South Bend, IN (SportsNetwork.com) - The ninth-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish put their undefeated record on the line on Saturday afternoon, as they play host to the 14th-ranked Stanford Cardinal at Notre Dame Stadium.
Brian Kelly's Irish played a sloppy game last week, but still prevailed, knocking off Syracuse in East Rutherford, N.J. by a score of 31-15. With the win, Notre Dame moved to 4-0 on the young season.
David Shaw's Cardinal are playing their second straight road game after edging out Washington in Pac-12 action last time out, 20-13. The win evened Stanford's conference record at 1-1 and improved the team to 3-1 overall.
This marks the 29th all-time meeting between these two teams, with Notre Dame holding an 18-10 series advantage. Stanford won last year's matchup at home, 27-20. This is just the fourth time in the series that both teams come into the game ranked in the top 25.
The Cardinal aren't the flashiest squad around in terms of offensive philosophy. They enjoy ball control and stingy, smash mouth defense to get the job done. It is a gameplan that has worked well under Shaw's watchful eye.
Offensively, the team has enjoyed balance, resulting in 413.2 yards of total offense per game. The ground attack generates 165.5 ypg, while the passing attack puts up 247.8.
Quarterback Kevin Hogan has been quite efficient thus far, completing 71 percent of his passes, for 883 yards, with eight TDs against just two INTs.
The Cardinal possess star power at the wideout position with 6-2 senior Ty Montgomery. The veteran playmaker leads the team in receptions (26) and receiving yards (275) and is tied for the team-lead in TD catches (3). He also has a punt return for a touchdown.
Stanford had the luxury of a workhorse back leading the way on the ground for years. That is not the case this season. It has been a backfield by committee approach, with the team putting up 165.5 ypg, on a decent 4.7 ypc.
Defense is where Stanford really shines. The Cardinal are once again one of the most feared units in the country and the numbers certainly back that up. Stanford ranks first in the country in scoring defense (6.5 ppg), pass defense (74.0 ypg) and total defense (198.0 ypg). The Cardinal have accomplished that without a ton of big plays, with only 11 sacks and five forced turnovers to this point.
Shaw was asked about his defense compared to last year's impressive unit.
"We are playing at a really high level, but we played at a really high level last year also," said Shaw. " We haven't given up that long touchdown run or that long touchdown pass. Our guys have taken away the big plays to make people go the long way down the field and they haven't been able to do it. So, I think that's a debate that will continue."
Linebacker Blake Martinez leads the team with 31 total tackles on the season. Fellow linebacker A.J. Tarpley (24 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) is next in line. The linebacking corps also features youngster Peter Kalambayi (15 tackles), who leads the team in both TFL (5) and sacks (4).
The Irish are in the top 10 and back in the hunt for a national title thanks to the return of quarterback Everett Golson. The now junior was a caretaker under center in 2012 when the team made it all the way to the National Championship Game on the back of a devastating defense. Following a one-year hiatus, Golson has evolved into a Heisman candidate.
He didn't have a particularly sharp game against Syracuse (two INTs and two fumbles), but he still threw for 362 yards and four TDs in the win.
He now has completed 69.6 percent of his passes, for 1,142 yards and 11 TDs. He also has four more scores on the ground to his credit.
Wideout Will Fuller, who had a huge game against Syracuse (6 rec, 119 yds, 2 TDs) has emerged as a game-changer on the outside. He currently leads the team in receptions (25), receiving yards (344) and TD grabs (5).
The ground game is averaging a modest 158.8 ypg and like Stanford, has depth in the backfield, but no bell cow.
Again, like Stanford, Notre Dame enjoys playing stingy defense. The Irish rank fourth in the nation in scoring defense (11.5 ppg), with 10 forced turnovers in the first four games.
Sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith leads the team in tackles (31) and TFL (4) with one sack. Senior linebacker Joe Schmidt is a close second in tackles (30). Junior defensive end Sheldon Day (19 tackles) is a difference maker up front, while junior safety Elijah Shumate (21 tackles, 1 INT) headlines the play in the secondary.
Coach Kelly has the utmost respect for Stanford.
"I think we all know a lot about Stanford and Coach Shaw and the consistency that they have played at the national level," said Kelly. "We have a great deal of respect for their football team, their program, their coaching staff, their players. Just a deep and talented veteran team and we're just going to have to play really, really good football on Saturday."