Any Stanford fan will tell you what happened the last time the Cardinal travelled to South Bend to play Notre Dame. After two questionable penalties kept their final drive alive and allowed the Irish to kick a game-tying field goal at the end of regulation, Notre Dame sealed the win in overtime even though Stepfan Taylor appeared to score a game-tying touchdown, twice, only to have officials rule he hadn't scored either time.
But perhaps even more momentous than that, there was the game in 2010, which gave birth to this site. So moved by that afternoon's victory, I decided not to send my friends an email and wrote a blog post instead. The rest, as they say, is a football blog.
I guess the point is that big things happen when Stanford visits Notre Dame, and there's no reason to believe that this Saturday will be any different. The Irish enter the game undefeated and ranked in the top ten, and the Cardinal is looking to rebuild a résumé that took a hit from an early loss to USC. Both teams have designs on a bid to this season's inaugural Final Four playoff, and this game serves as something of an elimination game. (Perhaps not for Notre Dame. They could probably rebound from a loss here and possibly grab one of those four spots should they win out.)
The game will no doubt be determined by how well the Stanford offense performs in the red zone, and I'm betting that this is the week that they finally hold onto the ball, avoid foolish penalties, and return to the success that was once of a hallmark of Stanford football. The last offensive possession of the Washington game was vintage Stanford, and I expect we'll see more of the same on Saturday.
I have no concerns about the defense. Even though Notre Dame's offense is clicking on all cylinders, they haven't seen a defense remotely close to what they'll be facing here. The Stanford defense will control the game, the offense will make some plays, and Stanford will win, 24-10.
To give you a balanced perspective, I reached out to the team at Irish Sports Talk, and Reuben Hochstetler was nice enough to answer my questions about Notre Dame. (You can also listen to my thoughts on the game in the first twenty minutes of their recent podcast, posted down below.) Anyway, here's Reuben. Enjoy...
Last year Ty Montgomery took the game's opening kickoff against Washington and raced 99 yards for a touchdown; it looked for a moment on Saturday afternoon as if he were going to do the same thing. He took the ball straight up the middle of the field and bulled his way through a few attempted arm tackles, but just when he separated from the pack and readied to drop into fourth gear, he was pulled down from behind at the Husky 35 after a 62-yard return.
Kevin Hogan and the Stanford offense was only able to manage a single first down, and the opening drive stalled at the 18, but Jordan Williamson came in to nail the 35-yard field goal and give the Cardinal an early 3-0 lead.
When I look back on my twenty-eight years following Cardinal football, the Stanford-Washington series has been interesting. While the yearly tilts with the Huskies lack the marquee value of Cal, Oregon, USC, or Notre Dame, those games have always served as barometer of the program.
In 1991 and 1992, the last year under Denny Green and the first under Bill Walsh, Stanford won a total of 18 games and appeared in consecutive bowl games for the first time since 1977 and '78. But as good as those teams were, they couldn't stay on the field with Washington. The Huskies dominated Stanford, winning 42-7 one year and 41-7 the next.
Then there was the 2006 game. If you were to plot the fortunes of Stanford football from 1892 until today, I have no doubt that the deepest valley on your graph would be 2006, and the Cardinal team that walked into Husky Stadium that year was at absolute rock bottom. The team stood at 0-9, and there were no indications that it would win a single game that year. Somehow, though, the Cardinal managed to beat the Huskies 20-3, avoiding the program's first ever winless slate.
As the program rose to national prominence under Jim Harbaugh, the team's 41-0 drubbing of the Huskies in 2010 followed by an even more impressive 65-21 romp in 2011 (with a school-record 446 yards rushing) helped establish Stanford's brand of intellectual brutality.
And then came 2012. In its first season without Andrew Luck at the helm, the Cardinal landed in Seattle fresh off a stunning upset of the #2-ranked USC Trojans. They left in disarray, having lost 17-13 without scoring an offensive touchdown. A year later, though Kevin Hogan led the Mighty Card to a narrow 31-28 win.
What will happen today? I'll say Stanford wins (shocker!) 31-13. But for some insight into the Huskies, let's hear what UW Dawg Pound's Anthony Cassino has to say. Read on and educate yourself...
With no game to look forward to this Saturday, now seems like the perfect time to look at the Cardinal's 2015 schedule, released this week by the Pac-12. Far too many things will happen between now and next fall to predict outcomes of any of the games, but let's take a game-by-game trip through the schedule anyway, just for fun. Oh, and keep this in mind as we go -- the schedule sets up perfectly for a run to the playoffs.
After last week's disheartening loss to USC, the matchup with Army could have been looked at in two different ways. This would either be a game that would give the Cardinal an opportunity to take out the frustrations from seven days ago and come away with a convincing win, or it would be one that would create even more frustration if the team came out flat and emotionless and failed to impress. Well, it was a little of both.
There have been plenty of surprises regarding the Stanford offense so far this young season, but one thing that's been no surprise at all has been the success of Ty Montgomery. He's been one of my favorite players since he burst onto the scene as a true freshman in 2011, but his journey has been anything but smooth.
So imagine you slept through Saturday afternoon's game and woke up to learn the following facts:
• Stanford's offense outgained USC's by more than 100 yards. • Stanford ran more plays than USC, 68 to 59. • Kevin Hogan threw for 150 yards more than USC's Cody Kessler. • Every Stanford possession reached at least the USC 32.
