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Stanford vs. Notre Dame: Playing the Long Game

Forcing the deep pass is key

Stanford v Oregon Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

An embarrassingly close game with Ball State, a near mishap against Vanderbilt and all of a sudden, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish needed some changes.

Ushered in is quarterback Ian Book, who is supposed to release this offense in ways Brandon Wimbush simply could not. It appears he has done just that, totaling five touchdowns and guiding Notre Dame to 56 points over Wake Forest.

Should the Stanford Cardinal be shaking in their boots at the prospect of colliding with the new and improved Fighting Irish offense?

Game Plan

What Stanford did against USC and J.T Daniels should be the blueprint against the Fighting Irish. The Cardinal threw a glut of coverages at Daniels, forcing him to feel pressure throughout the game, leading to a pair of game-sealing interceptions in the fourth quarter. The defense worked for two reasons:

1) Stanford’s pressure came from everywhere. Everywhere. I illustrated after the game how important the pressure from the linebackers was after the thrashing of USC. Linebackers right on the line of scrimmage could mean a blitz from everyone or no one, with everything in between. But the Stanford can also bring pressure with their defensive backs.

The Cardinal sure-tackling secondary plays a significant role both attacking the run and the quarterback. Flipping coverage from the nickel back to the outside linebacker not only brings a pass rusher without telegraphing the blitz by having a safety join the box. It is also possible with athletes like Bobby Okereke at linebacker who can make up space in coverage.

The IQ of the secondary also helps neutralize window dressing in a play, like here:

Alijah Holder not only reads run but does not bite on the sweep action of the receiver trying to create space for the running back.

The combined effort of the entire defense through plenty of looks at Book is how Stanford keeps him off his spot, bogging down the Notre Dame offense.

2) The Cardinal played patience and did not panic against the Ducks, avoiding making a mistake that could have thwarted the comeback. They need that patience against Book.

Last season, Book threw four picks on 70 passing attempts. Three of those were against North Carolina and Miami. In 2017, Miami’s 44 sacks ranked fourth in the country, while North Carolina racked up 72 tackles for loss.

Both these teams pestered opponent backfields.

A cluttered pocket can shake up Book, helping produce turnovers. This also pairs well (for Stanford) with concerns about his deep ball.

The Rule Of Tree’s own Charlie Foy asked One Foot Down’s Pat Rick about Book, and he had this to say -

”He was always seen as a more accurate passer than Wimbush but with a weaker arm on deep balls, just as much of a propensity to turn it over, and, although good on the ground, he’s certainly not the running/scrambling talent that Wimbush is.”

A shakey deep ball is precisely what the Stanford secondary needs to wait on, pushing the Fighting Irish onto 3rd and longs early, waiting for the costly mistake when Book tries to stretch the field.

Why it works

The 56 points were impressive, and the best Notre Dame’s offense has looked since Michigan. But it was against a porous defense that did not have a chance of disrupting Book (one SK, two TFL, three QB HUR). Notre Dame allowed six sacks, 22 tackles for loss and 11 quarterback hurries in the first three weeks, failing to speak volumes about the offensive line play against even the mildest of pass rushing attacks.

Destabilize the offense, force them to play behind the sticks, make Book choose poor decisions downfield. That is the formula for the Cardinal.

Wait on the deep mistake, play the long game in every way, seize victory.