Notre Dame Football: Kevin Hogan

It's No. 14 Stanford and No. 9 Notre Dame. Will we be as spoiled as we were last time they met in South Bend?

How Stanford can win: The Cardinal need to capitalize on their offensive opportunities. For all of the talk of their struggles on that side of the ball, they really have not been that bad, averaging nearly 6.5 yards per play even without the luxury of a proven workhorse running back that they have been so used to having in recent years. Stanford simply needs to do better in the red zone, where they have come away empty in seven of 19 trips so far. Defensively, their front seven needs to make Everett Golson uncomfortable and hope its No. 1 passing defense lives up to its billing against a young, but talented group of Irish receivers.

How Notre Dame can win: Golson needs to be the player he was through most of the first four games (minus the turnovers last week), a strong order against a defense that is far better than any he has faced so far. This is not exactly the ideal game for the Irish to break out of their rushing rut, but if they can utilize the screen game again this week, they will keep Stanford's defenders honest. Notre Dame simply cannot afford to turn the ball over. The defense will have a different kind of challenge this week, though it is probably best served to make Kevin Hogan try to win the game with his arm.

Breakout player: Sheldon Day is a two-year starter and a captain, so "breakout" might not be the right term here, but this is a game in which the junior can help make a national name for himself. He will be counted upon heavily by the Irish defense, which will need to be at its best Saturday.

Prediction: Stanford 23, Notre Dame 20. This game will resemble the 2012 game in its backyard mentality, but the Cardinal are better suited for that kind of contest right now. A defensive touchdown proves to be the difference for the visitors.

Five things: Notre Dame-Stanford

November, 30, 2013
It's No. 25 Notre Dame at No. 8 Stanford in the regular-season finale (7 ET, Fox). Here are five things to watch when both take the Stanford Stadium field.

Kevin Hogan. Hogan was a bystander during last year's overtime thriller in South Bend, Ind., and he did not take over as the Cardinal's starting quarterback until four games later, against Oregon State. Stanford went on to win all five games with Hogan under center, including the Rose Bowl, and is now 14-2 with Hogan at the helm. The redshirt sophomore has plenty of Notre Dame ties in his family. More importantly, he is completing better than 60 percent of his passes for 2,052 yards with 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Hogan is the third different Stanford signal-caller the Irish will face in as many years, and while he is not exactly Andrew Luck, he presents a different kind of challenge this time around from Josh Nunes last year.

Notre Dame's offensive line. It has been a wild 12 months for Matt Hegarty, whose playing career was in question after suffering a ministroke last November. He has since recovered, and with Nick Martin tearing the MCL in his left knee in the first quarter last week against BYU, Hegarty is now the Irish's man in the middle. The southpaw will be tasked with calling out blitzes and communicating with Tommy Rees and the rest of the line as they ready for a Stanford defense that is tied for sixth nationally with 34 sacks. Notre Dame has not been too shabby in protecting Rees, who has been sacked just seven times this season, tied for No. 2 nationally.

Jarron Jones. Kona Schwenke tried to give it a go last week against the Cougars but was sidelined soon enough because of a high-ankle sprain. That led to increased playing time at nose guard for Jones, who stepped up to the plate and doubled his season tackle total (seven to 14) and blocked a field goal. Can he do it again? Schwenke's status remains up in the air. And Tyler Gaffney, the nation's 10th-leading rusher, will be tough to stop, as he has had only 23 carries for zero or negative yards (second-best nationally among backs with 175 or more carries, per ESPN Stats & Info).

Irish running backs. Notre Dame eclipsed the 200-yard rushing mark against BYU for just the third time this season. As Irish Illustrated mentioned earlier this week, the Irish have won 20 in a row when attempting 30 or more rushes. The biggest development against the Cougars might have been seeing two different backs break out for big games, as Cam McDaniel had a career-best 117 yards and freshman Tarean Folston rushed for 78 yards and a touchdown. If they can keep it going against the nation's No. 3 rushing defense (89.5 yards per game), that will take lots of pressure off Rees as well.

