Offseason Q&A: Stanford


Notre Dame’s season finale will once again have major implications—if all goes according to plans. The Irish will close the season in Northern California, visiting Stanford in a rivalry that’s growing quickly to become one of the more important ones on the Irish schedule.

No longer are the Cardinal the shabby outfit best remembered for a spunky marching band or a zany mascot. David Shaw has built one of college football’s most consistent programs, continuing Jim Harbaugh’s reclamation project as he’s put together a rough-and-tumble bully in a conference not exactly know for its physicality. Just as impressive, the Cardinal have also revved up their recruiting machine, another elite academic institution that’s winning its share of battles for blue-chip talent.

To get us up to speed on things at The Farm, Do-Hyoung Park joins me. A fellow St. Paul native, Do is a senior staff writer and former sports editor of The Stanford Daily where he’s covered the Cardinal football, baseball and tennis squads, while also serving as part of the football broadcast team on KZSU, Stanford’s student radio station. He’s majoring in chemical engineering.

(He also wrote this, which I’d be happy to co-sign.)

From the great state of Minnesota, Do provided some great, in-depth answers to the best questions I could think up. Hope you enjoy.


After an incredible run, Stanford finally had an average season, with the Cardinal finishing 8-5 on the year. Their losses were all respectable, but a tough schedule and just an average offense doomed David Shaw’s team. What was the attitude like on The Farm this spring? And from a psyche perspective, how did the players and coaching staff react to their most disappointing season since early in the Harbaugh era?

I definitely can’t speak for the players and coaches, but I can tell you one thing: It’s been clear to me for the last couple of years that despite all of the program’s recent success, nobody has started to take winning for granted — success is earned, not a given.

And with that in mind, I think the 8-5 season was more frustrating for the team than disappointing. They felt they were certainly going out there and playing well enough — on defense, at least — to earn their victories week in and week out (apart from the Oregon and ASU games). But game after game, seemingly one momentary lapse in execution would do the team in and turn what arguably should have been wins in their minds into losses.

Remember that Stanford actually did score the go-ahead touchdown late against USC but had it called back on a boneheaded chop block by running back Remound Wright. Remember that Stanford had Notre Dame on the ropes before cornerback Wayne Lyons pretty much forgot to cover his man on fourth-and-11.

Don’t let the record fool you — the 2014 Stanford team was worse than its predecessors, but not by much. Three games came down to one play that didn’t go Stanford’s way. If they had, we’re looking at 11-2 and probably a top-10 ranking to end the year. Isn’t football fickle?

The bottom line is that every week, the players were frustrated because they knew that they were capable of playing so much better. Nothing really changed for the Cardinal when they tore Cal, UCLA and Maryland apart to end the season — it’s that they stopped making mistakes and finally started playing to their potential.

Call it a rebuilding season, a downturn or whatever you will, but people around the Stanford program know that their record in 2014 wasn’t indicative of how good this program was (and still is), and I’m willing to bet that they’re poised to use the frustration of last year as fuel for their fire in 2015. These guys are used to playing with a huge chip on their shoulders, and that goes double for this season.


Kevin Hogan is entering his final season on The Farm. Irish fans have seen Hogan plenty, and are well aware that they were one of the quarterback’s favorite schools, but didn’t offer before Hogan committed to Stanford. Last year was an up and down season for Hogan, though he finished on a high note. How confident are Cardinal fans that Hogan is the type of quarterback who can do more than just steer the ship? The Irish had Tommy Rees, a “game manager” quarterback by most Irish fans’ appraisals. Is Hogan more than that?

Even through two Pac-12 titles and two Rose Bowl appearances, Cardinal fans have never had full confidence in Kevin Hogan. By now, they’ve resigned themselves to the fact that no, Kevin Hogan will never be more than a “game manager” in their minds. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Sure, it’s incredible when a program gets a quarterback like Andrew Luck that can truly carry a program and raise the bar, but Stanford doesn’t need life-changing play at the quarterback position to be an elite team — it just needs an efficient, mistake-free player that can effectively distribute the ball. And that’s exactly what Hogan can do when he’s at his best.

It was, as you described, an up-and-down season for Hogan last year, but he was dealing with quite a bit of adversity both on and off the field in having to play behind an offensive line breaking in four starters while also dealing with the illness and eventual passing of his father during the season.

Despite that, the accuracy problems that have plagued him in the past have seemingly gotten better, and when his offensive line is getting push for his running backs to balance out the offense, Hogan can be brutally efficient in dishing the ball on a dime to his playmakers out wide. Such was the case when he was 15-of-20 for 214 yards at Cal and 16-of-19 for 234 yards at UCLA.

His biggest problem over the last few seasons was that he wouldn’t go through his progressions and lock on to his biggest weapon, Ty Montgomery, and try to force him the ball, often into heavy coverage. But with two-plus years of starting experience under his belt and a deep, talented receiving corps around him, I’m expecting his mistakes and lapses to be few and far between this year. And that’ll be enough.


Perhaps the biggest change inside the Cardinal program is the defense. Even if Lance Anderson managed to keep the train rolling after replacing Derek Mason, Stanford needs to replace NINE STARTERS from a veteran defense. How exactly will they do that? Or are you expecting a major step backwards?

The defensive situation may appear pretty dire at first glance, but I’m quite surprised that people haven’t given Stanford’s defense at least the benefit of the doubt after it finished as a top-5 unit in the country in each of the last three seasons.

It’s not like Stanford hasn’t had to rebuild on defense before. At the end of 2013, the Cardinal lost DE Josh Mauro, LB Trent Murphy, LB Shayne Skov, DE Ben Gardner and SS Ed Reynolds, who were most of the entire defensive core of that 2013 team. (Four of the above are now NFL players.) The Cardinal didn’t even skip a beat.

