Stanford squares off with its twin brother this Saturday in South
Bend. Both the Cardinal and Notre Dame are power running football
teams with suspect secondaries, hit-or-miss offenses, and dominant
defensive front sevens. Fighting Irish quarterback Everett Golson
shares the same passer efficiency rating (126) as his Stanford
counterpart Josh Nunes, and both passers are still looking to prove
themselves coming off similarly efficient performances against bad
The parallels don't end there: Notre Dame is one of the very few
teams nationwide that matches up size-wise with Stanford, with
middle linebacker Manti Te'o being the Irish version of Shayne Skov.
And just like the Cardinal, the Golden Domers feature possibly the
nation's best tight end. Tyler Eifert versus Zach Ertz: let the
Here's one last piece of common ground that adds icing onto the
cake: this year's Stanford-Notre Dame game is the first ever meeting
between top 20 schools in both the US News & World Report survey
and the football polls.
"By this point in my career, I can't stand those guys," Stanford
junior defensive end Ben Gardner said of Notre Dame.
Hey, nobody said that relatives had to like each other. Beyond that,
if you ask David Shaw, Stanford and Notre Dame are not carbon copies
in the recruiting world.
"No disrespect to [Notre Dame] or anyone else, but we're in our own
little universe [as far as academic standards and eligible recruits go]," he
A True Test
"This is our gauntlet," Shaw opened. "Can we play our best game on
In a game that feels a whole lot like a midterm exam, the Cardinal
program has a chance to firmly re-establish the elite status that
its ugly loss at Washington threatened. It'll be game number six of a
12-game regular season, and it won't be Stanford's first foray on
the road anymore. Most importantly, it'll be the Farm Boys' first
time this season picking on a team their own size.
A week after the Cardinal enjoyed the role of Dumbo in Ants versus
Elephants, Stanford will lock into a heavyweight bout with a trio of
300-pounders on the line of scrimmage and Manti T'eo, the nation's
"Sorry fellas, there were some Manti Te'o issues we were trying to
work out," Shaw apologized after arriving to Tuesday's press
conference a few minutes late.
Te'o, whose grandmother and girlfriend both succumbed to separate
bouts of cancer within a week of each other earlier this season, has
dominated Notre Dame's opposition with 48 tackles and three
interceptions through only five games. The Irish's second leading
tackler, safety Zeke Motta, is 20 stops behind the burly Hawaiian.
When asked if he would vote for the 6-foot-2, 255-pound monster when
it came to the Heisman Trophy, Shaw's humorous answer might have
reopened some fresh Stanford wounds. "I don't vote for Heisman
Trophies," he laughed. "And people who vote for Heisman Trophies
don't listen to me."
Notre Dame hasn't allowed an opponent into the end zone in over
a month, and they haven't surrendered a rushing touchdown all
season. Stanford's success running the football will almost
certainly rely on increased creativity in space, and that is
promising news for speedy dual threat Kelsey Young, who sprinted for
a 55-yard touchdown against Arizona.
"We will continue to try to expand Kelsey Young's role," Shaw
Ricky Seale and Remound Wright also complemented Stepfan Taylor
against the Wildcats, while Anthony Wilkerson - who suffered a lower
leg injury against USC - practiced Monday night and will probably
return to action against Notre Dame.
Speaking of speed, Young isn't the fastest Stanford player. Shaw
said that Ty Montgomery (injured this week) almost always wins
practice sprints, while Alex Carter and a slimmed-down Jamal-Rashad Patterson provide Young with good competition for second place.
"[Wilkerson] may try to include himself in that top three, but he's
not there," Shaw laughed.
Injury Report: Montgomery Out, Patterson In, Brown's status
Montgomery, the Cardinal's no. 1 wide receiver, will almost
certainly sit this week after suffering an apparent knee injury late
against Arizona. The sophomore, who came into the season with high
expectations, has struggled with drops at times through the first
half of the year - though he has racked up 168 yards on 18
receptions. He has been replaced on the depth chart by senior
Jamal-Rashad Patterson, who made two big catches against Arizona.
