Stacking Up: Notre Dame Offense vs. Stanford
#16 Notre Dame (9-2) will look to end its 2019 regular season on a high note when it travels to Stanford (4-7). Stanford Stadium has been a house of horrors for Notre Dame over the last decade, but the Irish will face a struggling Stanford squad.
We kick off Notre Dame vs. Stanford with a breakdown of how the Irish offense stacks up on paper against the Cardinal defense.
NOTRE DAME SCORING OFFENSE vs. STANFORD SCORING DEFENSE
Advantage: Notre Dame
After playing erratic football for much of the season, the Notre Dame offense has started to heat up in recent weeks. Over its last three games, Notre Dame has averaged 41.0 offensive points per game while racking up 460 yards per game and 6.5 yards per play.
The Irish offense has done it in different ways, ripping Duke with the ground game, blasting Navy through the air and using a bit more of a balanced approach against Boston College. Notre Dame was able to overcome inefficiency against Boston College, putting the game away in the second half when the Irish defense gave it short fields.
Notre Dame’s offense has been fueled by one of the nation’s best red zone units, and a group that has limited turnovers. The Irish rank 15th in the country in red zone offense, and its red zone touchdown rate ranks ninth in the country. Notre Dame has turned the ball over just 11 times all season, which ranks the offense 13th in the land.
The Irish have benefitted from playing a softer schedule in recent weeks. After averaging just 20.0 points per game against three Top 40 scoring defenses through the first eight games, Notre Dame was able to score 38 points and 40 points against the 85th and 105th ranked scoring defenses in the country (Duke, Boston College).
Stanford will present a similar test to both Duke and Boston College.
During its rise to prominence that began in 2010, the Cardinal played outstanding defense. From 2010 to 2014, Stanford allowed more than 19 points per game in just one season. It started to dip in 2017, giving up 22.7 and 22.9 points per game, the most by a Stanford defense since 2009.
The wheels came off this fall, with a depleted Stanford defense giving up 28.5 points per game, which ranks 71st in the country. Stanford is giving up 428.9 yards per game and 6.3 yards per play, which ranks the defense 94th and 103rd in the country, respectively. Stanford’s third-down defense ranks 122nd and it has forced just 12 turnovers in 11 games, which ranks 111th.
USC (45 points), UCF (45) and Washington State (49) have all scored over 40 points against the Cardinal defense. It has given up at least 28 points in six games. Compare that to a Notre Dame defense that has given up at least 28 points just four times in the last three seasons combined.
NOTRE DAME RUSH OFFENSE vs. STANFORD RUSH DEFENSE
Advantage: Notre Dame
This is the most even matchup of the game, at least on paper, but the Irish still hold the advantage based on the quality of the opposition they have faced.
Notre Dame has shown flashes with its ground game, but it has also struggled mightily at times. The Irish had excellent performances against USC (308 yards) and Duke (288 yards), but it was held below 50 rushing yards by the two best run defenses it faced this season (Georgia - 46 yards, Michigan - 47 yards).
In fact, Notre Dame played five Top 40 rush defenses this season, and it averaged just 100.0 yards and 2.9 yards per rush in those five contests, with sacks removed from the numbers. Against the five worst run defenses on the schedule — teams that rank between No. 79 and No. 124 — Notre Dame averaged 257.4 rush yards per game and 6.3 yards per attempt.
The Stanford run defense ranks right in the middle of those two groups, and has been just as inconsistent as the Irish run offense. Stanford ranks 57th in the country in rush defense, and its 4.4 yards allowed per rush ranks 77th. Stanford has held three opponents (Northwestern, Oregon, Washington) to less than 100 yards rushing, and Washington State had just 104 yards against the Cardinal defense.
UCLA (263 yards) and Arizona (222 yards) both topped 200 yards and UCF racked up 198 yards on the ground against Stanford. Stanford has played just three Top 50 rushing offenses this season, and only UCF ranks in the Top 25.
Stanford is a bit undersized on defense, with none of the starters in its 3-4 defense topping 300 pounds, and just two weigh 280 pounds or more.
NOTRE DAME PASS OFFENSE vs. STANFORD PASS DEFENSE
Advantage: Notre Dame
Notre Dame dominates this matchup on paper. The Irish have a quality pass offense, and it’s been at its best in recent games. Notre Dame ranks in the Top 50 in six of the categories listed above while the Cardinal rank in the Top 50 in just one.
The Irish pass offense has thrived in the red zone, which is partly why its red zone offense has been so effective and why the offense has 32 touchdown throws this season. Starting quarterback Ian Book has 29 of those touchdown passes compared to just six interceptions.
Notre Dame ranks 28th in the nation in pass efficiency with a 151.62 rating, but over the last three games it has registered a 166.67 pass efficiency rating. For context purposes, if that number was extended over the entire season the offense would rank 11th in pass efficiency. Notre Dame has thrown 12 touchdowns against just two interceptions during that stretch.
Senior wide receiver Chase Claypool has been outstanding all season, leading the Irish with 56 receptions, 828 yards and 10 touchdowns. Claypool has been especially effective over the last month, with the standout receiver averaging 6.8 receptions and 98.0 yards while catching six touchdowns in the last four games.
Getting fifth-year senior Chris Finke back on track has benefitted the pass game as well. After catching just 15 passes for 182 yards in the first seven games, Finke has hauled in 20 passes for 228 yards and three touchdowns over the last four games, and he's been especially good on third-down.
Stanford’s pass defense has been bad all season, but it has been especially poor over the last month. The Cardinal rank 118th in passing yards allowed, 102nd in yards allowed per attempt, 107th in touchdowns allowed and 109th in pass efficiency defense.
In its most recent game, Stanford allowed California’s 100th-ranked pass offense to complete 66.7-percent of its passes for 285 yards. A week prior, Stanford surrendered 520 yards and five touchdown passes to Washington State in a 49-22 loss.
Nine of Stanford’s 11 opponents have completed at least 60-percent of their throws, and four have completed at least 70-percent of their throws. Five opponents have thrown for at least three touchdowns against the Stanford defense.