Friday, November 23, 2007

Stanford. Let's Finish Strong.

I got to see the Irish defeat UCLA in the Rose Bowl earlier this season (little did I realize how rare a treat that was), and I took the family back to South Bend for a somewhat unexpected trip to the USC game, So I couldn't really justify a trip to The Farm to see Notre Dame play Stanford, as much as I would have liked to. It would have been especially interesting, since the family and I were there at Stanford two years ago for the last game at the old Stanford Stadium. We actually got to witness (and be part of) the beginning of the demolition of the stadium at the end of the game. It would be neat to see what the new stadium looks like.

This final game of the 2007 season presents an interesting test for Coach Weis and the Irish. After five straight home games, Notre Dame will finish the year on the road against a 3-7 Stanford team that would normally be considered an easy "W", but which has shown remarkable heart this year. Stanford's three wins includes victories over USC (24-23) and Arizona (21-20). You might remember USC - they whipped the Irish 38-0 in our own house earlier this year. And Arizona just blasted the high-flying Oregon Ducks (34-24), who humiliated the Michigan Wolverines in the Big House in September (39-7), who crushed Notre Dame by 38 points the following week. All of which might mean that Stanford is better than both USC and Michigan. Or, if Notre Dame wins, it might mean that Notre Dame is really better than both USC and Michigan. Or not. It's been a crazy year.

The point is - despite being just one game better than the Irish on paper, Stanford has shown the occasional ability to beat very good football teams. According to the NCAA's official statistics, Stanford is rated #106 in total offense (yards) and #104 in scoring offense. For total defense (yards) they are ranked #106 and they are 84th in scoring defense. That puts the Cardinal slightly ahead of Notre Dame on offense (#119 Total O, #117 Scoring O), and slightly behind Notre Dame's defensive rankings (#44 Total D, #82 Scoring D). For what it's worth, Stanford's statistical rankings puts them in the same ballpark with the Duke Blue Devils.

It should also be noted that Stanford's hard-luck record has come against the 3rd toughest schedule in the country, according to Jeff Sagarin. Notre Dame's schedule is currently ranked #13 in toughness, while Duke checks in with the 11th toughest schedule.

From a statistical perspective, Notre Dame's match-up with Stanford looks a lot like the match-up with Duke did. Pretty darn even. Given how the Duke game turned out, you can't help but be a little encouraged. But Stanford is not Duke. The Irish were able to to turn two Duke turnovers into 14 points late in the first half at home on Senior Day, and Duke folded up its tent. Stanford is unlikely to go away quietly in the face of a little adversity. Their wins in tight games against USC and Arizona prove that. Add to their normal resiliency the facts that Stanford will be playing at home on THEIR "Senior Day" and that Stanford has always played Notre Dame with a chip on their shoulder, and it figures to be a tough game.

Will Notre Dame ride into Palo Alto brimming with the new-found confidence that winning can bring and run rough-shod over the Cardinal? Or will the Irish show up a little flat, experiencing a road let-down after last week's emotional win at home, and get rolled by a fired-up Stanford team looking to prove something in front of the whole nation on ESPN?

I don't know the answer.

But I sure will take it as a positive indicator for the future if Coach Weis and his team show up hungry and nasty and determined to build on last week's success. To me, this week's game is all about attitude and desire. The team that shows up with the most edge, emotion, and determination will win. If the Irish show up ready to play at the opening kick-off, they'll handle Stanford. But if they are still rubbing the sleep out of their eyes when the game starts, Stanford will get an early lead on us and they won't give it back.

That sounds simple enough, but the plain facts are that the Irish have shown a propensity under Coach Weis to be slow starters. We have seen the Irish dig themselves huge first-half holes this year that they just couldn't climb out of despite playing well in the second halves of games.

This year's Notre Dame team has surprised me with its ability to continue playing hard through eleven weeks of turmoil and disappointment. They have shown great character, and they have been slowly getting better. Part of that improvement is due to younger players working themselves onto the field. I expect those youngsters to show up excited for another chance to prove themselves, and excited about the future of Notre Dame football. The Irish defense should be able to contain a conventional Stanford offense that plays to our strength (not a good rushing team, relies more on the pass). The surging Irish O, led by a healthy and confident Jimmy Clausen, will move the ball consistently against a weak Stanford defense on the ground and through the air.

Irish finish strong and win by 10.


Anonymous said...

Hope you are right, But I have a horrible feeling, that ND will come out flat and lay an egg..leading to an easy Stanford win..

sir john said...

I'd like a win as well but am nervous about this game. To be honest this is the first time I ever wanted the football season over. Normally I would be pining away thaty I'd have to wait till 2008 and September 6th.