Notre Dame Football: Josh Nunes

Notre Dame vs. Stanford: Did you know?

October, 12, 2012
10/12/12
10:00
AM ET
Thanks to ESPN Stats & Information and these schools' sports information departments for these tidbits.
  • Notre Dame has surrendered six or fewer points in each of its past three games. No FBS team has had a four-game streak of doing that since Alabama in 1993. That team held Vanderbilt, Arkansas, Louisiana Tech and South Carolina to six or fewer points early that season. The streak was broken with a 17-17 tie against Tennessee. Notre Dame has allowed just three offensive touchdowns this season, the fewest among FBS teams.
  • Stanford will try to be the first team to beat both USC and Notre Dame in four consecutive seasons.
  • Stanford's offense has gone three-and-out 18 times this season after leading FBS with 14 for all of last season. The Cardinal have gone three-and-out at least twice in every game this year, including seven times in their loss at Washington.
  • Stanford has targeted its tight ends on 40.6 percent of its pass attempts since the start of last season, the highest percentage in FBS. The Cardinal led the nation in yards (1,638), touchdowns (25) and red-zone touchdowns (17) by tight ends last season. This season, the Cardinal have targeted their tight ends at even higher rate (46.3 percent to 38.7), but have not been as efficient (48 percent completion rate to 75). Josh Nunes targeted his tight ends on 61.8 percent of his pass attempts last Saturday, completing a season-high 11 passes, including nine for first downs.
  • Everett Golson completed 80 percent of his passes thrown 10 yards or longer last week against Miami, the highest completion percentage for an Irish quarterback with at least two attempts in a game in the past three seasons.
  • In its past three games, Notre Dame has held opponents to a 26.2 completion percentage on passes thrown 10 yards or more downfield, with no touchdowns and five interceptions. The Irish were the beneficiaries of four drops in those games.
  • The Irish have allowed opponents to score on 15.5 percent of their drives this season, the fourth-lowest percentage in FBS. Just 5.2 percent of opponents’ drives have ended in a touchdown, the lowest percentage in FBS.

What to watch: Week 7 vs. Stanford

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
10:15
AM ET
Here's what to keep an eye on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.

1. Quarterback play. Josh Nunes beat USC, lost to Washington and had fans calling for his job ... then had the best game of his career last week against Arizona. Having to replace all-everything QB Andrew Luck probably doesn't help matters, either. Everett Golson, meanwhile, was yanked from the Purdue game, played great at night at Michigan State, got yanked from the Michigan game and also will be coming off the best game of his career, last week against Miami. Each defense will look to test the opposing quarterback Saturday.

2. Stanford sack. Notre Dame hasn't allowed a sack since Week 3 at Michigan State, but that's bound to change against Stanford's defense. The Cardinal average nearly three a game and had three last week against Arizona. They also are fourth in the nation in tackles for loss (8.6 per game), so the Irish need to avoid negative plays as much as possible.

3. Pink all over. Players and coaches will be decked out in pink accessories as Notre Dame recognizes Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The Kelly Cares Foundation is also selling Brian Kelly face-ka-bobs. Kelly's wife, Paqui, is a two-time breast cancer survivor who recently reached the five-year cancer-free mark.
No. 17 Stanford comes to town to take on No. 7 Notre Dame. Is this the year the Irish stop their three-game losing streak to the Cardinal?

When Stanford has the ball: Josh Nunes is a bit of a wild card under center, but he has a pair of big weapons in his tight ends: 6-foot-8 Levine Toilolo and 6-6 Zach Ertz. He also has an outstanding running back behind him in Stepfan Taylor, though he is likely without top wideout Ty Montgomery. The Cardinal offense has been in many ways like Notre Dame's, as it did not put up a lot of points before breaking out for 54 in an overtime win last weekend against Arizona. Stanford is similar to Michigan State offensively -- as Manti Te'o said this week -- but having a pair of big, pass-catching tight ends adds another dimension.

When Notre Dame has the ball: Everett Golson had the kind of breakout performance last weekend that everyone was waiting for. But Miami's defense, simply, is not Stanford's. The Cardinal lead, Notre Dame players and coaches said, by intimidation, as they are sound and disciplined. They forced Tommy Rees out of the game in last year's meeting, and will make Golson feel it if he takes off running. They have, however, allowed a 100-yard rusher in each of their past two games. They will certainly have a chip on their shoulder after surrendering 48 points to Arizona last week after entering the game giving up only 15.25 points per game.

Intangible: Block out the noise, as Brian Kelly would say. All eyes are on the Irish now that they are 5-0. College GameDay is in town, NBC is filming its studio show on-site as well, and the team is a win away from getting to the halfway point of its season unblemished. Turnovers and mental lapses will be costly against a team like Stanford, so the Irish need to be focused Saturday.