Special teams. Jones' blocked kick last week, his second of the season, was huge. And the Irish will need more huge special teams plays in this contest to pull out the win. Stanford leads the nation in kick returns. Notre Dame, as we know, is not very good at defending kick returns (116th), so preventing big plays in that department is a must. But TJ Jones looks closer and closer each week to breaking free for a big punt return -- he might have been on his way last week if he did not get tripped up by the playing surface -- and Kyle Brindza has proven to be a clutch kicker. Both could be difference-makers if the Irish protect the ball on offense.
Will the Irish get win No. 4 against a current Top 25 team?

When Notre Dame has the ball: Communication will be key up front, especially on the road with a first-time starter at center in Matt Hegarty against a relentless Stanford defense that has 34 sacks on the season, tied for sixth nationally. Being able to run the way they did last week is key for the Irish, as the Cardinal surrender just 89.5 yards on the ground per game, third-best in the nation.

When Stanford has the ball: Jarron Jones will need to play the way he did last week, and then some, as the Stanford offense likes to grind defenses down, something that is considerably easier to do against a defense that is banged up. Forcing Kevin Hogan into second- and third-long situations is key, as the Irish defense will probably need to come away with a few takeaways to give Notre Dame an advantage in the turnover margin and a real chance to escape with the win.

Intangible: Stanford is playing in the Dec. 7 Pac-12 title game against Arizona State no matter what, with the location of the matchup to be determined by Arizona State's matchup with Arizona. Notre Dame's bowl destination is not likely to be affected by a win or loss. Still, these rivals should have more than enough at stake, especially with a double-digit win season still on the table for the Irish.

Prediction: Stanford 27, Notre Dame 20. If the Irish play like they did last week, they will have a real chance at pulling the upset. Alas, the Cardinal will prove to be too big and too deep when it is all said and done.

Notre Dame at Stanford: Did you know?

November, 29, 2013
As always, thanks to ESPN Stats & Info and sports information departments for these nuggets.
  • Stanford QB Kevin Hogan is completing 50 percent of his passes thrown 25 yards or longer this season, an increase of 20 percentage points from last season. His 11 touchdowns on such passes lead the Pac-12 and ranks third among AQ quarterbacks behind Bryce Petty (13) and Tajh Boyd (12).
  • Since the start of last season, Stanford has an FBS-high 91 sacks, including 67 when they send four or fewer pass rushers. Last season against Notre Dame, Stanford had three sacks when sending four or fewer pass rushers.
  • Last season, Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor was stopped on two consecutive rushes from the Notre Dame 1-yard line in overtime, resulting in Notre Dame’s 20-13 victory. In the last 10 seasons, teams scored a touchdown on 85 percent of their drives that reached the opponent’s 1-yard line.
  • Notre Dame gave up an FBS-low four yards on goal-to-go situations last season, including just three yards in a goal-line stand against Stanford in overtime. This season, in such situations, Notre Dame ranks 10th in yards allowed (37) and tied for 10th in touchdowns allowed (9).
  • Hogan has targeted tight ends on just 6 percent of his pass attempts this season, down 42 percentage points from last season. That means that his wide receivers are getting more targets; Hogan has thrown 76 percent of his passes and 17 of his 18 touchdowns to wide receivers this season.
  • Tommy Rees is completing 65.6 percent of his passes and averaging 11 yards per attempt when targeting TJ Jones. When targeting any other wide receiver, Rees is completing 47.9 percent of his passes and averaging 7.7 yards per attempt.
  • Stanford is looking for its fourth straight 10-win season. Prior to that stretch, the Cardinal had only three 10-win seasons ever.
  • Notre Dame enters with three losses, but has had some impressive wins. Notre Dame is the last team to beat Arizona State, Michigan State and USC, three of the hottest teams in FBS. Those three teams are a combined 18-0 since losing to Notre Dame.
  • Stanford has won 15 straight home games, tied for the second-longest active streak in the nation with Ohio State (South Carolina has won 17 straight at home).
  • Stanford’s Tyler Gaffney has proven a workhorse for the Cardinal. Of all rushers with at least 175 carries this season, he’s had only 23 rushes for zero/negative yards. That’s the second-fewest in FBS behind Auburn’s Tre Mason (20).
  • The Cardinal have nine wins this season, but haven’t been too opportunistic. Of the 24 teams with at least nine wins this season, only Stanford (0) and Cincinnati (-5) have turnover margins of zero or worse. But the Irish haven’t been effective in that category either. Notre Dame is -3 in turnover margin this season, including -5 over the last three games.
Stanford coach David Shaw often points to last year’s Notre Dame game as a turning point for his program.