It’s not like Stanford hasn’t been recruiting well on defense — the Cardinal are plugging holes with four-star and five-star recruits all over their two-deep.

And finally, it’s not like Stanford is going to be playing fresh faces — because of Stanford’s robust defensive rotation, only two of the projected starters on defense haven’t seen significant game action before.

Lance Anderson (DC), Duane Akina (secondary) and Randy Hart (D-line) are some of the absolute best coaches in the business and have proven track records. I’m sure the defense will have its growing pains at the start, but I don’t think it will regress by much.


Back to the offensive side of the ball. Stanford built their offense around a strong offensive line and a solid running game. But they couldn’t seem to find a go-to running back after having great luck riding guys like Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney. Who do you expect to take charge of the position group in 2015 and will the offensive line simply reload after losing Andrus Peat?

Shaw has made no secret of the fact that rising sophomore Christian McCaffrey will be the feature piece of the Stanford offense in 2015. Stanford fans were sorely disappointed that they didn’t get to see more of him last year, and for good reason too: McCaffrey is, without question, the most electric playmaker on this team and the future leader of this offense.

Last year, he averaged a remarkable 7.1 yards per carry and 14.8 yards per reception, and regardless of where he’s playing — running back, slot receiver, wildcat back, kick/punt returner — he has the speed and change-of-direction ability to be a game-changer. On top of that, he’s added a lot of muscle this offseason, which adds a more downhill, power dimension to his game as well.

McCaffrey isn’t going to be a traditional Stanford power back in the mold of Taylor or Gaffney, and I’m expecting Shaw to expand the playbook in a way he never has before at Stanford to exploit McCaffrey’s considerable skill set. I’d still expect Remound Wright, who was great to close 2014, in short-yardage and goal-line situations, though. Unfortunately, it looks like Barry Sanders will be the odd man out. I really wish that he’d panned out.

The offensive line shouldn’t take a huge step back with the loss of Peat, as former five-star recruit Kyle Murphy, who started every game at right tackle last year, will switch over to Hogan’s blind side and highly-touted sophomore Casey Tucker should fill in just fine at right tackle. This line struggled for most of last year but came together in a big way down the stretch — if it can retain that late-season form, McCaffrey and Hogan should have a big year.


It just isn’t realistic to think that the Stanford defense will fall off a cliff. So who do you expect to step forward on that side of the ball for the Cardinal? Can you walk us through the defenders you expect to emerge as big-time players in 2015?

The defensive line will determine whether or not Stanford’s defense will remain elite in 2015.

Solomon Thomas, the five-star crown jewel of Stanford’s 2014 recruiting class, was reportedly borderline unblockable in the spring, and alongside classmate Harrison Phillips, who put on 20 pounds this offseason, the defensive ends have tremendous upside but are still unproven. The ridiculous combination of Thomas’ size, agility and drive have the potential to make him one of the breakout defensive stars in not just the Pac-12, but the nation this year.

As the ESPN Pac-12 Blog said earlier this summer, though, the true make-or-break position on this line will be at nose tackle. There are currently zero nose tackles on Stanford’s roster, and the Cardinal will likely turn to senior DE Aziz Shittu to fill in at arguably the most important position in Stanford’s 3-4 defense. I don’t know if I necessarily expect Shittu to emerge as a star or not, but if Stanford’s defense is going to be successful, he’s going to need to have a big year.

Behind the line, expect linebacker Blake Martinez, last year’s leading tackler, to again be an underrated yet dominant run-stuffing force on the inside. And in Stanford’s revamped secondary, Kodi Whitfield, who transitioned from wide receiver to free safety, is poised for a huge year. He’s impressed just about everyone with how quickly he picked up the position, and as a converted offensive player, he’s going to have a leg up at locking on to opposing schemes and looks.

Don’t forget the last guy that switched from WR to DB at Stanford. You might have heard of him.


David Shaw is widely respected at the college level. His record since taking over for Jim Harbaugh speaks for itself. Yet last season, we finally heard some grumbling about Shaw’s performance—though mostly from Cardinal fans likely spoiled from these past few seasons.

That said, the Cardinal lost some games they maybe shouldn’t have (USC for one). Are some of the question marks (red zone playcalling, for one) just the product of a five-loss season, or has Shaw’s star lost a bit of its shine in recent years?

I’m surprised it took you so long to hear the Shaw discontent — Stanford fans have been grumbling about Shaw and his “overly conservative” playcalling since at least 2012. And, as you know, that came to a head last year when Shaw was the fans’ scapegoat for Stanford’s hilariously awful red-zone efficiency.

When you take a closer look at it, though, I don’t think Shaw’s play-calling has been the problem; his stubbornness is what has been holding him back a bit.

Shaw has always loved his run-first, methodical style in the red zone, and in Stanford’s run of dominance from 2012-14, he had the personnel to pull that off: The offensive line was stout and the running backs could find the holes and protect the ball well.

In 2015, Shaw tried to do the same with personnel that just couldn’t handle it. You can’t really blame Shaw for offensive line penalties, fumbles and missed field goals (all of which were much bigger problems than Shaw’s play-calling), but you could potentially blame him for not adjusting and continuing to put his players in those same positions to make the same mistakes over and over again. But even that might be a stretch.