Prediction: Notre Dame 17, Stanford 9
Nunes-Teo Getty ImagesHow will Josh Nunes and the Cardinal fare against Manti Te'o and Notre Dame's shut-down defense?
"College GameDay" will be in South Bend this week, bringing more hype to an already highly anticipated matchup between No. 7 Notre Dame and No. 17 Stanford. Notre Dame blogger Matt Fortuna and Pac-12 blogger Kevin Gemmell got together to throw out some early thoughts on the game.

Kevin Gemmell: Well Matt, I'd imagine this is going to be a much different blogger discussion than the one we did to close out the 2011 season, when Andrew Luck was gunning for a Heisman, Stanford was looking for a BCS bowl berth and Notre Dame was playing quarterback roulette.

Lots of changes from both teams since the end of last November.

Kick it off and give those of us on the Left Coast a feel for what's happening with the Irish right now. I know they are a spread team. But it's different from the spread Stanford saw last week against Arizona and the one they will see later this year at Oregon. What's the skinny?

Matt Fortuna: Kevin, the Irish offense is still very much in the developmental stages, largely because its quarterback, Everett Golson, is a redshirt freshman who has played only five games. They let him loose a bit against Miami, as he showed some running ability that the Irish haven't seen at the position in recent years, but he was not exactly facing Stanford's defense, either.

Notre Dame has a big, physical offensive line that allows the team to run the ball effectively and take much of the pressure off Golson. Tyler Eifert may be the best tight end in America, but he has been the focus of every defense so far and has not put up the numbers he did last season. The Irish have a number of reliable upperclassmen receivers, but no real game-breaker who has stepped up to be that go-to guy yet.

Conversely, what in the world do we make of this Stanford defense? I thought we'd be looking at two similar teams slugging it out in a 10-7 battle, but then I saw this past Saturday, when Arizona put up 48 points on the Cardinal.

[+] EnlargeEverett Golson had one of his best games of the season against Miami on Saturday.
Matt Cashore/US PresswireEverett Golson had one of his best games of the season against Miami on Saturday.
Kevin Gemmell: First off, bold statement to make about Eifert with the tight end duo of Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo coming to town. Toilolo caught five balls for 141 yards and a score against Arizona and Ertz had six catches for 64 yards and a score. The Cardinal are 10-1 when Ertz catches a touchdown ... just sayin'.

Now, about that defense. Yikes, indeed. The Wildcats had 617 total yards. But the most disturbing part about it -- according to Stanford head coach David Shaw -- was that Arizona got some big plays over the top of the secondary. The Cardinal are happy to give up the short passes, so long as they make tackles at the point of the catch. But getting beat over the top is a no-no. Shaw said that's just a technique issue and can be corrected in the film room. We'll see.

But we can't dump on the defense too much. Because when they absolutely needed a stop -- or a couple of them -- they got it. They clutched up in the fourth quarter, got the ball back for the offense and the Cardinal scored twice in the fourth to overcome a 14-point deficit. And Chase Thomas had the interception in overtime that led to Stanford's win.

Tell me about the Notre Dame defense. No touchdowns in the past three games and the state of Michigan is 0-for-end zone against the Irish. Are they as advertised?

Matt Fortuna: Miami didn't score a touchdown, either, making it three straight games that this defense has held an opponent out of the end zone. The simple answer so far is yes. The Irish are giving up 7.8 points per game, second-lowest in the country. They have forced 13 turnovers and recorded 14 sacks. The front seven has looked as good as any in the country, and Manti Te'o may just be the best defensive player in the country.

The secondary has had two starters go down since camp -- and was entering this campaign with no returning starts at cornerback to begin with -- but has more than held its own through five games, surviving a couple of early drops against Miami and not letting any Canes receivers get over the top after the game's opening drive.

Does Josh Nunes have the ability to make life difficult for the defensive backs this week?

Kevin Gemmell: And therein lies the $1 million question. Nunes was adequate the first two games, solid in the second half against USC, terrible at Washington and then he blew up last week against Arizona, throwing a pair of touchdowns and running for three more. So far, he has done his best work at home and his worst performance was in their only game away from Stanford Stadium.

So this will be a huge test for him to see if he can get it done outside of Palo Alto. A lot of people were calling for his ouster after the Washington debacle, so credit Nunes for pushing out the noise and refocusing with a possible season-saving performance against the Wildcats. He's still not where Shaw and the Cardinal need him to be from a consistency standpoint. But I don't think anyone is going to question his toughness, determination or character after last week.

