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And in that corner… The Stanford Cardinal

Oct 10, 2012, 12:17 PM EDT

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The Irish are well into their preparation for David Shaw’s Stanford team. As Brian Kelly and his coaching staff lay out the challenges in front of the team this week, they’ll be able to get a true measure of where this football team is from a physical perspective. The past two seasons, Stanford has plain old out-toughed the Irish, dominating the line of scrimmage and doing to Notre Dame what Brian Kelly wants to do to his opponents.

There’s no understating the loss of Andrew Luck to Stanford’s offense. The first pick in the NFL Draft had a bigger impact on Stanford’s program than any other player in history, leading the Cardinal to 23 wins over his final two seasons and back to back AP top seven finishes. Without Luck, the Cardinal offense has gone from 8th in the country to 83rd, as Josh Nunes has taken over at quarterback and the Cardinal needed to rebuild the offensive line after a pair of All-American offensive linemen departed.

That doesn’t mean this team has gotten soft.The Cardinal took down USC at home, quickly dashing the Trojan’s national title hopes. They also quickly rebounded from their loss to Washington, picking themselves off the mat to rally and beat Arizona in overtime.

The Cardinal come to South Bend ranked No. 17 in the country. Getting us up to speed on the team is the Stanford Daily’s George Chen. He’s the sports desk editor and football beat writer covering the Cardinal, so he’s got a great look at life on the Farm, and life after Andrew Luck.

George was good enough to answer some questions for us on the state of the Cardinal. Hope you enjoy.

***

It’s been an interesting early run for Stanford. A near escape against San Jose State, a dominant upset of USC, the disappointing loss to Washington, and the overtime shootout against Arizona. Just who exactly is this team?

One of the big reasons why Saturday’s game is important for Stanford is because it serves as the perfect midseason test. Stanford had a shaky season opener against San Jose State, but the two games that have stood out the most is its upset over then-No. 2 USC and its loss to Washington on the road. Those two games showed a complete spectrum of the Cardinal’s performance so far this season, from its very best to its very worst. Coach Shaw and the players understand that Notre Dame is a huge test for them as the Cardinal hopes to establish itself as a steady team on the road. It’s difficult to say who this team is exactly right now, but this weekend will provide some good insight into whether Stanford belongs in the top-15 or not.

There is a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball for the Cardinal. They’ve also given Notre Dame trouble the past two seasons, winning both games against Brian Kelly’s squad by two touchdowns or more. After giving up almost half-a-century to the Wildcats, what do you expect to see this weekend? 

I expect it to be a close, low-scoring game. The Cardinal defense gave up a ton of yards and points against Arizona last weekend, but it’s never matched up well against well-executed spread offenses (see Oregon). The players couldn’t be more happy going back to the smash-mouth, physical defense that they excel in. This game is going to be a defensive struggle.

Josh Nunes played what looked like his best game on paper last weekend. How has life after Luck been? Has Nunes done enough to lock down the starting job or will Brett Nottingham have a say in this?

Josh Nunes is without a doubt Stanford’s quarterback. Even after the Washington game, which was by far Nunes’ worst performance, Shaw made it clear that Nunes would not lose his job. I think people haven’t given him enough credit. No, he’s not Andrew Luck, but he’s coming into his own–a quarterback who can put his team in the position to win the game. Against USC, running back Stepfan Taylor was the hero, but Nunes also made some big-time throws and scrambles that kept the scoring drives alive. And obviously against Arizona, he came up clutch again when he marched the Cardinal down the field late in the fourth quarter for two touchdown-scoring drives. And there’s something to be said about Nunes’ poise. He has that all-important ability to flush the bad plays out of his mind. That’s rare to find in rookie quarterbacks.

For many, the jury was still out on David Shaw because he inherited a very good team from Jim Harbaugh and a once-in-a-generation quarterback in Andrew Luck. How do you evaluate the work Shaw and his coaching staff have done this year?

I think Shaw and the rest of the coaching staff have done an excellent job so far. Shaw received some criticism early in the season for his conservative play calling. I also think he’s done a great job of rotating guys in on the offensive line and defense so that the players can stay fresh as the game progresses. One of the more underrated aspects of his abilities is the recruiting success that Stanford has had. Sure, coach Harbaugh laid the ground, but Shaw and the current coaching staff deserves most of the credit for reeling in the best recruiting class in school history last year.

Obviously, Notre Dame’s defense has been very solid through five games. That’s also the strength of this Stanford team. How do you see Saturday playing out? What do the Cardinal have to do to leave South Bend victorious? 

