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Stanford tangles with Notre Dame: Preview before the 29th battle for the Legends trophy

The Cardinal faces a critical matchup against the #8 Irish

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinal heads to South Bend to take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the 29th Battle for The Legends Trophy. This year makes for an especially interesting matchup, serving as the first time that both teams have been ranked in the AP Top 15 at the same time.

With respect to Stanford, Kevin Hogan and the Cardinal are coming off of a less-than-stellar performance on Lake Washington after having encountered an eerily similar failure to capitalize on Red Zone possession at home against the Trojans. While Chris Petersen's defense lauded a remarkably similar result to the then Justin Wilcox led defense of last year, his offensive lethality did not make the same trip from Boise, Idaho as he did. Stanford needs to learn to be better this week and fast, this Fighting Irish team has been starved to play real competition and have yet to face anybody in the AP Top 25.

What does this mean for the Cardinal Offense and Kevin Hogan? Now is the time to get in sync. Notre Dame is giving up an average of 236 yards per game through the air while giving up 108 on the ground. While these numbers may seem stingy, no Notre Dame opponent so far has averaged more than 225 yards per game passing, with 1-3 Rice as the most threatening air attack so far.

This leaves Hogan, Ty Montgomery, and the rest of the Cardinal offense the opportunity to spread the ball around while Remound Wright, Kelsey Young and Barry Sanders try to crack first-year defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder's defense. The Cardinal are going to have to open things up early in order to get any sort of traction against the Fighting Irish, who are only giving up 33 yards on the ground per game.

On the other side of the ball, the challenge will be tough for Notre Dame. To give you an idea of what Everett Golson will be facing in his spread offense on Saturday, try throwing a golf ball into PVC pipe from about 25 yards away with four giant defensive lineman in your face. The Cardinal are giving up an average of only 74 yards per game through the air, putting them #1 in the nation in pass defense. This leaves the Cardinal in a scenario where the need to attack Golson and Notre Dame is a similar fashion to how Marcus Mariota and the Ducks will need to be dealt with a month from now:

-Set the edge against the run
-Contain the Quarterback in the pocket
-Keep the big plays to a minimum

If Stanford can execute on both sides of the ball and try to generate a big special teams return or turnover, this would be a marquee win for the Cardinal and put them right back in the playoff contention and generate momentum heading into the teeth of this 2014 season.