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Notre Dame vs Stanford 2015: Keys to a Cardinal victory over the Irish

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After watching (and at times rewatching) all of the Notre Dame games this season here are a few keys to a Cardinal victory over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

For a look at important Notre Dame players and key matchups check out Sean Levy's piece here.

Keys to beating the Notre Dame defense:
1. Get Christian McCaffrey (and others) the ball in space and into the second level
2. Handle the pressure from the defensive front
3. Create plays with Kevin Hogan's legs

The Notre Dame defense on the back end is prone to giving up big plays. In several of their games they've done well in containing most offenses but if an opposing offense can get the ball to a speedy playmaker in the second level it can be a huge gain. The Notre Dame defense has been torched by huge plays against USC, Clemson, and Boston College.

The Notre Dame defensive line can be moved around a bit, but they love to bring pressure and are quite skilled at penetrating the offensive line. Kevin Hogan and the offense will have to respond to this pressure better than they did in the Washington State, Northwestern, or Oregon games. Quick throws underneath and designed quarterback runs may help Stanford here, but the Cardinal offensive line is going to have to have a great game.

We may see some quick passes, screens, dump offs, or even delayed hand offs to McCaffrey, Hooper, and the rest of the usual suspects. Bryce Love's speed may be quite valuable here as well. Love is fast and elusive, the banged up Notre Dame secondary quite frequently is the opposite of those things. Also note that if Christian McCaffrey can consistently slip through the pressure from the Notre Dame defensive front then any and all records he may be close to breaking will be comfortably in reach.

The Notre Dame defense can be beaten when the quarterback goes mobile; USC (yes Cody Kessler scored a touchdown with his legs against Notre Dame), Clemson and others have burned the Irish defense with QB runs. Again the Irish are a defense that likes to aggressively bring the pressure and occasionally a quarterback can slip through, get to the second level and break off a large gain. We may see Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan running the ball in this game. To counter this Notre Dame may need to keep one player back to spy Hogan which would help the Cardinal with key number 2.

As Sean Levy pointed out:

"Also, watch to see if [ND linebacker Jaylon] 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."

Keys to stopping the Notre Dame Offense:
1. Contain the big plays and bring pressure
2. Find an answer for Will Fuller and the other wide receivers
3. Capitalize on turnovers
4. Win up front

The Notre Dame offense is wildly talented and exceptionally explosive but occasionally struggle with turnovers. Turnovers plagued the Irish in several games including their only loss this season on the road against Clemson, the USC game, and last week against Boston College. Perhaps most impressive is the unit's composure in high pressure situations. Notre Dame has played in several big games on the national stage this season, and they have made comebacks, staved off rallies, and kept their composure throughout the constant ups and downs of their playoff hunt.

Notre Dame has been a very boom and bust team this season so even if Stanford can jump out to a big lead early in this game the Cardinal defense will have to keep the pressure on for a full 60 minutes. Likewise even if Notre Dame jumps out to an early lead Stanford will likely have opportunities to retake control of the game.

Will Fuller (#7), is a dominant wide receiver who could, and probably will, have an explosive game if the Stanford secondary continues to struggle with injuries. Without an answer to Will Fuller the Stanford defense could have a long night. Irish opponents Boston College and Wake Forest were able to keep Fuller to minimal touches, but the catches he did make were for massive gains and other Irish receivers stepped up. This explosive offense has helped the Irish overcome many injuries, turnovers and other setbacks they've faced along the way. The best option here for Stanford will be to try to not let the ball get into the air, or at least not let DeShone Kizer get the pass off cleanly.

DeShone Kizer (#14)- Initially the backup QB who came in during Notre Dame's contest against the Virginia Cavaliers after Notre Dame's starting quarterback Malik Zaire went down for the season. He has a big arm, can make deep throws and when coupled with Will Fuller, Notre Dame has shown their ability to score from just about anywhere on the field. He is inexperienced, however, and has contributed to the Irish's turnover woes. Stanford must force Notre Dame to make mistakes and then capitalize upon them. If Stanford is going to limit possessions with long drives then turnovers could be deadly for Notre Dame's chances for victory.

The Notre Dame offensive line is solid. Even with the injuries and setbacks the Notre Dame offensive line has found success in keeping the running game humming along and consistently buying Kizer plenty of time to make plays. Beating the Irish offensive line can go a long way in making the Irish one dimensional either by shutting down the run, or keeping the ball out of the hands of this talented wide receiver group.

Agree? Disagree? Corrections?  Scurrilous attacks on my integrity and character?  Share your thoughts below.