As for whether he can make it tough -- a lot of that falls on the Stanford receivers. Wide receiver Ty Montgomery needs to play better. Jamal-Rashad Patterson came through with a big catch and, of course, the tight ends will play a major role. If the Cardinal can run the ball effectively (no promises against a good Notre Dame front), then it will force those safeties down and create some matchup problems with the tight ends. Nunes has to consistently get them the ball as he did against Arizona. Because if he falters on the road as he did against Washington, it will be another touchdown-free performance for the Irish.

So closing it out, it seems as though Stanford's tight ends will be the biggest X factor for the Notre Dame defense. Can they hang with the 6-foot-6 Ertz and 6-8 Toilolo?

Matt Fortuna: I still have images of Stanford's tight ends dragging Irish corners during last year's contest. Those were a pair of seniors with multiple starting seasons under their belts. This is a pair of first-year starters who came to Notre Dame as offensive players.

I still think a big part of it comes down to the pressure Notre Dame gets up front. It didn't have any sacks against Miami, but it took the pocket away from Stephen Morris and threw off timing. That has been the Irish's defensive formula so far, and I expect them to try it again Saturday, even against an offensive line as good as the Cardinal's.

We overlooked previewing Notre Dame’s Week 6 opponent, Stanford, last month. Thanks to eagle-eyed reader Robert from San Diego for pointing it out. Now, without further adieu …

Week 6: Oct. 13 vs. Stanford (at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind.)

Time/TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC

Series: Notre Dame leads all-time, 17-9

2011 record: 11-2 (8-1 Pac-12; second place, North Division)

Head coach: David Shaw (11-2, one year)

Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

RB Stepfan Taylor, FB Ryan Hewitt, TE Zach Ertz, TE Levine Toilolo, C Sam Schwartzstein, OG David Yankey, OT Cameron Fleming, OLB Chase Thomas, LB Shayne Skov, DE Ben Gardner

Key losses

QB Andrew Luck, WR Chris Owusu, TE Coby Fleener, OL David DeCastro, OL Jonathan Martin, S Delano Howell, DE Matt Masifilo, S Michael Thomas

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Stepfan Taylor* (1,330 yards)

Passing: Andrew Luck (3,517 yards)

Receiving: Griff Whalen (749 yards)

Tackles: Jarek Lancaster* (70)

Sacks: Chase Thomas* (8.5)

Interceptions: Michael Thomas (3)

Three questions for ... Stanford blogger Kevin Gemmell:

Despite the talent around Andrew Luck, there are many non-believers about Stanford. Who will be his replacement, and how will the Cardinal fare in Year 1 after Luck?



Kevin Gemmell: Well, that seems to be the million-dollar question. There are a couple of guys fighting to replace Luck -- Josh Nunes and Brett Nottingham. Those two emerged from the pack of five in the spring and will continue the competition into fall camp. As for how they will fare? Well, I think we can certainly expect some drop-off. But it might not be as significant as people think. Luck was a once-in-a-generation quarterback, but they still return three talented offensive linemen (two were freshmen All-Americans) and a back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher in Stepfan Taylor. Luck is gone, but the team's identity isn't. They are a run-first, power football team that will grind away on opponents.

And, by the way, they return six of the starting front seven on defense and they get Shayne Skov -- one of the top middle linebackers in the country -- back after he missed the bulk of last season with a knee injury suffered in Week 3.

One point head coach David Shaw has been making is that whoever does replace Luck shouldn't try to be Luck. That's the easiest way for them not to win the job.

Aside from the QB position, what will the offense look like now without Colby Fleener? Stanford's three-tight end sets proved to be frustrating for defenses, but will they be as effective without a high NFL draft pick looming as one of the big threats? Will it even matter, given the depth the Cardinal have in the backfield?

KG: I'd expect they'll still run a lot of multiple tight end sets. Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo -- two of the three tight ends -- are back, and they do some things better than Fleener did. What made them such a talented group all together is they complemented each other very well.

The backfield depth did take a hit when Tyler Gaffney opted to pursue a professional baseball career rather than returning to Stanford. But Anthony Wilkerson will likely start as Taylor's immediate change-of-pace back and Ricky Seale emerged in the spring.

Also, fullback Ryan Hewitt returns as possibly the most versatile player in college football. He's great on short yardage, is an outstanding run-blocker and can line up as a tight end to give the Cardinal three-tight end looks. With the personnel they have, the Cardinal can still be very multiple.

Will the secondary be a liability? Who's most likely to step up and make plays there for Stanford?

KG: I'd expect the secondary to make some big strides this year -- mainly because of highly-touted cornerback Wayne Lyons. He missed most of his true freshman season with a foot injury, but he's that lockdown corner that the Cardinal were missing last year. They also add a very talented player in Alex Carter from this year's recruiting class. He could make an immediate impact as well. But losing safeties Delano Howell and Michael Thomas will take its toll leadership wise. They need youngsters Devon Carrington and Jordan Richards to build off of the experience they got last season and really take charge of the secondary.

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