The reality is that hindsight is always 20/20, and whenever something goes wrong, Stanford fans love to second-guess and point fingers — often at Shaw. They bashed him for throwing too much in the 2013 loss to Utah (despite the Utes’ strong run defense). And again for running too much in the Rose Bowl loss to Michigan State (despite Sparty’s ridiculous secondary). And again for punting twice from USC territory in the 2014 loss (even though our extremely unreliable kicker would have been kicking into a strong wind). If something goes wrong, whatever Shaw did, somebody will find a way to complain about it. He really can’t win in that situation.

With that in mind, I don’t think Shaw deserves all of the discontent that Stanford fans direct towards him. Also keep in mind that he runs a clean program and recruits extremely well given Stanford’s constraints. And as a Stanford graduate himself, he absolutely loves his job. I don’t really know what more you can ask for.


Notre Dame and Stanford are becoming quite a rivalry, and once again a regular-season finale could very well have postseason ramifications. The Irish have playoff hopes as they prepare to enter fall camp. What needs to happen for the Cardinal to be in the mix for a Pac-12 title and a spot in the CFB Playoff when Notre Dame comes to Palo Alto over Thanksgiving weekend?

Given the recent past, it’s really weird to think that the defense worries me much more than the offense does.

In general, Stanford’s key is to win the trenches. If the O-line reverts to early 2013 form, Hogan can’t be his efficient self. If the D-line doesn’t stuff the run and force pocket pressure, then the high-flying quarterbacks of the Pac-12 will decimate Stanford’s talented yet inexperienced secondary. Stanford’s offense is talented, but Hogan just doesn’t have the firepower to keep up in a shootout.

If the lines hold, though, the sky’s the limit for this Stanford team, and if it can win on the road at USC in Week 3, the secondary has time to develop further before Stanford’s other tough matchups (Arizona, Oregon, UCLA, Cal, Notre Dame — all at home). That USC game is key. If Stanford wins that, then I’ll be convinced that the defense is for real, and Oregon is the only obstacle between Stanford and a Pac-12 North title — and a legitimate shot at the playoff.

Five things we learned: Notre Dame 17, Stanford 14


Anatomy of a soul-crushing defeat: Back-breaking turnovers. Missed scoring opportunities. Wasted performances.

The Irish looked like they had put together the perfect recipe for a painful loss through 57 rain-soaked, wind-swept minutes in Notre Dame Stadium. But Everett Golson and the Irish offense rallied for a game-winning touchdown drive, helping the Irish pull off a wild 17-14 victory over Stanford Saturday afternoon.

RELATED: Watch a full replay of Notre Dame’s win

On a 4th down and 11 with the ballgame in the balance, Golson rolled to his left, spotting a wide-open Ben Koyack in the corner of the end zone.

“It felt like the whole thing happened in slow motion,” Golson said after the game. “I distinctly remember just looking at my first read and kind of rolling out and it was like real slow and I’m like, ‘Okay, he’s open, why are you not throwing it to him?'”

Golson did, and Koyack planted his feet just inside the chalk, cleanly catching the pass before getting knocked to the turf. It was another epic chapter in a Notre Dame-Stanford rivalry that continues to grow.

Combined with a dominant performance by Brian VanGorder’s defense, Notre Dame moves to 5-0, clearly positioned to do some damage in a College Football Playoff hunt that veered dramatically the first week of October.

Let’s take a look at the five things we learned in the Irish’s 17-14 victory over Stanford.

There was nobody left to bail Everett Golson out of trouble. So the quarterback seized the moment and did it himself. 

If Golson didn’t find Koyack in the corner of the end zone, it would’ve been the Irish quarterback wearing the goat horns. Golson was hassled and harassed all Saturday, completing just 20 of 43 throws for 241 yards, throwing for two touchdowns but gift-wrapping Stanford’s first score with a killer fumble and taking points off the board with a terrible decision on his interception to Jordan Richards.

But Golson battled his way back, seizing control of the Irish offense and putting together a game-winning drive for the ages.

“You know, he’s a winner,” head coach Brian Kelly said after the game. “I don’t know what his numbers are, but he’s 15-1 as a starter. I don’t know how many games he lost in high school but he didn’t lose many in high school either. So the kid’s a winner and he keeps competing and he keeps playing.”

That winning mindset helped Golson late in the game, seizing control of the moment when it mattered most.

“I mean I love moments like that. I really do,” Golson said after the game. “I think I see it more as an opportunity rather than pressure. It was a great opportunity for us to really just showcase what we have.”

Golson pulled off the game-winning drive without the help of a key backup quarterback, like he had in 2012. He also did it against a defense that had pummeled the Irish offensive line with pressures and blitzes, capably picked up on the games final drive when they weren’t earlier.

Clutch plays by a clutch player. And Notre Dame is 5-0 because of it.

Notre Dame’s defense outplayed the No. 1 defense in the country. 

Calling any defense the best in the country when half of their games were played against UC Davis and Army is a little silly. But Stanford’s defense lived up to its reputation, as its veteran front seven gave the Irish fits all evening. But Notre Dame’s defense played even better, with Brian VanGorder’s unit dialing up blitzes and schemes that held Stanford to some historically low numbers.

The Cardinal were held below 100 yards rushing for the first time since September 2012. They averaged just 3.0 yards per play, their lowest tally since 2006, when Walt Harris went 1-11. Notre Dame held Ty Montgomery to just 12 yards on four catches. He gained just 14 yards on five carries.

After the game, David Shaw tipped his cap to VanGorder.

“I think they’ve got an outstanding defensive coordinator. He mixes it up,” Shaw said. “Our quarterback got hit a lot today. Give them a lot of credit for their scheme… I think accounting for the guys they lost, they did outstanding on the defensive side, and their guys played hard. They played fast. And you can tell they’re very well coached because they’re running full speed where they’re supposed to be.”

In a game where Notre Dame needed to establish a running game, the Irish managed to put one together against Stanford. 

