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November 29, 2013

Final Notes: Notre Dame

Notre Dame has suffered significant attrition to its offensive line, but the Irish still have a stout group in the trenches. Despite losing starting center Nick Martin and starting right guard for the year with injuries, the Irish offensive line should pose a challenge to the Cardinal's defense.

"Notre Dame may be the best offensive line that we've faced all year," Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason said. "They have experience, they have some youth up front but you know what, they play well together and they're well coached. When you look at them I think they've only given up seven sacks on the season. That says a lot when your quarterback's in empty often just in terms of him really not getting hit or not being able to be touched. I think he's smart in terms of getting the ball out, the line's protecting him well, and we just have to make sure we give ourselves a chance, and we will."

The Irish have displayed some new offensive tendencies with Tommy Rees starting for the suspended Everett Golson this year.

"It's different because Golson was a different type of run threat in terms of what he brings to the table," Mason said. "(They're using) a lot more empty this year. They didn't run as much empty a year ago. (They're) averaging about 12 snaps of empty a game, which is a fair amount. I think it definitely allows him to see coverages, see exactly where he wants to go with the football. He understands his matchups. They're going to try to get us matched up much like they did a year ago. And we've got to be smart in understanding how those matchups work for them and how they work against us."

On the ground, Notre Dame features a balanced rushing attack. Four Irish running backs have 45 or more carries this season (only Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson have exceeded that number for Stanford), and Notre Dame has had three different leading rushers in the last three weeks. The Irish's running back by committee approach won't present a new look to Stanford's defense, however.

"I think every offense now has that," Mason said. "When you look at everybody in our conference, everybody has two or three backs that they can go to. I think what you do is you have to play the tendency. You make sure that you try to wrap up and finish plays. If we can do that, we care less about whether e's a jitterbug or whether he's a powerhouse. We just need to get him on the ground."

Notre Dame injuries: Starting defensive lineman Louis Nix is out for the year with a knee injury, as are starting offensive lineman Nick Martin and Christian Lombard. The Irish are also without outside linebacker Ben Councell, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in Notre Dame's win over Navy, and inside linebacker Jarrett Grace, who's been out since the Irish's victory over Arizona State. Meanwhile, several key contributors along Notre Dame's defensive line, Kona Schwenke, Ishaq Williams and Sheldon Day, have been slowed by injuries of their own in the few weeks.

Additionally, two of Notre Dame's top safeties, Eilar Hardy and Elijah Shumate, will be suspended for Saturday's game for a violation of team rules.

Kelly on the Cardinal: "We play our fourth top-25 team this weekend and our most difficult competition, in that Stanford is a veteran football team, well coached, plays physical on both sides of the ball. I think, more importantly, plays with a confidence and a swagger that is apparent when you win as many football games as they have over the past half a dozen years.
So a very confident football team that has played exceedingly well. They have one of the longer winning streaks at home and again, they are deserving of their rank as a top-10 team.
So another great challenge for our football team, one that we are very excited about. We know how we are going to have to play this game. Coming off the BYU game, I think it's a great challenge for our football game to continue to play a physical brand of football, and we'll need to do that against Stanford."

Stanford injuries: Starting cornerback Alex Carter, whose father, Tom, starred at Notre Dame before enjoying a lengthy NFL career, returned to practice early this week from a concussion that he suffered against USC. Carter is expected to play against Notre Dame.

After being held out in the second half against Cal for precautionary measures, Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson is expected to handle field goals and PAT's for the entirety of Saturday's contest. Conrad Ukropina will still take kickoffs.

Reserve safety and special teams ace Zach Hoffpauir successfully returned from a foot injury in the Big Game. He'll play against Notre Dame.

Ben Gardner (pectoral) and Ikenna Nwafor (lower body) will miss the Notre Dame game.

Irish Illustrated's Take: "The grittiness the Irish have learned under Kelly and the presence of players who have been through the big games before will keep the Irish in the game and make it competitive. If they can avoid the catastrophic offensive play, run the football with some degree of success - 125 yards would be a nice initial benchmark - and prevent the big play, the Irish can stay in this until the end.
But at some point, too many losses in key personnel, an ineffective red-zone offense, and a defense that has shown a propensity for giving up long touchdown drives will prove to be too many shortcomings to claim victory in Stanford Stadium where the Cardinal hasn't lost since November of 2011 to Oregon.
As the Ducks have learned, the Cardinal knows how to impose its will on an opponent. Notre Dame is better equipped for that mindset than Oregon, but without Nix/Martin/Lombard/Grace, it doesn't look like it will be enough."

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