The Cardinal needs to play at its very best if it wants to leave South Bend with a 5-1 record. Stanford can’t afford to have any turnovers on offense. For the most part, Nunes has done a solid job so far this season with protecting the ball and he’ll need to be extra careful against a stingy Notre Dame defense this Saturday. The Cardinal defense also needs to clamp down like it did against USC and prevent Everett Golson from making big plays with his feet. There’s a good reason why the Fighting Irish are the No. 7 team in the nation, but I foresee the Cardinal rising to the occasion and wining by a field goal.

  1. NotreDan - Oct 10, 2012 at 12:40 PM

    I love the consensus that ND is a valid test to see if Stanford belongs in the top 15.

    Will be a great game. GO IRISH!!!!

    • 808raiderinparadise - Oct 10, 2012 at 3:38 PM

      Close to SJSU?
      Loss to WASH?
      Barely Beat ARIZONA?

      USC very impressive.

      ND can’t get too caught up in the slug-fest … ND has elite athletes and its time to use them in the passing game and mis-directionally. This game sounds like a 3-6 final in the works… but Kelly should bust this one open for Golson and have some effective deep strikes implemented of play-action/roll-outs.

      I saw Golson grow last week, just please be on time for meetings … I can’t stand Rees on the field, that mouth-breather.

      ND 24 trees 9

  2. NotreDan - Oct 10, 2012 at 12:42 PM

    Nunes; meet Te’o. Te’o; meet your lunch.

    • dudeacow - Oct 10, 2012 at 1:15 PM

      Hey Shembo, Michigan didn’t actually steal your bike seat.

      WHAT!?!?!?! WHO DID?!?!?!?!?

      Stanford framed them. Now go get your seat back.

      DIE STANFORD!!!!! GIVE ME MY BIKE SEAT!!!! YUM YUM!!!

    • tburke9601 - Oct 10, 2012 at 1:46 PM

      Hmmm….lets see. A 1 dimensional (did I spell that right?) running team with a good defense. I believe I heard this story in week 2. What happened? ND 20 – MSU 3. Thats my final score for the Stanford game. We just have to keep those tight ends (insert joke here) in check. GO IRISH!

  3. irishdodger - Oct 10, 2012 at 1:20 PM

    If ND can avoid turnovers, I like their chances.

    • 808raiderinparadise - Oct 10, 2012 at 6:13 PM

      Kelly knows that … I assume he will take chances wisely and timely with the game-flow ….

      He will play it close to the vest otherwise.

  4. bernhtp - Oct 10, 2012 at 1:28 PM

    George concedes that Stanford has difficulty with well-executed spread teams like Arizona and Oregon. As I’ve said before, we need to get the ball to our playmakers around the edge where their speed in space make huge gains. The Notre Dame offense should be more spread than usual because of this. Let’s get slower Stanford players try to defend the entire field, north/south and east/west.

  5. milligjm - Oct 10, 2012 at 1:42 PM

    Neal at slot, brown and Daniels out wide, eifert at tight end or flexed with ga3 in backfield Golson in shotgun. This offense should e scoring tonnnnnssss of points. Toma goodman and jones woods and riddick rotating in. Could be insane. We have a true spread team now that also happens to have four great rb’s. SCORE!

  6. jerseyshorendfan1 - Oct 10, 2012 at 2:19 PM

    George Chen sees a close defensive battle but Stanford by a FG? I guess he’s never met the Oracle of the Jersey Shore. The Oracle sees this game as a two TD romp by the boys in the gold helmets. Final score 34-20 ND. This game is certainly going to be a test for the Cardinal and as smart as they are, they fail this test in miserable, uncharacteristic fashion. So it is written, so it shall be told.

  7. heisenbyrg - Oct 10, 2012 at 3:00 PM

    Anyone want to help me troll Stanford boards by repeatedly calling them the Stanford Cardinals?

    • Jennifer - Oct 10, 2012 at 3:30 PM

      Hilarious. And yes, I’m game!

    • seadomer - Oct 10, 2012 at 3:43 PM

      Already started with “red tree”

    • NotreDan - Oct 10, 2012 at 4:13 PM

      Gimme links. I’m the best troll there is.

      • nudeman - Oct 10, 2012 at 4:19 PM

        http://www.vulva.com

      • tburke9601 - Oct 10, 2012 at 4:48 PM

        wondering the same thing myself. give links please!

      • heisenbyrg - Oct 10, 2012 at 5:04 PM

        Damnit Nude, I friggin’ clicked on that, though I guess I should have guessed (fyi: NSFW).

        I was joking about the trolling, but it would be funny. I know a few Stanford alums and fans, and they are unbearably sanctimonious about “The Cardinal,” so I always make a point to reeeeally emphasize the ‘s’ in ‘Cardinals.’

      • NotreDan - Oct 10, 2012 at 5:16 PM

        The REAL question is laser, or shave?