It was certainly tough sledding in the trenches. And on a Saturday where it was extremely difficult to throw the football, Notre Dame’s offense managed to keep Stanford’s defense honest with a running game.

The Irish officially ran for 129 yards on 32 carries, a more that respectable four yards a carry. Notre Dame got the big-chunk runs they needed from C.J. Prosise and Everett Golson. But they earned their keep in the trenches, with Cam McDaniel gaining 41 tough yards on 15 carries, the best looking 2.7 yards per touch you’ll ever see.

“If you just abandon the running game, they’re going to drop eight. They’re going to double out. You’ve got no chance,” Kelly said after the game. “So we have to keep their backers in the box. We had to have a semblance, and I thought we did a pretty good job of being patient and hanging in there.”

While some Irish fans still wanted to see more of Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant, it was the captain McDaniel who earned Kelly’s trust. And his ability to pinball loose in the trenches a few times and move the chains was key.

Just like in 2012 when Theo Riddick earned more carries while Cierre Wood was better statistically, Kelly showed once again that he values dependability over game-breaking ability, especially in a tight battle.

Stanford built a name on out-toughing their opponents. Jaylon Smith and the Irish defense won that battle on Saturday. 

Let’s take a minute to appreciate the game Jaylon Smith played. Notre Dame’s star linebacker made 14 tackles, seven unassisted. He notched a sack, one of his 2.5 tackles-for-loss. And he flew from sideline to sideline, playing the type of game you’d expect from a star in the making.

Smith may have paced the Irish defense, but he certainly wasn’t alone in his excellence. Notre Dame’s seven TFLs came from a variety of defenders. Sheldon Day continued his dominance in the trenches. Cody Riggs had six stops to go along with excellent coverage on Ty Montgomery for most of the night. Cole Luke played the best game of his career, adding a forced fumble to his two interceptions.

And Joe Schmidt, still tagged with the scrappy walk-on title hanging on him, had seven tackles, holding up just fine at the point of attack. Kelly talked about the all-out effort from his defense, holding the Irish in the game when the offense spent much of the day stuck in neutral.

“We’re getting great play from the front seven,” Kelly said. “Joe Schmidt, Jaylon, James Onwualu. I think if you look at the front seven, I think that’s where you start. And then we’re getting aggressive cornerback play. Two interceptions from Cole Luke. We’re playing without KeiVarae Russell who arguably was our best corner. We’re doing it with guys that are just stepping up and being aggressive on the outside.”

Asked if he was surprised that his defense — even after replacing NFL talents like Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix, Prince Shembo, Dan Fox and Bennett Jackson — was able to go toe-to-toe with Stanford and win, Kelly didn’t blink.

“We’ve developed our program. We should be here in five years,” Kelly said. “This is where you evaluate your program in five years where year one we got knocked around. I mean, physically. And so this is where you should be going into year five of your program.”


After another memorable win against Stanford, it’s pretty easy to start seeing the stars align. 

Notre Dame’s big victory couldn’t have come at a better time. With Oregon, Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas A&M all going down, the Irish vaulted into a likely top-five spot by simply surviving. And while there’s certainly work to be done, Notre Dame’s in line to play a mid-October game in Tallahassee with some of the biggest stakes we’ve seen in recent years.

Of course, the pitfalls are there. But for as ugly as parts of Saturday’s 17-14 win looked, a deeper dig shows more promise than you might suspect. Notre Dame’s running game is getting better, with the rearranged offensive line playing better after a tough start. Chris Brown emerged as a viable receiving weapon, taking the pressure off of Will Fuller.

Defensively, shutting down Stanford is another datapoint that clears out any suspicious of smoke and mirrors. And with some resolution coming next week for Notre Dame’s five suspended players, getting any of that group back — especially projected starters DaVaris Daniels, KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams — can only help.

After the game, sophomore Cole Luke talked about an attitude that’s taking over this young football team, allowing Luke and the rest of this young group to play really impressive football.

“One thing that was stressed to me before the game is that you have to have no fear,” Luke said. “It does not matter what receiver you are going against or what offense… When the lights come on and you are on the field, it does not really matter. You just have to make plays and play ball.”

With Stanford in the rearview mirror and North Carolina the next challenge ahead, don’t expect the Irish coaching staff to let this team look too far ahead. But it’s starting to feel a lot like 2012 again, in another season that seemingly came out of nowhere.


Live Blog — Notre Dame vs. Stanford


Fall weather came in a hurry. With temperatures in the mid-70s earlier this week and expected to be back there as of Monday, Stanford was welcomed to South Bend by temperatures hovering around 40 degrees, a stiff wind and rain all but assured this afternoon.

That weather could be familiar for the Cardinal and Irish, a forecast mighty close to the last time these two teams met in mid-October in South Bend. We’ll see if the results are the same in a few hours.

For those of you looking for a livestream of the game, here’s your link.

For those of you here for the live blog, see below. In a game that has the Cardinal currently favored by two points, the Irish will need to play their best football to make it to 5-0.


Stanford mailbag: Chaos, drama and swagger edition


I’ve been told that the wonderfully simple mailbox imagery I’ve open-sourced from the internet isn’t cutting it. So we’ve made some changes to reflect our new attitude in the mailbag.

Why? Because the wonderful @ndmspaint demanded it. Anybody who can draw Golden Tate taking out the band or Touchdown Jesus helping out against Pitt deserves immediate attention. (Scroll through and enjoy.)

@ndmspaint: Keith I’m calling you out on your mailbox. A single piece of mail? It needs chaos, drama, swagger.

