While Notre Dame has suffered devastating blows at quarterback and other positions, they manage to find themselves in the college football playoff picture. Notre Dame is taking a page out of the 2014-2015 Ohio State playbook and redefining the meaning of the phrase next man up. But for Notre Dame, the road to the playoffs goes through Palo Alto and this won't be a cake walk. Who are the players that the Stanford faithful need to watch?
WR, Will Fuller
This kid is the real deal. Stanford has not faced a wide receiver like him all year. Will Fuller was projected as a top 20 player in this year's NFL draft. I say "was" because he has announced that he will be returning for his final season. Fuller has posted two straight 1,000 yard seasons (2014 and 2015) and has had more than 10 TDs in each of them. Although Fuller isn't a matchup nightmare, only standing at 6'0", he outruns everyone. His 4.5 speed is too much for defenses especially when Notre Dame feeds him on screen passes. His speed is also a cause for his big play ability. Getting behind the safeties is what Fuller does best and Kodi Whitfield needs to not stand and watch a receiver go right by him like the Oregon game.
RB, Josh Adams
In Saturday's win against Boston College, starting running back C.J. Prosise was injured, and has been called doubtful for Saturday's matchup. Prosise has totaled over 1,000 yards this year and 12 TDs, so this is a huge blow to Notre Dame. But Josh Adams has filled in for Prosise earlier this year and has racked up 580 yards and 4 scores. The freshman running back is averaging about 6.9 yards per carry, but last week Boston College bottled him up. Adams had many carries after Prosise went down, but was only able to run for 36 yards against the #1 run defense in the country. Before running into Boston College, pun intended, Adams had back to back 140 yard games. After letting Cal RB Tre Watson average 6.2 yards per carry and Oregon RB Royce Freeman average 6.6 per carry, Stanford needs to tighten up their run defense.
DE, Romeo Okwara
Robert Okwara has been stellar, recording 9 sacks so far this year, which ties him for 12th in the NCAA. Overshadowed by LB Jaylon Smith, Okwara pieced together a respectable season developing into a force to be reckoned with. The Irish will rely heavily on Okwara to stop Christian McCaffrey, since Stanford will run it right at the defensive ends. The last time Stanford's offense went up against a good defensive lineman such as Okwara, they did not do such a great job containing him. Stanford will need to minimize Okwara.
LB, Jaylon Smith
When David Shaw was asked "When you watched film on Jaylon Smith, what stands out?", David Shaw answered the way any coach in the country would have: "What doesn't?". One impressive quality is his quickness. He gets to the point of attack faster than anyone on Notre Dame's defense and causes havoc. Smith will be a huge factor in Notre Dame's run defense with his ability to evade up field blocks so, if he plays up to potential, Notre Dame might not have to stack the box to stop McCaffrey. This can help Notre Dame focus on Stanford's passing attack, and try to frustrate Hogan.
Also, watch to see if Smith spies on Hogan during the game. This could be good for Stanford if they don't run with Hogan much, because if he stays home and spies on Hogan then his freak athletic ability is being wasted. Against GT and Navy, Smith was not as much of a factor because of their triple option offense. I'm not saying Stanford should run some option plays, but they should rely on HB Counters to trick Smith and hopefully minimize his impact.
Michael Rector vs. 2nd, 3rd, 4th - String Corners
In a game last week against Boston College, senior CB KeiVarae Russell was injured and has been ruled out for the season. So this week Brian Kelly has said that there will be 3 corners vying for the #2 starting slot and they will most likely be matched up against Michael Rector. Rector is an experienced receiver and should make the most of these backup corners.
Will Fuller vs. Harris? Holder? Meeks?
Stanford is also facing cornerback injuries of their own, both Ronnie Harris and Elijah Holder are questionable for this game. I don't think Meeks is fast enough to keep up with Fuller, so one of these two guys need to be healthy to try and keep Fuller in check.