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And in that corner… The Stanford Cardinal

Sep 22, 2010, 6:59 PM EDT

The Stanford Cardinal come rolling into town this Saturday, primed to play the Fighting Irish after three weeks of astonishing production and lopsided scores. While their treatment of Sacramento State didn’t surprise anyone, Jim Harbaugh’s squad absolutely demolished UCLA and Wake Forest, with scores that certainly raised eyebrows around the country.

Harbaugh enters his fourth season atop the Stanford football program, and has completely transformed the football culture, bringing in a smash-mouth, pro-style system and a brash attitude that’s taking the Pac-10 by storm.

To get a better idea of what the Irish will be facing when the Cardinal come to town this Saturday, I caught up with Kabir Sawhney, the Managing Editor of Sports for the Stanford Daily. He was kind enough to give us all a sneak peak of what we can expect this Saturday.

Inside the Irish: This football team is obviously on a roll, putting up some pretty staggering numbers against one cupcake and two respectable teams. Is this football team for real?

Kabir Sawhney: I’m certainly convinced that this Stanford team is “for real.” On
offense, it all comes down to the play of its fantastic offensive
line, which has done a great job of protecting its quarterback,
Andrew Luck, while also bulldozing paths for the running game. Last
season, the line (or the “Tunnel Workers’ Union” as they’re known)
was a big part of Toby Gerhart’s success; even with the rotation of
backs the Cardinal is employing this season, the running game will
still have a lot of success.

ITI: The new defense has looked good after three games, putting
up some dynamic numbers through three games — especially
against the pass. Is this a product of playing some bad
quarterbacks or has something clicked with the Cardinal
defense?

KS: It’s still too early to tell with the defense, since it hasn’t
really faced a top-notch offense yet. In its new 3-4 scheme, the
defense certainly looks strong, significantly upgraded over last
year’s weak unit. The linebacking corps has lived up to
expectations, with Owen Marecic, Shayne Skov and Max Bergen shutting
down the running game up the middle and Chase Thomas and Thomas
Keiser coming off the ends. In the secondary, Michael Thomas has
emerged as the unit’s leader, something it was really lacking last
year.

I don’t think we’ll really know whether the whole defense can really
shut down opponents until the Cardinal’s trip to Oregon on Oct. 5.

ITI: Having watched Andrew Luck play for the past two seasons,
how good is he? The Pac-10 gets plenty of kudos for Jake
Locker and Matt Barkley, but Luck seems to be every bit as
good as those two. Obviously Harbaugh likes him, but is he one
of college football’s best kept secrets?

KS: Andrew Luck has shown a great deal of capability as a leader in the
past couple of seasons, and it’s pretty clear why NFL scouts are
projecting him as a first-round draft pick. Luck has done extremely
well in Stanford’s pro-style offense. However, I think we need to
see him tested against elite competition before rendering a final
judgment. Last year, this was Toby Gerhart’s offense; Luck was
rarely called upon to make big plays, and the few times he was, he
often came up short (Stanford fans still recall the pick he threw at
the end of last year’s Big Game against Cal). This season, he is the
unquestioned leader of the offense, but it is an open debate on
whether he can perform as well under pressure.

ITI: There’s no Toby Gerhart, yet Stanford’s running attack
hasn’t missed a beat. How are they doing it?

KS: See above. The best-kept secret in the Pac-10 isn’t Andrew Luck,
it’s how good Stanford’s O-line is. This year, Stanford’s running
attack isn’t built quite as much on the ground-and-pound; the line
opens up holes for Stepfan Taylor, Tyler Gaffney and Usua Amanam,
all of whom are excellent at bursting through those holes for chunks
of yardage.

ITI: Has Owen Marecic achieved legend status at Stanford yet?

KS: At least among those of us who follow Stanford football, Owen
Marecic has certainly achieved quite a following. He embodies the
old-school style that Jim Harbaugh has brought to Stanford: a
no-nonsense player that can play on both sides of the ball, who will
hit you hard regardless of which side he happens to be playing on.

ITI: The last few games these two teams have played have been
tight. How do you see this one playing out?

KS: I think Stanford will go out and beat Notre Dame this weekend. So
far, the Fighting Irish have not shown me that they’re much improved
over last year’s edition, even under the new spread attack employed
by Brian Kelly. Meanwhile, I think the Cardinal have improved to the
point that it has serious Rose Bowl aspirations. The fact that the
game is in South Bend will keep it close, but I think Stanford goes
out and wins this game, 38-28.

To read more of Kabir as he profiles the Cardinal as they head to South Bend, read him at the Stanford Daily here

  1. vegasmark - Sep 22, 2010 at 7:44 PM

    It’s time for this team to learn how to WIN…to let go of playing ‘not to lose’…There will be some rough Saturdays, hopefully not too many more, but the night is darkest just before the dawn, and the sun is beautiful when it’s gleaming off of the Golden Dome…GO IRISH!!!

  2. jarious - Sep 22, 2010 at 8:17 PM

    I like Sawnhey’s comment about not knowing if their defense can shut down opponents until they play Oregon on Oct 5. Really? I think you are gonna find out about your D this weekend, bud. ND has yet to put a complete offensive game together, but at times has looked like a buzzsaw on drives.
    Stanford’s offense? Listen, 68 is a huge number to put up against a BCS school, but let’s get real. Wake gave up 48 points to Duke (in football) and gave up 350+ yds to the Presbyterian Blue Hose. They get their first real test this weekend.