        I clicked it too. DAMMIT

      • nudeman - Oct 10, 2012 at 5:22 PM

        Actually I looked at their Rivals board where it shows you how many people are on line at any given time. As of right now:

        ND’s Rivals site: 1,467 … SU Rivals site: 18
        Seriously

        So trolling their site would sort of be like giving the finger to a blind man

    • 9irish - Oct 10, 2012 at 6:18 PM

      I always found that a little strange, too. Kinda like a WNBA team or something. “The Cardinal”. Then again, Ohio State is named after a poisonous tree nut, so what are you gonna do?!

  8. smurphdoggy29 - Oct 10, 2012 at 3:32 PM

    Stanford still strong under Shaw ? So strong is barely escaping SJSU, beating a thin and poorly coached USC, playing like the hapless Washington Huskies, and then repeatedly scoring against A-Rod (as we all know a defensive guru) in a shoot-out. So strong, please, well I guess they are, I can smell them from here.

    So tired of accolades for a team living off the vapors of Harbaugh, and sustained by an outstanding talent like Luck.

    If Notre Dame comes up short Saturday it will be due to their own ineffectiveness. Due diligence by the Coaching Staff and the Players has corrected many of the flaws. The Irish are focused and will remain so, now unless they do it to themselves they should win handily against the Tree.

    2 years ago when the Tree played in South Bend if a few breaks went Notre Dames way they might have turned the tide, though they were out played physically. Last year I have an issue with saying they were man handled. That was Andrew Luck winning that game. Luck managed the team through the tough portion of the game and delivered in the clutch. Notre Dame forces a turnover or flips field position, different outcome.

    So let this Stanford “dominance” take a natural course to oblivion, since Harbaugh left the Tree is trending back towards “solid” Top 25 unit, at best.

    The Irish Players should have this game pinpointed as a litmus test. Yet not for the aforementioned “strength” of Stanford. No the Test for Notre Dame is to show that the progress on display in 2012 is tangible and sustainable. That is the true test.

    Saturday the players who lived through the last 2 contests want to go out and defeat Stanford to show them and everyone else what they are made of, and capable of. I don’t think motivation will be an issue at all.

    I just wish people would move on from consistently trying to show Stanford relevancy.

    GO Irish !
    Fell the tree and send the Cardinal migrating !
    Be kind to one another !
    Keep the Faith !

    • seadomer - Oct 10, 2012 at 3:48 PM

      Cardinal is a color not the bird … unless that was on purpose

    • bernhtp - Oct 10, 2012 at 9:48 PM

      Leave the criticism of Stanford as being overrated and nothing for Load and Sinister once we beat them.

  9. mtflsmitty - Oct 10, 2012 at 4:38 PM

    Some very funny stuff today guys. Thank you.

    As I said the other day, look for three long balls to Chris Brown, mostly set up by play action. Also look for a lot more of Golston running off the edge. ND’s offensive set will be well balanced with plenty of stretch runs, and off tackle counters..

  10. ndgiants11 - Oct 10, 2012 at 4:43 PM

    Just watched a lot of footage of Stanford’s defense vs. USC’s offense in the game from earlier this year. Sure, USC has offensive line issues but Stanford’s front seven just manhandled USC’s offensive line and just assaulted Matt Barkley. The offensive line had better be on their game, or Golson will be running for his life – if that’s the case, let’s just be glad it’s not Tommy running away…(although I’m sure there’s some people here who wouldn’t mind that)

  11. tburke9601 - Oct 10, 2012 at 5:09 PM

    Not sure where anyone else is from. I am in Ocala, FL just south of G’ville. Every sport station only wants to talk about the GAY-TORS. It really sucks cause i hate the GAY_TORS with a passion. One thing i have noticed is that their fans have the same concerns about their team as we do about the Irish. (Great defense, suspect offense with a ton of playmakers, inexperienced QB, good running game) And all they can think about is getting tripped up by one team that is able to expose their weakness’s. Is it this way everywhere? Are all fans waiting for the one team to expose their flaws? Is there really no elite team this year? What is the meaning of life? Ehh.. one to many questions.

  12. 9irish - Oct 10, 2012 at 5:38 PM

    I think I see where everybody is going with this, and I feel the same way. Very optimistic, but I’m not writing any checks until the stagecoach arrives.

    The problem we have is the past FIFTEEN years (or so)….before then, if you woke me up and told me we were 5-0 against these teams (no light teams, either) I would’ve said, “Okay…what’s the big deal?”

    That’s the barrier we need to get over; shocked to lose, not shocked to win.

    They have been so close for a long time. Just have had this insane way of giving away at least a couple games a year in the past.