Shaw credited Patterson's re-commitment to track and field this past
season as the key to receiver's better conditioning this year. A
former Georgia state champion in the hurdle sprint runs, Patterson
lost weight and regained speed as a member of the Cardinal track
team. Now, he'll be tasked with loosening up an injury-thinned Notre
Dame secondary that features two new cornerbacks, both offensive
Stanford cornerback Terrence Brown, who suffered a concussion on his
second play against the Wildcats, will probably play. Brown was
kicked in the helmet before falling on his head while making a stop.
Anderson Playing Low - and Tall
Six-foot-six defensive lineman Henry Anderson, whose batted pass
set up Chase Thomas' pivotal overtime interception against Arizona,
discussed his emergence as a potent pass blocker at the line of
scrimmage. Ironically, defensive coaches have told me that Anderson
initially earned extensive playing time this year because of his
demonstrated ability to finally "play low," but he's making
headlines on the plays that require stretching up to knock
The big man said the key is recognizing passing situations and
knowing when reaching the quarterback is impossible. "That's when
you have to make sure you get into the passing lane," he said.
Fellow defensive end Gardner helped Stanford's struggling secondary
with a crucial pass deflection of his own last Saturday.
"[Arizona quarterback Matt Scott] was throwing into slant windows
and hitch patterns all game," he explained. "In order to do that,
you have to throw a low ball, so we were ready for our opportunities
to knock them away."
The match-up with Notre Dame, a ground-and-pound team with a mobile
quarterback, will likely be different than Scott's pocket-passing
exhibition. Gardner is ready for a physical war.
"They look a lot like our own offensive line," he said. "I'm looking
forward to a physical match-up that plays to our strengths."
At this point, anything other than a terrorizing spread passing
scheme is a welcome change for a Stanford defense looking to regain
its bearings. "We haven't played a perfect game yet," Gardner said.
"That's the goal this week."
- A.J. Tarpley and James Vaughters will be "back and forth" with a
relatively even amount of snaps, despite the fact that Tarpley has
surpassed Vaughters at the inside linebacker position on the depth
chart. Jarek Lancaster has also certainly earned significant playing
time with his good play, which included a sack versus Arizona.
- Freshman Aziz Shittu has replaced Charlie Hopkins behind Ben
Gardner on the two-deep at defensive end. Shittu entered the
rotation against Arizona and "did well." Alex Carter is now listed
as Stanford's lead kick returner - Montgomery's former spot - while
Remound Wright and Young are listed second.
- Shayne Skov is "getting close, but isn't completely there yet" as
far as regaining his post-knee injury explosiveness. Shaw said that
"he has been a step faster every week."
- Shaw is in the midst of composing an email to the NCAA disputing
the importance of the "start" statistic. He complained that players'
chances at postseason awards are often hurt because they don't
register enough official starts in Stanford's offense, which
frequently begins games with seven offensive linemen on the field -
meaning that a wide receiver doesn't get credit for a start even if
he plays the rest of the game. He said that the starter statistic is
a "waste of time" and noted that if Stanford starts the game in
Wildcat, "Stepfan Taylor is [officially] the starting quarterback."
- Stanford left guard Khalil Wilkes played against Notre Dame wide
receiver Theo Riddick in AAU basketball when he was young. Both grew
up in New Jersey.
- Wilkes said he actually enjoys the Cardinal's offensive line
rotation because it allows him to bring more physicality to each
play. "We get a breather here and there," he said. He assured that
timing and communication is not disrupted.
- Ben Gardner is letting the mullet grow back out. Supposedly, his
teammates blamed him for last season's Fiesta Bowl loss since he cut
it leading up to the game.
David Lombardi covers Stanford
sports for The Bootleg and FOX Sports NEXT. He was the Cardinal
football KZSU play-by-play voice for several years. He can also be
heard on San Francisco's 95.7 The Game. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @davidmlombardi.
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