Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Cardinal and Irish collide under the lights with plenty at stake

Photo Credit: Ezra Shaw- Getty Images

By: Jon Opiela
Twitter: @jonopiela24

For the first time since the 2005 game against the top-ranked USC Trojans, the No. 8 Notre Dame Fighting Irish will host a top 10 affair as the No. 7 Stanford Cardinal come calling at Notre Dame Stadium under the lights on Saturday.

“Now we get another great challenge with a Stanford football team that comes in undefeated. I think it’s ranked sixth in the country, deservingly so,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “Very versatile on the offensive side of the football.”

The Cardinal are coming off of an improbable come-from-behind 38-31 overtime victory over the No. 19 Oregon Ducks on the road on Sept. 22. Oregon had a 99 percent win probability on two separate occasions in the second half, but the pesky Cardinal never gave up. Stanford trailed by 17 points at halftime, making it the largest halftime deficit overcome in David Shaw’s tenure as coach.

Notre Dame will need to contain Stanford running back Bryce Love in order to have a shot at winning. While Love is not on the same pace as he was last year, he is still having a strong season. In three games played this season, Love has 254 yards on 59 carries and two touchdowns on the ground, to go along with 27 yards on four receptions.

K.J. Costello leads the Cardinal offense under center as a junior. This season, Costello has completed 73-of-114 pass attempts for 1056 yards and 10 touchdowns. Costello’s favorite target is JJ Arcega-Whiteside, a projected first-round draft pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Whiteside has already accrued 408 yards on 17 receptions and seven touchdowns.

“We know about Bryce Love, the best back in the country. Once you think he’s down, he’s gone. You’ve got to get him on the ground and tackle him,” Kelly said. “I think K.J. Costello has really come into his own this year, distributing the football. He’s got a number of weapons. I think we all know Arcega-Whiteside has been a go-to guy, but now obviously a number of the tight ends are amazing.”

In his second career start, quarterback Ian Book impressed the Notre Dame faithful in his season debut, completing 25-of-34 passes for 325 yards and two touchdowns in a 56-27 rout of Wake Forest on Sept. 22.

Despite the performance, Kelly also was unwilling to commit to starting Book or Wimbush in his weekly press conference on Tuesday.

“I think they’re both going to prepare. They’re both going to prepare the way they have. Look, it’s important that everybody knows that both of these quarterbacks can win football games for us,” Kelly said. “It’s a lot of work during the week, but we’ll make sure both of them are ready.”

Notre Dame also welcomes Dexter Williams back into the regular rotation in the backfield.  Tony Jones Jr. and Jafar Armstrong have been splitting carries through the first four weeks of the season, while Williams was suspended. 

While no Notre Dame receiver has more than 167 yards worth of receptions on the season, the workload has been fairly evenly split. Four Notre Dame receivers— Miles Boykin, Chase Claypool, Chris Finke, and Alize Mack have all accumulated over 100 yards this season.

Saturday’s contest could potentially have major implications on the College Football Playoff picture down the line. Notre Dame needs a win against the Cardinal to boost its resume with no conference championship game, as the Virginia Tech Hokies are no longer ranked in the Top 25 and their strength of schedule is rapidly deteriorating. Stanford still has Top 25 matchups against Pac-12 North foes No. 11 Washington and No. 24 California, both of which are on the road.

All-Time Series:

Notre Dame leads the all-time series against Stanford 19-13.  Stanford has dominated the series recently, having won each of the last three contests against the Irish and seven of the last nine.

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