3-2)

(16) BRANDON JOSEPH

Right safety

Maybe we expected too much from the former All-American/Northwestern transfer when he had been on campus for seemingly five minutes (a little longer) before he compared his game to eventual NFL first-round NFL draft pick Kyle Hamilton. We figured Joseph would back up that boast and become Hamilton 2.0.

Five games into what might be his only season in South Bend, Joseph has 21 tackles, one forced fumble and one pass defended. Everyone thought they’d see more from the 6-1, 196-pound junior eligible from College Station, Texas. Joseph bounced back from an O-for game against North Carolina — no tackles, no assists, no passes defended, no nothing — to make a team-high six stops in Saturday’s win. He seemed more engaged, more around the ball. More Hamilton-like. 

The Irish defense finally tallied its first interception of the season (TaRiq Bracy) in the win over Brigham Young. It almost had another (Clarence Lewis). If it’s true that defensive coordinator Al Golden believes they come in bunches, Notre Dame’s in line for a few more against Stanford. If that happens, maybe Joseph gets involved. He’s too good to have been this quiet production/difference-maker wise to date. 

Oct 8, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish tight end Michael Mayer (87) runs the ball as BYU Cougars defensive backs Jakob Robinson (0) and Hayden Livingston (28) defend in the second quarter at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

More:Notre Dame must hope TaRiq Bracy recovers in time to face Stanford

(87) MICHAEL MAYER

Tight end

So, we’re going the Mr. Obvious route here. Like, duh. Of course, we have to watch Mayer, but we have to watch him so as to not take all he’s doing for granted. The guy’s just really good. Special. Elite. Might as well highlight him now because there’s likely only eight more games max remaining in his college career. See him now, because soon, he’ll be gone. Off to the NFL. 

Mayer has been on a ridiculous run of late. Over the first three games of the season, he caught 15 passes for 145 yards and two scores. Last two? He’s made 18 catches for 206 yards and three TDs. Brigham Young knew he was coming, and still could do little with the 6-4 ½, 265-pounder from Independence, Kentucky, already the leading tight end pass catcher in school history. 

Head coach Marcus Freeman said after the BYU game that the goal is to find more receivers who can help make the quarterback look good. Mayer would make any quarterback, of an age, in any era, look really good. He’s just that good. 

Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.