Consider me “swagged up,” and filled with the type of chaos and drama reserved for a Saturday showdown with Stanford that all of a sudden got a whole lot more interesting. And if this bumbling Southwest wifi gets me through these questions without dumping me off, we’re in for a great mailbag as I make the trek to South Bend for a rainy, cold weekend, safe from the heatwave that’s hitting Southern California.

First, let me get to just a fraction of your Frozen Five questions. (I was a big fan of the Four Coursemen before Eilar Hardy got roped in. And after Adam Levine’s appearance on the ESPN broadcast last weekend, I’ve taken the Marooned 5 out of consideration.)


1notredamefan: Hey Keith, In your Live Blog this past Sat. you mentioned summer school cheating. Is there information out there that us blogger’s haven’t been privy to?

I’m glad you asked this. So many people are misinterpreting what exactly is happening on campus with the Honor Code committee and the NCAA investigation. This doesn’t operate like a criminal court. So to call these five players innocent before proven guilty isn’t exactly correct.

SOMETHING happened over the summer. What that is will likely never be revealed, though we’ve been given a few hints and clues by Father Jenkins and Jack Swarbrick. But the only reason these five guys are being withheld from football games is because there’s an NCAA investigation going on and the academic indiscretions that took place may effect their eligibility.

If something wasn’t fishy this summer, we’d never be going through this.

So it’s just a matter of HOW FISHY and HOW AGAINST THE HONOR CODE these issues were. If it’s found to be a minor incident, then the punishment these five got — sitting out five games and counting — is pretty severe, and frankly a shame. If it’s found to be major, you could argue this is still severe.

If it’s a flagrant violation, they could be removed for the semester, just like Everett Golson and Jerian Grant. But the fact that this is going on basically says something went afoul this summer.


lightskin350: Is there any type of legal action these kids could possibly take aginst Notre Dame because if I was one of these players I would look hard at it? This complete process has been a joke and continues to be a joke. Don’t they realize how bad they are making Notre Dame look?

Again, this isn’t a legal process. No student going in front of the Honor Code is allowed an attorney. But as DaVaris Daniels made known in his comments to ESPN, his family (and likely the others) certainly explored their options, and if they were smart, they certainly should’ve consulted attorneys, gotten an advanced look at the cases against them and gotten going on a vigorous self-defense.

As for if this process is a joke or not, I’m not willing to go that far. But Notre Dame certainly isn’t worried about being called tone deaf, nor does outside perception really matter.

But I am willing to second, third and fourth the Op-Ed the Observer published today. Do yourselves a favor and read it.


jerseyshorendfan1: We are coming up on some kind of decision regarding the frozen 5. Assuming they are exonerated, which of the 5 do you see coming back immediately into significant playing time?

I would think KeiVarae Russell, DaVaris Daniels and Ishaq Williams will work their way into the rotation as soon as they’re physically capable. That’s what had me a bit worried when Daniels revealed he was working out on his own, not with Paul Longo’s strength staff in the Gug.

But I’m not sure how realistic it is to think these guys are going to be ready to step back into the starting lineup. But they should be able to contribute key snaps, something Williams could do up front and Russell will certainly do, even if it’s in a limited capacity at first.


ndgoldandblue: I guess Stanford still thinks they got hosed in the 2012 game against the Irish. Will David Shaw ever stop acting like a cry baby, or is he perpetually stuck in the mindset of a spoiled child?

I think he’s going to answer the questions he’s asked. So while his comments placing this game in a similar category as the Tuck Rule game certainly sound whiny, it’s only fair to mention that later in the same sentence, he acknowledged the game was over and it’s what was called, so he moved on.

I certainly don’t blame him for being frustrated at the end of the game in 2012. You’ve got to remember he’s playing a game in a stadium that’s literally one of the last not to have replay capabilities, leaving him — and probably his coaching staff — completely lost on the outcome of the final play, something that likely led to his more-than-frustrated remarks, especially when you can see where he and Stephan Taylor are coming from when they say he got into the end zone.

(It was well after the whistle blew the play dead though.)

don74: Which of the 3 RB’s breaks out this weekend. ND wins if they can successfully run it 30 times.

If Notre Dame can manufacture a ground game like they did in 2012, they’ll be in very good shape. That the Irish managed 150 yards on the ground was a pretty surprising outcome. As much as I want the back to be Greg Bryant, don’t be surprised if it’s Cam McDaniel getting the clutch carries.

I will quibble with your final statement, though. ND doesn’t win if they can run it 30 times. They’ll run it 30 times because they’re winning.


ndlv: If the fist-pumping BVG asked for your advice about planning for Stanford’s offense, which defensive approach would you recommend: (1) Put in bigger (but slower) bodies who haven’t played much, like Councell, to better match up with Stanford’s size, or (2) Stick with the smaller and faster players because this is the strength of the defense so far?

God I hope BVG doesn’t ask me for advice. But if he did, I’d probably be in favor of loving the one you’re with, and rolling with the defensive strategy that’s been utilized these first four games. I know we’ve all heard Brian Kelly talk about how Ben Councell will be a key part of this defense against big-bodied, physical teams. But right now, he’s an out-of-position outside linebacker less than a year removed from ACL surgery.

Few seemed to notice, but the Irish basically ran a base defense out of nickel last week, with Matthias Farley getting the start in place of James Onwualu. Farley is playing at a very high level and will likely be asked to cover Stanford’s resurgent tight end passing attack.

Of course, I’ll change my stance if we start seeing Stanford ripping off big runs and moving the ball on the ground at ease against the Irish’s undersized front seven. But I would be surprised if that happened.