You might recall the rainy, overtime ending steeped in controversy that fueled the Cardinal’s us-versus-the-world mentality following the 20-13 loss. It was the kick in the bark that propelled Stanford to eight straight wins and a Rose Bowl victory to close out the year.

And when the Irish roll into Palo Alto this weekend for the regular-season finale for both teams, Shaw knows this much: Last year’s game has absolutely nothing to do with this year’s.

“The replay official said we didn’t cross the line so the game was over. It’s on Stanford’s football team from last year for not getting it done and Notre Dame for getting it done. That’s what happened last year.

[+] EnlargeTrent Murphy
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsLinebacker Trent Murphy says Stanford isn't dwelling on last year's controversial loss at Notre Dame.
“ … A football season has highs and lows and the good teams bounce back because you can’t have a season of all highs. When things don’t go your way you regroup and you retool and you go back after it again. That’s what we did last year after the Notre Dame game. That’s what we did this year after the USC game. This is going to be a great game that’s not going to hinge at all on what happened last year.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by his players.

“That was a long time ago,” Stanford linebacker Trent Murphy said. “I think last year’s game doesn’t really have any carryover into this season. It’s a new team and a new year … [but] there is always something to learn from.”

Added quarterback Kevin Hogan: “We can’t treat this like a revenge game. It’s over. We have a new team, they have a completely new team.”

Saturday’s game has zero bearing on the outcome of the Pac-12 standings. The Cardinal have already locked up the Pac-12 North Division and will be playing in the championship game for the second straight year. Home field advantage isn’t even an issue for the title game, because it all hinges on what happens between Arizona and Arizona State. If the Sun Devils win, they’ll host the title game in Tempe. If not, it will be in Palo Alto again.

But that’s not to say the Cardinal still don’t have plenty of motivation. They are riding a 15-game home winning streak, second longest in the nation behind South Carolina, and since 2009 they are 12-1 against teams ranked in either the AP or coaches poll. Notre Dame is 25th in the BCS and AP polls.

To say nothing of the roller coaster that has been the 2013 Stanford season. Touted early on as a national champion contender, the Cardinal lost on the road to Utah, but bounced back strong with their second-straight win over Oregon. Then a loss to USC essentially wrapped up the conference crown for the Ducks. But Arizona had different thoughts.

Now, the Cardinal are back in the championship game. According to Shaw, that wackiness is just par for the course in the Pac-12.

“It’s college football,” Shaw said. “And I remind people that we don’t go through all the ups and downs that maybe the media and even the fans go through because we’ve got more games to play. If we win a big game they don’t cancel the next week and if we lose a game they don’t cancel the next week. During the week when people are lamenting and calling me names and the sky is falling when we lose and when people are exalting us and telling us how wonderful we are when we win, those things can’t ever affect the football team or the coaches because we move on and play the next week.”

And this week’s opportunity offers the Cardinal a chance to snap Notre Dame’s 2013 stranglehold on the Pac-12. The Irish have already knocked off ASU, the South Division champs, and USC. So there is plenty of reason from a national perspective for the Cardinal not to look over the horizon to Arizona State in next week’s title game.

“One of our team goals is going 1-0 every week and that’s what we’ve been trying to do,” Murphy said. “We got into Cal week and we had to go 1-0, keep the Axe and it was a big game for us. Now we’re facing Notre Dame and it’s the biggest game for us and we need this victory.”

Irish's lunch links

November, 27, 2013
Safe travels and Happy Thanksgiving to all!

