Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 27, 2021

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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36 NOV. 27, 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED GAME PREVIEW: STANFORD BY TODD D. BURLAGE STANFORD RUNNING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME RUN DEFENSE A program once renowned for a long line of star tailbacks and its tremendous running game has not matched the successes of yesteryear this season. Through 10 games, Stanford ranked last in the Pac-12 and only 124th nationally in rushing offense with just 94.5 yards per game. Junior running backs Nathaniel Peat and Austin Jones were expected in the preseason to bolster this unit for the Cardinal, but it never happened. Peat led the team with 382 rushing yards with a respectable 5.5 yards per carry and three touch- downs through 10 games. But since rushing for 115 yards against USC Sept. 11, he has tallied more than 50 rushing yards in a game only twice. With 315 rushing yards and no touchdowns heading into his game last weekend against Cal, Jones was even more disappointing. He led the Cardinal with 550 rushing yards in 2020, when he had three 100-yard rushing games during that shortened six-game season. Led by junior tackle Walter Rouse, the Cardinal returned three starting offensive linemen from last season, but none have played particularly well. For Notre Dame, after holding Virginia to only 82 rushing yards and fewer than three yards a carry Nov. 13, the Irish rushing defense climbed 11 spots nationally to No. 44, allowing 134.2 yards per game. This rush defense unit for Notre Dame systemati- cally blossomed into one of the best on the team as the season moved along. Junior linebacker JD Bertrand easily led the Irish with 83 total tackles through 10 games on a de- fense that ranked 31st nationally with 6.2 tackles for loss per outing. Advantage: Notre Dame STANFORD PASSING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME PASS DEFENSE Sophomore quarterback Tanner McKee won the Stanford starting job during fall camp at a position group that features very little behind him. McKee — a big-armed 6-foot-6, 225-pound, top- 100 recruit from the 2018 recruiting class per Ri- vals — played in eight of Stanford's first 10 games and averaged 239.5 yards per game with 14 touch- downs and five interceptions. McKee suffered an injury against Utah Nov. 5, leaving his availability uncertain for the Cardinal's rivalry game against Cal Nov. 20, though Stanford head coach David Shaw suggested that McKee would at least be ready for the regular-season finale with the Irish Nov. 27. With little production from any of the quarter- backs behind McKee, Shaw indicated he will likely lean toward starting freshman Ari Patu (48 passing yards with one touchdown and one interceptions) if McKee can't play. The Cardinal receiving unit took a big hit Oct. 15, when leading pass catcher Brycen Tremayne suf- fered a gruesome season-ending leg injury. In only five games this season, Tremayne still managed 20 catches with five going for touchdowns. In Tremayne's absence, sophomore tight end Benjamin Yurosek and junior wide receiver Elijah Higgins became McKee's primary targets. Higgins led the team with 37 receptions and he had 449 receiving yards and four touchdown grabs through 10 games. Yurosek led Stanford with 502 receiving yards on 32 catches and scored two touchdowns. Stanford allowed 2.7 sacks per game through 10 outings, which ranked only 93rd nationally in pass protection. And after recording seven sacks against Virginia, Notre Dame climbed to 14th nationally in team sacks with 3.2 per game. And with two more interceptions against the Cavaliers, the Irish brought their season total to 14 picks, the fifth-most in the country. As a team, Stanford quarterbacks have thrown 10 intercep- tions in 10 games. Even while playing against some of the best quar- terbacks in the country, Notre Dame ranked 20th in On PaPer Junior running back Austin Jones led the Cardinal in rushing with 550 yards in the six-game 2020 sea- son, but managed to compile only 315 yards with no touchdowns in the first 10 games this fall. PHOTO BY CRAIG MITCHELLDYER/ISIPHOTOS.COM

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