DPU Man ND Fan: Irish D is #4 in country in points allowed, but middle of the pack in most every other key stat – yards allowed, sacks, tackles for loss, turnovers forced, etc…How likely do you think it is that our stingy D thus far turns out to be a bit of a mirage over the full season, and do you worry that Stanford might be first in line to expose us on Saturday, particularly our run defense?

I’m going to correct just one part of your question (that I shortened for ease as well). Notre Dame is a Top 25 outfit in turnovers forced, and just two turnovers away from being in the Top 10. (They were Top 5 heading into Syracuse I believe, getting us to the point of the question where we should be: It’s still REALLY early from a sample size perspective…)

That being said, just watching this defense should tell you this isn’t a bend but don’t break outfit. This is an attacking unit that’s done a great job to keep points off the board.

Yardage totals are higher because Syracuse hit on a few big passes. After halftime, Michigan outgained Notre Dame. Rice and Purdue had some early success before being shutdown. When most teams are going through their cupcake non-conference schedules, that pushes ND back a bit, too.

I think we can only watch things play out before we see if this defense will be “exposed,” but you need to also put this performance in context to preseason expectations. Everybody but the guys inside The Gug thought this group would be horrible. So even if they don’t live up to Notre Dame’s historically good 2012 defense (a group that still got lit up against Alabama), it’s a pretty impressive unit considering they are short two key starters and only graduate Cody Riggs from the group.


martyhealy: Other than Boston College and ND there are no other Division One Catholic schools that participate in football. You would think one in California, Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, or Florida would have a gold mine in recruiting kids that want to get “Holy”. Any thoughts?

Not a bad idea, Marty. All you need is a few hundred million bucks and 10 years and you could have something. Get the Kickstarter campaign rolling!


prodigolson: If you were Stanford’s Defensive Coordinator how would you attack our offense? Sit back and hope we make mistakes (aka Tommy Rees scheme), or come after Golson and try to force mistakes?

That’s a tough question. I’d probably start by doing my best to take something away. While it’s probably counter-intuitive, I think making sure the ground game doesn’t get rolling is still the best way to defend Notre Dame. Even if it puts the Cardinal defensive backs in man coverage, it’s a risk I’m still probably taking.

From there, I’m throwing coverage schemes and late shifts at the Irish quarterback, forcing him to shift and change the plays early and often. The other part of my strategy is to make sure I’m keep Golson in the pocket. Few quarterbacks do more damage on the move, with Golson’s ability to extend plays a back-breaker for even a talented secondary like Stanford’s. Keep him in the pocket, especially with the monsters Stanford has up front.

As we saw last night, Arizona’s offense made it impossible on Oregon when they were able to both run and pass with efficiency in the second half. If the Irish can get the ground game rolling with their running backs, it opens up the zone read keeper for Golson and also the passing game, an explosive part of Notre Dame’s offense that needs to be on point.

The short answer? Do everything good. The longer one: Do a lot of different things and keep the quarterback confused.


ndcanuck: How much difference will the new field surface make for this game? Compared to the terrible conditions two years ago in South Bend, and the painted mud they play on in Palo Alto every year, is it possible the Irish have a real chance to take advantage of their team speed for once here?

This is a big one for me, great point. I think it’s going to be a big difference. Every game I’ve rewatched from the past few years always shocks me. Notre Dame just looks so slow on the natural grass. What’s the point of having athletes when they get neutralized by the home playing surface?

I firmly believe that Brian Kelly has recruited better athletes than just about everyone on their schedule, Stanford included. We’ll see if they’re able to show that on the FieldTurf, especially in conditions that will be less than ideal this weekend.


danirish: By the end of the year do we see a lot more of Luatua & Smythe catching the ball? Possibly starting? Not a knock on Koyack but Luatua’s blocking was not bad!

I just don’t think this is going to be a big year for tight ends. Play them and you’re not playing a fourth receiver. And no matter how good I think Smythe or Luatua will be, they aren’t better offensive contributors than CJ Prosise, Torii Hunter, Amir Carlisle or Chris Brown.

We saw a bit of two-tight ends last week, with Luatua looking solid in basically his debut. But I’m not running a true (or redshirt) freshman tight end out there if I can play a veteran, explosive receiver. (And that’s before finding out what might happen with DaVaris Daniels.)


@michaelmartin78: More successful week, the FSU Quarterback tree or the Bill Belichick coaching tree?

I just watched Christian Ponder play his way into the broadcast booth last night. So even with Charlie Weis collecting his second form of unemployment, I’m having a hard time picking the former Seminoles.


ndrocks2: Are you hearing anything about recruiting? Seems to be a less noise than normal about kids coming to ND or looking around after giving their verbal.

Not a lot of seats on the bus, so it’s not exactly fair to be complaining about a recruiting class that’s still pretty active and in the hunt for some top dogs. (Not that I’m accusing you of complaining, but you catch my drift.)

I wrote about some names visiting in the Pregame Six Pack, but another interesting addition to the visitor list this weekend is quarterback and Penn State commit Brandon Wimbush. The New Jersey native is one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country and would be a coup for this recruiting class, especially when it looked like Notre Dame had turned the page to 2016 prospects. (This is following the playbook ND used to land Everett Golson.)

For as good as James Franklin has been recruiting at Penn State, losing the face of his class — after the Irish snatched back Josh Barajas — would be huge.


sm29irish: from what you have seen thus far both on the field and behind the scenes do you like this team or the 2012 unit better? What do you think Brian Kelly would say if asked off the record?

Ask me in nine games. I don’t think Brian Kelly — on or off the record — picks children, but he certainly doesn’t pick the one that’s only 4-0 after the other one allowed him to play for a national title.