ND trip to Stanford sparks familiarity

November, 27, 2013
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- KeiVarae Russell is a two-year starter at cornerback. By the time he turns 40, he says, he wants to spend a year living in London. He would like to have a poem published by then, too. He was the lead in a school play this past spring, and he is currently taking an acting class.

[+] EnlargeKeiVarae Russell
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsActor-poet-cornerback KeiVarae Russell is one of the players who exemplifies the Stanford-Notre Dame rivalry.
"I'm a creative guy," Russell said. "I love being known for more than just football."

He is what Brian Kelly calls a gentleman off the field and a tough guy on it, distinctions that will hardly be unique when the sophomore takes the field Saturday night for No. 25 Notre Dame in its regular-season finale at No. 8 Stanford.

The Cardinal are among the three teams the Irish have chosen to keep on their schedule annually moving forward. In a season that has seen Kelly discredit the tension with Michigan, the nation's winningest program, it was more than a little noteworthy to hear the coach call the game with Stanford a "great rivalry" Tuesday.

"Both teams want to be the smartest, toughest football teams in the country," Kelly said.

Last year's meeting was the first between schools ranked in the top 20 of both the football polls and the U.S. News & World Report's best colleges list.

This year Kelly is tasked with taking his operation almost 2,000 miles away on Black Friday, a considerably lighter chore given that the schools had once eyed a destination for this contest some 7,000 miles away: China.

The terrain this weekend in Stanford Stadium will nonetheless be familiar for many visitors, Jack Swarbrick among them. The Irish athletic director has trouble hiding his enthusiasm when talking about this matchup, as he received his Bachelor's in economics from Notre Dame before moving on to Stanford Law.

"There are obvious similarities," Swarbrick said. "Private [schools], among the smallest undergraduate populations in the FBS, excellent academic reputations, a broad commitment to collegiate sports model as reflected in number of sports and levels of success, passionate alumni scattered around the globe and very strong brands.

"Relative to football, the clear commonality is an insistence that the members of our teams be fully integrated into the university in the same manner other students are. They are truly student athletes. This is reflected in both graduation rates and the success of our student-athletes after football is over."

Swarbrick has company on both sides. College Football Playoff selection committee member Condoleezza Rice earned her master's from Notre Dame and is a professor at Stanford. Cardinal coach David Shaw has enlisted the assistance of the former Secretary of State in hosting recruits -- one of whom, TJ Jones, initially committed to Stanford but is now an Irish captain. (Rice has been no stranger at Notre Dame Stadium herself.)

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesStanford QB Kevin Hogan says he has several family member who went to Notre Dame.
Tyrone Willingham was head coach at both schools. Irish receivers coach Mike Denbrock came from the Cardinal. Then there is Bernard Muir, whose rise to Stanford athletic director included a five-year stint working at Notre Dame for Kevin White, who says Muir "represents the wonderful future of college athletics in every way possible."

Muir's new employer attracted headlines this summer when the Cardinal sold out of season tickets for the first time, underscoring the cat-and-mouse relationship between these two programs.

Notre Dame has sold out all but one home game since 1966, but it is Stanford that will make its fourth-straight BCS bowl with a win in next week's Pac-12 title game.

The Cardinal are quarterbacked by Kevin Hogan, who estimates he has 10-20 cousins and another five or six aunts and uncles who went to Notre Dame. Protecting Hogan is right guard Kevin Danser, whose uncle, John Gallagher, played hoops for the Irish and roomed with Joe Theismann. Reserve center Conor McFadden, whose photographic memory has become the source of attention that seemingly only the Cardinal or Irish could attract, has a grandfather and several uncles who went to Notre Dame as well.

"It's a fun game because you have the connections, family connections, and we all want to win it," Hogan said.

On Tuesday, Kelly fielded a question here about playing "Notre Dame football," sparking a response about how he does not want personalities like Russell's to be marginalized as just football players.

A few hours later in Silicon Valley, Shaw began his press conference by announcing that Stanford had won another off-the-field honor, this time its second straight AFCA Academic Achievement Award. The Cardinal coach then spent the next few minutes talking about how this would help in recruiting.

It only happened to be Notre Dame week.