  3. mrrandolph - Sep 23, 2010 at 6:40 AM

    I am glad Stanford is good. If the Irish beat them, my friends will quit razzing me about our cupcake schedule.

  4. Dayton - Sep 23, 2010 at 9:19 AM

    Man, what I would give to see the Irish win this weekend. I would love to see a blowout victory in favor of the Irish.

  5. Chucket - Sep 23, 2010 at 12:36 PM

    Three games’ results, and a looong list of ND injuries predict a Stanford victory this Saturday…in the fourth quarter, coming soon to a stadium near you. Reality check. I only wish a victory for ND, but it’s radically improbable.

  6. Art Vandelay - Sep 23, 2010 at 1:35 PM

    There once was a coach named Kelly
    Whose 1-2 record seemed smelly
    This week he plays Stanford
    Lets hope his boys work hard
    And that he’s not just Weis sans the belly.

  7. lawwolf - Sep 23, 2010 at 2:55 PM

    I am sick of hearing about a weak schedule. Three weeks in and two of the teams three teams we have played are in the top 25.

  8. Jennifer - Sep 23, 2010 at 3:07 PM

    Pretty funny, Art!

  9. jarious - Sep 23, 2010 at 4:00 PM

    ND’s schedule is definitely front loaded, which is why it is ridiculous to compare team statistics (as I saw ND was very low in overall defense). Unfortunately, they have not been able to get far on Sacramento St, Portland St, or Presbyterian. Seriously, go look at the slate of Big Ten games this weekend, it is a joke.
    Unfortunately, I also think that Michigan and MSU will not be long in the Top 25.

  10. Jeremy - Sep 23, 2010 at 4:16 PM

    ND is under a microscope and if they were 3-0 people would say that it was too close and they really were not that good. They would not be wrong. The basics come down to playing football and supporting your team if you are not playing. I supported all coaches and players while under the dome. I still root for them in some way or another because there is an integrity there. Give Kelly TIME!! His name is not Holtz, Ara, or Weis, he will have his own legacy. Just support the kids on the team or join the Big 10 officials.

  11. jt1478 - Sep 23, 2010 at 7:43 PM

    The irish will be just fine, lot of people beating up on BK and he’s only coached 3 games, the irish could be just as easily 3-0 as they are 1-2, mich game they were w/out Crist, if he was healthy the game is over at half time, as far as MSU, good ending to watch but one thing i’ve learned from watching football is….teams that rely on trickery to win or stay in the game are usually less of an opponent than the team they are playing… a gamble and it paid off…big deal… BK has this team on the right path w/ the right attitude something lacking for many years…many of you might seem surprise when the irish walk away w/ a 35-24 victory this weekend…but not me..

  12. Ray McConaghy - Sep 23, 2010 at 10:05 PM

    For the first three weeks of the season, Jeff Sagarin’s computer ratings indicate that Notre Dame has played the 20th-toughest schedule in the country; Stanford, the 86th. All are invited to “Previewing the Stanford game” at my Web site, http://www.ndfantofan.com.

  13. State of Michigan - Sep 23, 2010 at 10:48 PM

    Good luck against Michigan’s next coach.

  14. Irish2010 - Sep 24, 2010 at 2:14 AM

    This week will show how much the Irish mature as a team and how well Kelly is as a motivater. Just watch the Pitt game against Miami and ask yourself “are we going to get blown out like this at home?” Pitt with a few key injuries facing UM is in my opinion very much like our team right now. Miami is very much like Stanford in an ultra high speed team on offense and defense. I never expected Pitt to get blown out at at home. The Irish need to have a good game and not get handed a lopsided loss against Stanford at home like Pitt did.

  15. Irish2010 - Sep 24, 2010 at 2:15 AM

    This week will show how much the Irish mature as a team and how well Kelly is as a motivater. Just watch the Pitt game against Miami and ask yourself “are we going to get blown out like this at home?” Pitt with a few key injuries facing UM is in my opinion very much like our team right now. Miami is very much like Stanford in an ultra high speed team on offense and defense. I never expected Pitt to get blown out at at home. The Irish need to have a good game and not get handed a lopsided loss against Stanford at home like Pitt did.

  16. Nolan - Sep 24, 2010 at 9:04 AM

    This guy is a clown.
    The only thing that made sense was that Stanford has a great o-line.
    Not much better than last year? Ok, well last year Stanford barely beat us when we had the worst defense in the Universe. Literally the entire universe.
    UCLA is awful, Wake is a joke.
    Stanford and their head coach are going to come to South Bend to give us a physical beating b/c they think of themselves as badasses.
    They are going to leave learning the valuable lesson that they are not as good/smart/tough as they think they are.
    The hammer gets dropped tomorrow.

  17. Art Vandelay - Sep 24, 2010 at 11:13 AM

    The more I think about the ending of the MSU game, the more it doesn’t make sense to me. If your opponent is attempting a FG from 46 yds away to merely TIE the game, don’t you rush like 2 or 3 people, put the rest in coverage and have like 1 or 2 guys planted in the end zone? That way if one of your players gets tripped up, you have 7 or 8 others keying on the possible fake. That way you end up not caring about the game clock expiring, ineligible receivers down field, etc because you’re in position to make the play. I think that kind of a defensive look would have forced MSU to try the kick and what are the odds of success? Another coaching miscue? You decide.

  18. papadec1 - Sep 24, 2010 at 6:46 PM

    I agree with Art (post #17). IF they make the 46 yard FG, the game is tied. Then, on the next series, MSU goes first & ND has the advantage of seeing what the MSU offense does. I still believe both the ND offense & defense are playing better each week.

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