@kevroe67: Would like to know if the players keep the Shamrock uniforms as it is one and done. And if ND would consider mandating some noon games on the schedule.

I checked in with people at ND, and it looks like the guys do get to keep their Shamrock Series uniforms. Talk about a Halloween costume that keeps on giving!

As for the mandating of noon games, it’s probably not happening. Saturdays in South Bend start at 3:30 p.m. ET, with one night game likely sticking around. As for away games, not sure how much “mandating” Notre Dame can do. But usually the broadcast partner has a big say in the game’s time, so don’t expect an early start for a team that’s played almost exclusively primetime away games over the past few years.


Tim’s Neighbor: Personal question: How did you end up at ND? Any fond memories of ND before you were a student?

While I appreciate Nudeman giving me a baseball scholarship in the comments, I wasn’t getting any of the 11.7 scholarships that get allocated to the baseball team (especially the ones Paul Mainieri put together).

But I was lucky enough to chew gum and hit fungos for a while, a rather anticlimatic end to a baseball career, but a nice opportunity nonetheless. I picked Notre Dame because it was the best combination of school and sports that I was choosing from, even though I grew up rooting for former Cretin quarterbacks Chris Weinke and Steve Walsh, making me a big Miami and Florida State youngster. (I know, I know…)

As for fond memories, I’ve got hours of them. Usually they’re recapped over a few cold ones with friends, but I think the more years I’m gone the more I appreciate those four years and what Notre Dame was trying to do for us, probably like everybody else.

I try to take a nice long jog around campus every time I’m back, just watching students do things that us grown-ups wish we could relive again. It’s even better on non-game weekends, too. The campus has gotten prettier in the decade-and-change since I was roaming it, and there are so many little nooks that you can make your own.

(I hear bagpipes and a violin in my head, so I’m ceasing transmission. But special thanks to my Mom and Dad for footing that bill!)

Pregame Six Pack: Showdown with Stanford


It wasn’t long ago that a game with Stanford was a Saturday you might skip. On a schedule loaded with rivals, it was hard to consider the Cardinal one of them. But in a matchup that’s only missed two seasons since 1988, the battle between the two programs has taken flight, mostly thanks to the advancement of the football program in Palo Alto.

From 2002 to 2008, the Irish won seven straight games against Stanford, a streak maintained by Ty Willingham and Charlie Weis over Buddy Teevens and Walt Harris, until Jim Harbaugh started his restoration in 2007 . But since the Cardinal beat Notre Dame in 2009, they’ve hardly given back the momentum, with Notre Dame’s 2012 overtime victory the lone victory Brian Kelly has over a program that’s averaging 11.5 wins per season since 2010.

My how this rivalry has changed. On a big college football weekend, there’s likely no better indicator of interest in a game than the secondary ticket market. According to, Saturday’s game in South Bend continues to be one of the most in-demand seats in college football, running just about even with Alabama-Ole Miss and ahead of the SEC showdown between LSU and Auburn. Quite a change from the Brain Bowl that sometimes took place to the appreciation of precious few.

With Everett Golson set to face off against college football’s best defense and David Shaw’s team looking to resume its climb into the Top 10, Saturday afternoon presents another chapter in a rivalry that’s only getting better with age.

Let’s take a look at the Pregame Six Pack. As usual, here are six tidbits, fun facts, leftovers or miscellaneous musings before Notre Dame takes on Stanford at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC or online via Liva Extra.


When Notre Dame’s offense meets Stanford’s defense, something’s going to give. 

Everett Golson and the Notre Dame offense have opened the season scoring at least 30 points in four-straight games for the first time since 1943. Stanford’s defense hasn’t given up 30 points in their last 27 games. Something’s got to give.

Even after replacing a significant portion of their defense, the Cardinal are playing perhaps the best defense of the Harbaugh-Shaw era in 2014. And if Notre Dame is able to keep alive their 30-point streak or even break the 20 point threshold, they’ll be doing better than most. Stanford has held opponents to 20 points or fewer in 25 of their last 30 games.

The 2014 edition of Stanford’s defense has given up 26 points… this season. Perhaps most impressive is the fact that this team has allowed just four play of 20 yards or longer.

On Tuesday, Brian Kelly talked about the need to create big plays and how it’ll be a key on Saturday afternoon.

“We won’t win if we don’t get big chunk plays,” Kelly said. “We are not going to go five, seven, ten yards and score enough points to win. We’ll have to find our chances. We’ll have to create opportunities and we’ll have to make some plays down the field, there’s no question.”


Stanford’s going to need to be prepared for Brian VanGorder’s defense, too. 

Of course, both teams’ offenses are in for a challenge. That means Stanford’s offense is going to need to create some scoring opportunities against the Irish defense, no easy feat through four games this September.

While the Cardinal will present the biggest challenges for Brian VanGorder’s defense with their power running attack, VanGorder’s exotic schemes remind Shaw of his days coaching on Sundays.

“As soon as I put the film on it was like being back in the NFL,” Shaw said. “The variety of blitzes, the variety of fronts. They know how to attack your protections and get after your quarterback. They’ve got good personnel, they’ve got good pass rushers. They’re good against the run.

“You walk into the game and it’s just like playing against Vic Fangio or Rex Ryan or all those guys that everybody on the defense is a viable blitzer. So they need to be accounted for and they’re going to give you a bunch of different looks. Thankfully in our history we’ve played against guys like this, and it’s an impressive group to watch.”

Those blitzes will challenge Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan, an experienced veteran who maybe hasn’t seen his game progress as much as Stanford fans have hoped. But Shaw’s offense depends on success on first and second down, not allowing VanGorder’s third down packages to put pressure on Hogan and the game on his shoulders.


