7:30 PM EST, NBC – Line: Notre Dame -5.5, Over/Under: 53
Longtime rivals meet tonight in a Top-10 Cash, as the Seventh-Ranked Stanford Cardinal battle the Eighth-Ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish from Notre Dame Stadium, in the first encounter between Top-10 Programs at South Bend, Indiana since 2005. There are few teams in these early stages of the campaign that have vaulted up the Rankings quite like Stanford (4-0, 2-0 in Pac-12) has, as the Cardinal have already logged a pair of victories over ranked opponents through the first four games. Granted, both of said wins came against familiar league competition, a 17-3 slugfest against No. 17 USC and most recently a 38-31 come-from-behind triumph over No. 20 Oregon in Overtime on the road. However, that shouldn’t devalue the work that they’ve done to this point, for David Shaw’s charges are typically the kind of team that gets better as the season progresses, which once again appears to be the case. In last weekend’s epic at Autzen Stadium, the visiting side quickly fell behind in a 0-14 hole, eventually trailing 7-24 at Halftime, before authoring a potentially season-defining comeback. Stanford went on to control the Second Half, outscoring the hosts 24-7 over the final thirty minutes of play, beginning with a momentum-swinging 80-Yard Fumble Return for a Touchdown from Linebacker Joey Alfieri (3 TKL, 1 FR, 1 TD) and ending with a 32-Yard Field Goal courtesy of Place Kicker Jeff Toner sending the affair to Overtime. The Extra Period wouldn’t last long, as K.J. Costello (19-of-26, 327 YDS, 3 TD, 0 INT) hit Tight End Colby Parkinson (3 REC, 50 YDS, 1 TD) for a 23-Yard Touchdown to secure the win in Eugene. Costello was the star of this one folks, evenly distributing the football to his cadre of oversized targets, with seven different players receiving a pass, with four of them racking up at least Forty-Nine Yards. This is going be a clear advantage for the Cardinal heading into this particular matchup with the Fighting Irish, for their size in the Passing Game will likely create a wealth of mismatches in South Bend. At 6-7, 240 lbs, Parkinson (8 REC, 103 YDS, 3 TD) is a huge target in the Red Zone, while 6-3, 225 lb Senior Wideout J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (17 REC, 408 YDS, 7 TD) is one of the most dangerous deep threats in the country, having averaged a robust 17.6 Yards per Reception throughout his career, and is posting a whopping 24.0 Yards per Catch through the first four outings thus far. Oh, and we haven’t even mentioned Heisman candidate Bryce Love (59 CAR, 254 YDS, 2 TD), who remains one of the most explosive Tailbacks in College Football. The Senior Rusher may be off to a slower start than he did a year ago when he was a Heisman Finalist (263 CAR, 2,118 YDS, 19 TD in 2017), with nagging injuries playing a role as he missed the team’s 30-10 victory over UC-Davis (though it was reported that he was simply being rested) after thumping Southern Cal for 136 Yards and a Touchdown on Twenty-Two Carries in the previous week. He was clearly still a bit hamstrung against the Ducks last weekend (19 CAR, 89 YDS), though exploded for a crucial 22-Yard Touchdown Run in the waning moments of the Third Quarter to cut the deficit to three points. Notre Dame won’t be overlooking him this Saturday, for Love has made a habit of gashing the Irish, rushing for 287 Yards and a Score on Forty-Six Carries, including 125 Yards in last year’s 38-20 victory in Paolo Alto. Stanford has won each of the past three meetings in this series, with Shaw owning a 5-2 record against the Fighting Irish since being hired back in 2011.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame (4-0) too comes into Saturday’s encounter with an unblemished record, though that hasn’t deterred Brian Kelly from finding ways for his side can get better. You see, despite winning their first three games, the Fighting Irish didn’t necessarily resemble a juggernaut, besting the likes of No. 14 Michigan (24-17), Ball State (24-16), and Vanderbilt (22-17) by a combined score of 70-50, or in other words by an average margin of 6.7 Points per Game. Offensively, this team just didn’t look explosive, averaging just 23.3 Points per Game on 366.7 Total Yards, while committing Four Turnovers, with Senior Quarterback Brandon Wimbush (55.3%, 196.3 Y/G, 7.8 Y/A, 1 TD, 4 INT) struggling mightily in the early stages of the campaign. In earning the starting job last season, and efficiently guiding a run-heavy Offense, Wimbush’s value proved to be in simply managing the game, tossing Sixteen Touchdowns in comparison to Six Interceptions, while factoring into the Rushing Attack heavily with 804 Rushing Yards and Fourteen Touchdowns. Fast forward to the present and it’s been a decisively different story for the veteran Quarterback; Wimbush has already thrown Four Interceptions thus far, including three in the narrow victory over Ball State, while barely making any impact on the ground, averaging just 2.8 Yards per Carry, a steep decline from the 5.7 that he logged in 2017. The tipping point was the meeting with Vanderbilt, where despite rushing for Eighty-Four Yards and a Score on Nineteen Carries, he was benched with the game still in contention (leading 16-10 late in the Third Quarter) in favor of Ian Book (75.7%, 169.0 Y/G, 9.1 Y/A, 3 TD, 0 INT), a Junior who despite seeing action in ten contests a year ago, only attempted Seventy-Five Passes in his Sophomore season. To his credit, Book certainly did his part, connecting on all three of his passing attempts, none more crucial than a 2-Yard Touchdown toss to Senior Tight End Nic Weishar (2 REC, 4 YDS, 1 TD) to put some distance between the two sides early in the final stanza. Kelly must have seen all needed to see in that performance, for the Head Coach named Book the starter for the following week’s trip to Wake Forest, and Book would not disappoint, carving up the Demon Deacons on 25-of-34 Passing for 325 Yards, and Two Touchdowns while gashing them on the ground for Forty-Three Yards on Ten Carries and three more scores in 56-27 victory. While Kelly has continued to play coy through the week as to who will be starting this weekend, Book remains the odds on favorite, for the Offense certainly looked more explosive with the Junior at the controls. Granted, Stanford represents a considerable leap in competition, though if he can lead the Irish to an upset of the No. 7 Cardinal, which would be their first defeat of their annual rival in four years, then one would have to believe that the job will be Book’s to lose. Fortunately, Notre Dame’s Defense has proven capable of keeping every game close while the Offense goes through this transition, allowing just 19.2 Points per Game (33rd Overall) on 368.5 Total Yards, including 223.5 Yards against the Pass and another 145.0 Yards versus the Run, while forcing Eight Turnovers, and registering Eight Sacks.