Notre Dame (10-1) takes on Stanford (3-8) tonight in its final regular season matchup of the season. The Irish offense has been playing its best ball of the year heading into this matchup, and Tommy Rees and his unit must finish the regular season off on a very strong note.
Dominating an awful Stanford defense is what the Irish offense can do to help make a final strong and very loud statement to the College Football Playoff committee.
Here are the keys to Notre Dame playing to its full potential and pounding the Cardinal.
1. Start Fast — This game isn't so much about Stanford and what Notre Dame must do to thrive against the Cardinal. It's about the Notre Dame offense continuing to build on its recent success, continuing to build on its identity and improving on the areas where more work is needed.
Notre Dame put together just its third game opening touchdown drive of the season in its 55-0 victory over Georgia Tech last weekend, but the Irish need to prove that wasn't a fluke. What it has done for each of the last two games was score early and often, and that must continue against the Cardinal.
Notre Dame needs to show the committee that the strong starts from the past two weeks weren't flukes, and this is where this team is right now.
2. Be Aggressive — Notre Dame was very aggressive last week against Georgia Tech, pushing the tempo, attacking down the field and using its diverse personnel packages to exploit weaknesses in the Yellow Jacket offense. We have seen Rees get more and more creative with his personnel, and his early game plans have looked to create big play opportunities.
We need to see more of that against Stanford. Notre Dame needs to show the committee that it is a dominant program from the start. That means jumping all over Stanford, showing that it is the Irish that have the superior talent and that the hot team we've seen the last month is no fluke.
A well executed and aggressive game plan will do just that, and the Irish should be able to do to the Cardinal what they did to Georgia Tech.
3. Use Your Speed — Stanford has one of the slowest defenses Notre Dame will face this season. Part of that aggressive game plan from Rees needs to include taking advantage early and often of his unit's significant speed advantage. That means getting the Stanford linebackers, corners and safeties in situations where they are having to chase the Irish pass catchers across the field.
It means using tempo, formations and motions to create isolations for the wideouts, who should be able to run past the Stanford corners. It means finally turning tight end Michael Mayer loose down the field on the Stanford safeties and linebackers, and it means using the backs - especially Chris Tyree - to create big plays in both the run and pass game.
If the game plan is what I think it can and should be we could see big days from Kevin Austin, Braden Lenzy and the Irish wideouts.
4. Touchdowns, Touchdowns, Touchdowns — One area where Notre Dame hasn't shown enough improvement is with its red zone offense. The Irish got into the red zone twice against the Yellow Jackets and had to settle for field goals. At some point the Irish need to get over the hump when it comes to turning red zone trips into touchdowns, that's one of the final missing pieces for this unit.
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