Another big game, another big recruiting weekend. 

Just like when Notre Dame hosted Michigan, the Irish expect a full house of recruits on hand when they battle Stanford. And with a handful of recruits considering both programs, walking away Saturday with a victory on the field could be important come Signing Day as well.

Notre Dame will host top West Coast prospects Equanimeous St. Brown and Frank Buncom this weekend, with the Irish long in the hunt for St. Brown, the lanky receiver from Orange County. An elite prospect, the Servite product is the type of athlete that could play right away, even with Notre Dame’s impressive depth chart.

The fact that Buncom has decided to visit means the San Diego native is taking his recent offer from Notre Dame seriously. An early target for the Irish at safety, Buncom seemed to be the odd man out when Nicco Fertitta and Prentice McKinney committed early. But whether it was the injury to Nicky Baratti or the need to fill out the depth chart at safety with some position switches, Buncom is a perfect profile prospect who also is well respected as a Top 100-type athlete.

The Irish coaching staff will also do their best to swing two prospects committed elsewhere. Safety Calvin Brewton is a Florida State commit who is giving Notre Dame a sincere look. Defensive end Mekhi Brown is an Alabama commitment who might see a wide open depth chart in South Bend if he chooses to walk away from Nick Saban and Kirby Smart.

A handful of current commitments will be on campus as well, with some taking official and unofficial visits. Notre Dame’s staff will also entertain a large group of 2016 prospects, hoping to find that first commitment of the next recruiting cycle.

There are precious few openings left in the 2015 recruiting class. But Notre Dame is still chasing after some difference-making talent, and a few of those players will be on campus this weekend.


If you’re looking for a true litmus test to measure Everett Golson’s progress, Stanford’s defense is it. 

We rewatched Golson’s last game against Stanford and gave some thoughts here. But against Derek Mason’s attacking, multiple defense in 2012, Golson struggled mightily, turning the ball over three times and giving Stanford their only touchdown before leaving the game late in the fourth quarter with a head injury.

But asked what he saw in Golson’s game this year as opposed to when he faced Stanford last, Shaw was candid.

“Watching him, it’s the difference of confidence. I think he was really good two years ago,” Shaw said of Golson. “He was very athletic, very accurate, hard to catch and pin down in the backfield. This year, it’s the same, but he almost just seems more composed, where as before it seemed a little frantic. Now he knows you can’t catch him.”

That composure needs to return a week after Golson was sloppy with the football. Kelly revealed that Golson almost didn’t want the FBS Independent Offensive Player of the Week award he earned for his performance against Stanford, feeling like his turnovers and mistakes almost disqualified his 25-consecutive completions. But a victory against the Cardinal will almost certainly earn Golson some well-deserved kudos.


In a game that will likely be a close one, converting red zone opportunities will be crucial. And right now, Notre Dame’s doing a much better job of that. 

Few statistics mean more to scoring output than red zone efficiency. And you’d be hard pressed to find a stat that separates Notre Dame and Stanford more than their red zone offense.

Right now, 108 teams sit between Notre Dame and Stanford in red zone efficiency. That’s because the Irish sit at 13th in the country after converting 17 of their 18 attempts for points while the Cardinal rank 121st, cashing in just 12 of 19.

Those struggles cost Stanford a victory against USC, with the Cardinal getting inside the Trojans 32-yard line on all nine of their drives, but only converting those opportunities into 10 points.

“The most frustrating part is that it’s just not one thing. It would be great if there was one thing that we had to change,” Shaw said. “What’s hurt us are turnovers and penalties and missed field goals have crushed us in the red zone. That’s why it’s frustrating. It’s not just one thing.”

According to Shaw, the elements of an efficient red zone offense is the ability to run the ball efficiently and having an athletic quarterback. Stanford has both of those things. But add kicker Jordan Williamson’s slow start to the mix — he’s missed as many kicks (four) through four games as he did all last season, and this could be a huge factor on Saturday afternoon.


NFL sons, book club founders, and Snapchat’s Picasso. Notre Dame and Stanford are all about what’s right in college football. 

There hasn’t been a week go by without some negative news taking over the football world. With Roger Goodell thanking Michigan’s Brady Hoke and Dave Brandon for the tag off, it’s been a rough month for the greatest team sport in the world.

But Saturday afternoon matches two great football programs, both representing elite academic institutions. And it’s worth taking note of the student-athletes that’ll be on the field Saturday afternoon.

While Saturday’s sidelines at Notre Dame have started to need velvet ropes for famous fathers, Stanford’s family section might give them a run for their money. The fathers of three Stanford running backs Barry Sanders Jr. (Barry Sr.), Christian McCaffery (Ed) and Ricky Seale (Sam) have nearly 25,000 yards of total offense and a dozen interceptions between them.

The fathers of Joshua Garnett, Andrus Peat, A.T. Hall, Kevin Reihner, Kodi Whitfield and Alex Carter all played in the NFL as well, with Carter’s father Tom picked in the first round out of Notre Dame.

Famous dads aren’t the only thing that separate the Cardinal student-athletes. Receivers Devon Cajuste and Michael Rector spent the summer doing stem cell research. Cornerback Wayne Lyons started a Virtual Book Club. Backup long snapper Austin Tubbs has built a reputation as Snapchat’s Picasso.

We do our best here to celebrate the achievements of Notre Dame’s student-athletes off the field, not just focusing on the wins and losses on it. Stanford has managed to go 49-10 since 2010, behind just Oregon and Alabama for wins in that time period. Notre Dame’s a not-too-shabby 41-15, making this the most competitive game of the weekend.

But putting the wins aside, consider this your reminder that these kids are doing impressive off the field as well.