The Stanford Cardinal take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish this week, in a top-10 matchup with College Football Playoff implications on the line.
Last week came as advertised, with the Stanford Cardinal hitting unexpected adversity against the Oregon Ducks. With ESPN College Gameday making a return to Eugene, the Cardinal did not prepare for the loudness of Autzen Stadium, as the Ducks’ came out flying, in hopes of making a resounding statement to the nation.
Stanford got outplayed by Oregon, as the defense could not pressure Ducks’ quarterback, Justin Herbert, who had a monster game. The offense did not fare well as the Ducks’ offensive line contained Bryce Love from breaking any long runs down the field.
Herbert stole the spotlight from Love, but the resilience of Herbert’s counterpart not only became evident at the end, but perhaps catapulted him into Heisman consideration.
Down 17 points entering halftime, K.J. Costello appeared frustrated, knowing he missed an opportunity to close the gap on the scoreboard. Besides the running game not gaining any traction, Costello turned in decent first half, thanks in part to his receivers overmatching the Oregon defenders.
Although appearing angry for not cashing in, coach David Shaw has said Costello never seems to be rattled and will keep on fighting until the end. Opportunities did not come often for the Cardinal, but the team knew any mistake could shift the momentum of the game.
After a touchdown was overturned that would have put the Ducks up 31-7, the Cardinal defense seized the momentum two plays later. A botched snap led to Joey Alfieri scooping up the loose ball and going 80-yards for a touchdown.
A three-and-out on the next series for Oregon gave Stanford the ball, and Costello found JJ Arcega-Whiteside in the end zone. As the third quarter ended, uncertainty crept in and the normally raucous Autzen Stadium began to grow quiet.
Near the end of regulation, Love cut the deficit to three with the Cardinal defense hoping to make a stop. With 51 seconds left, Stanford stripped the football from Oregon’s running back. Costello wasted no time, getting the Cardinal downfield where Jet Toner hit a field goal to force overtime.
Colby Parkinson would score on a pass he tipped to himself to open the first overtime period. With the Cardinal taking the lead for the first time in the game, the defense needed one more push to complete the comeback.
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Oregon’s collapse came full circle as Herbert’s pass was intercepted on fourth and goal, stunning a once jubilant crowd in Autzen Stadium. The 17-point comeback was the biggest in Coach Shaw’s tenure at Stanford.
Forget about the need to run the ball, Stanford won the game after taking advantage of the size differential between Stanford’s tight ends and the smaller Oregon defenders. The Ducks could not defend the Cardinal receivers, boxing them out to haul in catches.
Costello finished with 327 passing yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. The poise and calm of the quarterback show no game is over until the clock hits zero. Perhaps Coach Shaw would be wise to use the air attack over ground and pound more often.
Overall, Stanford did not play a complete game, as mistakes on both sides of the ball were made. With early bragging rights for the Pac-12 North Division earned though, the stakes just became higher with Notre Dame and making a case for their inclusion in the College Football Playoff.
Notre Dame finally flexed their muscle last week with a convincing win on the road against Wake Forest. After an opening week victory over Michigan, the Fighting Irish turned in dismal efforts against Ball State and Vanderbilt, doing just enough to earn wins in both games.
Like Oregon, odds are Notre Dame is keeping the full playbook under wraps with Stanford coming into town.
A quarterback controversy emerged after Brandon Wimbush struggled to lead the Irish offense. After an encouraging end to last season, the expectation was for Wimbush to seize command of the job.
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But his inconsistencies led to back up Ian Book getting a look and showed confidence in driving the offense against Wake. Coach Brian Kelly likely will not commit to naming a starter but should feel confident moving forward with Book under center.
Miles Boykin is just one of the many weapons the Irish have at receiver. Tony Jones Jr. is handling the primary rushing duties but expects to have Dexter Williams back in the rotation. He missed the first four games for an unspecified reason.
For Stanford, the offensive line cannot afford to be pushed around — something which kept Love from making a difference last week. Love is the running back who waits for an opening, but he must react when plays do not develop to prevent negative yardage.
As for the defense, the Cardinal must do a better job in disguising blitz packages and sustain pressure. Last week, Stanford could not get to Herbert for the fear of him taking off, which allowed him to make plays for Oregon. Stanford cannot afford another repeat effort on the road.
To lose this game would not be catastrophic for Stanford, but would make the road to a potential spot in the College Football Playoff challenging. With Pac-12 games the rest of the way, the Cardinal could not afford a second loss.
Game time begins at 4:30 pm on NBC.
Controversy between Stanford and Notre Dame is a theme when the two play in the confines of South Bend. With a top-10 battle on hand, this game could go down to the wire.
Hopefully, any decisions will not result in replay reviews where calls have tended to go in favor of the team with the golden domes.