Wednesday, November 23, 2011
What to watch: Stanford vs. Notre Dame
By Kevin Gemmell
Some thing to keep an eye on in Saturday's matchup between Stanford and Notre Dame.
National spotlight: David Shaw's comments Tuesday about the BCS system reveals what we've known all along, but no one would say it -- the Cardinal are are ticked off. This is Stanford's last chance to make an argument for a BCS at-large berth -- or, with some crazy happenings over the next week and a half, maybe a national championship berth. Shaw knows what he's doing. A lot of voters who might have casually tuned in to the Notre Dame game will now be watching Stanford with a sharp eye. Shaw invited national scrutiny with his comments Tuesday, and he's going to get it. Question is, what does he do with it?
Stay positive: While Stanford is one of the best teams in the country at avoiding negative plays, the past two weeks they've lost 25 yards rushing against Oregon and 27 yards against Cal — by far their worst totals of the season. Plus, quarterback Andrew Luck has been sacked five times in the past two games after going down only four times in the previous nine. Negative plays and sacks are drive killers and the Cardinal don't want to give Notre Dame's defense any extra help.
Attack mode: Notre Dame is one of the best in the country in not allowing sacks. The Irish rank seventh nationally, allowing an average of .73 per game — which means they are good at picking up blitzes and getting rid of the ball quickly. Stanford has only been held without a sack once (against USC) and limited to only one sack once (against UCLA). The Cardinal have at least two sacks in every other game. That puts the pressure on Stanford's secondary. If the Cardinal hope to get to the quarterback, it will likely have to come through coverage sacks. Which leads us to...
... Stopping Michael Floyd: This isn't the first elite wide receiver the Cardinal have faced this season. They also know how to stop them -- after they've gone through the lineup one time around. Consider: Last week, Cal's Keenan Allen caught six balls for 97 yards -- all in the first quarter. No catches after that. Arizona's Juron Criner did most of his damage in the first half. USC's Robert Woods was kept out of the end zone until overtime. Stanford's secondary has a pretty good track record at keeping elite wide receivers at bay.
Heisman push: This is Luck's last chance to win over (or win back) voters who might have strayed following the Oregon game. This is the perfect scenario for him to clinch. National game. Storied opponent. He doesn't need to put up mega-numbers. That hasn't been his game all year. He just needs to do what he does well -- which is clean, efficient football. He still has a second chance to make a first impression on a lot of voters. I don't see him squandering it.