Certain victory for the Cardinal, right? Somehow it didn't work out that way.
As I was wandering through the Stanford Bookstore a few years ago during Reunion Weekend, I heard an odd conversation between a mother -- presumably a fellow alum -- and her young daughter. The daughter was looking at a Big Game checkers set, and she asked why the other pieces in the set all had Cal logos. The mother's answer baffled me.
"Well, some people think that UC Berkeley is Stanford's rival, but our real rival is USC."
It took every ounce of self-restraint I had not to correct the mother and explain to her all about Axes and John Hopkins, but there was a part of me that understood. While the Cal football program has been circling the drain for the last few years, Big Game victories come with relief, not joy.
Wins over USC, however, have been delicious, and aside from the house-burning in 2009 (which was delicious in its own special way), the games have been phenomenal theater. Stanford fans delighted in trumpeting the Cardinal's four-game winning streak in the series by referring to USC as "Under Stanford Control," but the reality was that the three games between 2010 and 2012 could easily have gone the Trojans' way, just as the Cardinal could easily have won last year.
Making the series even more intriguing has been the similarities between the two teams. As the rest of the conference turned to uptempo spread offenses, Stanford and USC clung stubbornly to their pro-style roots, and their defenses were both built on punishing front sevens that battered opposing quarterbacks and running backs into submission. The Stanford-USC series showcased college football the way it used to be.
The arrival of head coach Steve Sarkisian, however, has changed all that. The Trojan offense has left the huddle behind, and the early reports are either thrilling or terrifying, depending on your perspective. Even as the vultures were circling around the program as team captain Josh Shaw's heroic rescue of his nephew was exposed as a fabrication, an ESPN anchor referred to the university as "a clown college," and a backup running back called his coach a racist all within the space of a week, the Trojans brushed all that dirt of their shoulders and came out blazing in last week's opener.
The USC offense piled up 52 points against Fresno State while running a Pac-12-record 103 plays, tallying 37 first downs and a frightening 701 total yards. A week ago I felt like this was an almost certain win for Stanford, but that performance reminded me of what I should've known all along: this is USC.
Aside from the Sarkisian hire, one of the biggest changes within the program involves the outside perception of quarterback Cody Kessler. When the Cardinal lost to the Trojans in mid November last year, the defensive game plan seemed to make sense: bottle up the running game and force Kessler to make plays to win the game. Kessler responded with the best game of his life, completing 25 of 27 passes for 288 yards and a touchdown.
Since then, he seems to have become even more comfortable. In his last two games (the 2013 bowl game and last week's opener) Kessler has combined for 739 yards and eight touchdowns. Sure, thanks to a scheduling quirk both games were against the porous Fresno State defense, but those numbers would be impressive against anyone.
How he fares against the 2014 Stanford defense, of course, remains to be seen, and that will be one of the determining factors of Saturday's game. This will sound familiar to Stanford fans, but I'll say it anyway. The best way to slow down Kessler and the USC offense will be to keep them on the sidelines. If the Stanford offense can put together some long drives -- and I believe it can -- Kessler and company might have a hard time finding the rhythm they enjoyed against Fresno State.
In addition to that, the Trojan roster still hasn't completely recovered from their recent NCAA sanctions, and some recent injuries have thinned their already thin ranks a bit more. That lack of depth will prove costly in the latter stages of a warm afternoon in Stanford Stadium, and I expect Stanford to control the fourth quarter en route to a 34-17 victory.
But what does the other side think? To find out I touched base with the crew at Reign Of Troy, and editor Alicia De Artola was kind enough to answer a bunch of my questions. (You can read my answers to their Stanford questions by clicking here.) For all you've ever wanted to know about the Trojans, read on!
Back by popular demand -- or, more accurately, by one person's demand -- is GMC's yearly schedule breakdown. Why wait for the games to be played when you can just read on? As usual, I'll give you my thoughts on each game along with the likelihood of a Cardinal victory, but just for fun I've also assigned a different 80s movie to each matchup. It promises to be entertaining...
August 30 vs. UC Davis Movie: The Sure Thing Quote: "I hope you appreciate the magnitude of your impending good fortune."
I don't know the real reason why UC Davis is on the schedule this year, but it might just be to remind Stanford fans how far the program has come. It was nine years ago that Davis somehow beat Stanford, 20-17, in a game that was surely brought up in the halls of the Stanford athletic department as some voices pushed to drop the football program down to Division II. In less than a decade, Stanford football has gone from being one of the worst teams in the country to one of the nation's elite.
As devastating and shocking as that 2005 loss was, I can't imagine that anyone connected with the 2014 Cardinal is thinking about revenge. No one on the team was even out of middle school at that point, and this team has goals much larger than righting a nine-year-old wrong. This game isn't about revenge, it's about finishing without any major injuries.
I can't imagine that we'll see much from the starters after half time, but while they're in there it'll be interesting to see how the offensive line plays and what the running back rotation looks like. In the second half we should get a look at some of the younger players, including Christian McCaffrey, and the second- and third-string quarterbacks. It'll be fun.
Expected Outcome: This is a sure thing. 100% chance of Stanford victory.
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