    As far as National Championships and worrying about getting tripped up in one game, I can tell you of 3 games and/or PLAYS that cost us three of them. So of course we worry.

    If this keeps going this year and they end up playing West Virginia, everything truly will have gone full circle.

    Go Irish

    • ndgiants11 - Oct 10, 2012 at 7:25 PM

      “Shocked to lose, not shocked to win.”

      This is so well put and identifies the current state and culture of Notre Dame football.

  13. ndfaithful - Oct 10, 2012 at 8:09 PM

    Well, won’t this week be interesting!? I think ND has a real chance at taking a huge step forward. To me, this is like the USC game last year when the world waited in mid-season to see what we’d do in prime time.

    It sure seems like the Irish are physically tougher and ready for a Stanford team. It sure seems like they’ve learned how to quit beating themselves. If the form for the season holds true and we continue to trend towards an improving offense, we could end up with a convincing win with the world watching.

    For the people posting here that Stanford never really manhandled us, I have to disagree. They pummeled our QB in what seemed like the first series and we never recovered. Wasn’t TR dazed (more than usual) for the whole game? This year, I think it will be really good to have EG back there with some moves and fluidity. He could surprise people this week if he keeps growing. He may make some mistakes, but if they attack him too much, it could start looking like his High School film with our speed on the field.

    Of course, it’s a chance to fail miserably on national TV, but I think we’re learning how to WIN. I expect great things Saturday. I think ND returns the beatings from the past few years and wins by 17 or more.

    GO IRISH!!!

    • 9irish - Oct 10, 2012 at 8:48 PM

      You are absolutely right about Stanford. They ran us over…twice. Stanford and Navy (2 years ago…just couldn’t deal with their run game) are the 2 that really just BEAT us during Kelly’s tenure. You could throw in USC last year, but without the Honorable Dayne Crist, who knows about that one. All of the other losses were bizarre, or self-inflicted.

  14. glowplugv - Oct 10, 2012 at 8:10 PM

    This is not about going 6-0 it is about winning the next game. Focus, focus, focus….

    I have to believe that this is the game where the offensive definitely needs to score points to help control the game. Nunes is 6ft 4in so he doesn’t have to run to daylight like Denard to get throwing lanes. Just make the first guy miss to buy a second or two. That said he has only 8 TDS (and 4 INTs) so if the Irish can shut down the run game (again), he may not be able to beat us with his arm. I will be very happy if Golson “gets it” big time with the zone read and check-offs, because we have the people that can get open against this defense and run if the box is not loaded. So like someone said above make them defend E/W and N/S and the ND speed will prevail (they better, I’m in the stands for this one!)

  15. glowplugv - Oct 10, 2012 at 8:18 PM

    I found this review of the teams: http://lindyssports.com/college-football/column/college-football-look-ahead/notre-dame-presents-a-much-different-test-for-stanford/42700

    Interesting quote from the Stanford coach about their defensive simularities. I think that they still might be underestimating ND’s front 7 speed as a large element of their defensive performance.

  16. North of Denver - Oct 10, 2012 at 10:57 PM

    For us to win, we as fans need to stand in solidarity and ban all napa and other California wines in case we might be accidentally supporting the Cardinal alumni club.

    See http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390443982904578044520163423346.html

    For the success of the Irish, please drink beer.

  17. cpfirish - Oct 11, 2012 at 12:19 AM

    Love that the Irish are 5-0.. Lets just take it one game at time.. Would really like to see TE have a big game this Saturday. If ND can get him some productive plays then that adds another offensive weapon.
    One game at a time!
    Go Irish and lets beat down Stanford.

  18. jerseyshorendfan1 - Oct 11, 2012 at 11:52 AM

    Message to the ND team: Careful boys, Coach Shaw is “Holtzing” you. Blowing smoke up your dupa to try and get you to think you are great and that you have this game in the bag already. Pay him no mind and don’t become complacent. Fight hard and play tough from whistle to whistle and earn this win the old fashioned way.

    Speaking of Holtz, his recipe for a NC was a dominant defense and a mobile QB. Sound familiar?

    IRISH 34-20.

    • 9irish - Oct 11, 2012 at 3:10 PM

      Lightning speed and brutal running backs, too. Very familiar.

  19. natesullivan24 - Oct 11, 2012 at 8:02 PM

    Stanford is just simply outmatched in this game. I think last week was a fluke for Nunes and the Stanford offense. Couple that with the stoutness upfront for the Notre Dame D, and the Cardinal could be in for a long night. If Notre Dame’s offense can put a couple touchdowns on the board then this one should be over. Check out my full breakdown of this game here, http://allducksallday.com/?p=153, looking at the keys to the game, betting sides, and prediction.

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