"We understand how to manage your time so that you do well in school and you do well in football and you have a social life and you enjoy yourself here, that it is possible for all three of those," Shaw said. "When we graduate our guys and we play really good in football and they come to visit, our guys love it here. That helps a lot."

Players to watch: Stanford

July, 23, 2013
There could be quite a lot on the line when these two gather in Palo Alto, Calif., on Nov. 30.

To read previous entries from this series, click here.

Offense: Kevin Hogan, QB. Is it possible that Notre Dame's perfect 2012 regular season doesn't happen if Hogan starts under center at Notre Dame Stadium? Perhaps. Either way, Hogan went 5-0 to finish the season, with four of those wins coming against ranked opponents. The Cardinal won the Rose Bowl, and they enter 2013 as a national title contender. Hogan has four of his five starting offensive linemen back to protect him, and while he loses his top two tight ends from last season, the redshirt sophomore will look to build off his 71.7 completion percentage from 2012, when he tossed for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns to go with just three picks. He added 263 rushing yards and two more scores on the ground, too.

Defense: Shayne Skov, LB. There are about five guys you can't go wrong with here, but we'll settle on Skov, the Cardinal's leading returning tackler from 2012 (81 total). As a junior, he netted nine tackles for loss, including two sacks, to go with a break-up, a pass defended and two quarterback hurries. He's on virtually every watch list he's eligible for this fall, and he should be even healthier after posting those 2012 numbers less than a year after having major knee surgery. The redshirt senior anchors a defense that returns eight starters, including five of its starters from the front-seven, as the Cardinal look to continue their winning ways of the past three seasons.
Between Manti Te'o's 2012 run and Jadaveon Clowney's 2013 promise, so much of the conversation surrounding the Heisman Trophy has been the seemingly inevitable moment when a pure defensive player will capture the trophy. Te'o was the closest to ever do it, gaining 321 first-place votes and 1,706 points in losing to Johnny Manziel in 2012. And Clowney's monstrous hit of Michigan's Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl has set the stage for a season in which Clowney will likely have the opportunity to play himself into serious Heisman contention.

But the award has still belonged to players on the other side of the ball, and a recent well-regarded preseason watch lists only re-affirms that.

The Heisman Pundit, Chris Huston, has released his initial 30-man watch list for the 2013 award, and Notre Dame has one representative on it: Everett Golson.

Golson enters his third year at the school and second year as the starter, this after a 12-1 season that saw him amass 2,703 yards of offense, score 18 total touchdowns, complete 58.8 percent of his passes and turn the ball over 10 times.

The Irish return eight starters from what was the nation's second-best scoring defense in 2012, including potential first-round picks Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt, but the quarterback is the man that has the chance for the biggest spotlight.

In fact, Clowney is the only defensive player among the 30 listed on the watch list, as there are 19 quarterbacks, eight running backs and two wide receivers.

Video had surfaced this offseason of Clowney sacking Golson on the first play of the 2010 South Carolina High School League AAA title game, a game that Golson's Myrtle Beach team ended up winning. Golson, much more comfortable entering his second season in the spotlight, gave a confident and complimentary answer when asked early this spring if he was quietly rooting for the fellow Palmetto State native to win the Heisman in 2013.
"I hope he does, but at the same time, I think I'm pushing for the same thing," Golson said. "I know it's maybe a goal some may say is a little bit far-fetched, but I want to be the best competitor I can be. So I want to see him do great, but I also want to be there at the same time."

As for other familiar names on Huston's list? Oklahoma's Blake Bell, Michigan's Devin Gardner, Stanford's Kevin Hogan and USC's Marqise Lee are all players Notre Dame will face this year. Miami's Duke Johnson, Alabama's A.J. McCarron and T.J. Yeldon, meanwhile, all played against the Irish last season.

Video: Potential BCS matchups

November, 18, 2012

Lou Holtz, Mark May discuss the upsets of top-ranked Kansas State and No. 2 Oregon, and look forward to some potential BCS Championship matchups.


Freshman Quarterbacks A Growing Trend?
Ted Miller looks at how freshman quarterbacks have become more common in college football, and how these "rookie" college players could factor in at several College Football Playoff contenders.