It seems like bookies are finally getting wise to the Notre Dame rivalry effect.
2 weeks ago, the Irish visited Miami for another “Catholics vs Convicts” rematch and lost 41-8, almost crushing any hopes to reach the College Football Playoff. Notre Dame is also getting panned by pundits for “only” beating Navy 24 to 17, even though the Midshipmen are a bitter foe and beat UND by a similar score in 2016.
Pundits are looking at both games as proof that the ’17 Irish are overrated. In reality, Miami is always a threat to beat Notre Dame, and Navy will always be a tough out whether the game is in Annapolis or South Bend. The Fighting Irish played so well over the first 9 weeks that their critics are overreacting to the last 2. Going 1-1 against talented rivals is not the end of the world.
Sports books, to their credit, are not overreacting. Despite Stanford having beaten Washington, then winning The Big Game over Cal in November, the odds still have UND a slight favorite to march into northern California and whip the Cardinal this Saturday night.
Who: Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Stanford Cardinal
When: Saturday, November 25th, 7 PM EST
Where: Stanford Stadium, Stanford, CA
Lines: UND (-2.5) at Stanford (+2.5) / O/U Total: (57)
If there’s one true long-term concern for the Irish after the last 2 weeks, it’s a running game that has gone from indomitable to average in a very short time.
UND’s rushing stats have been mind-boggling this season. Coach Brian Kelly’s read-option attack has flourished with Brandon Wimbush at the helm, gobbling up 3000+ yards on the season and an amazing 6.6 yards per carry. But the OL took a step backward against Miami, only producing about 100 yards on the ground. Navy then successfully bottled up Irish running backs in the 1st half of last week’s game despite a size and speed mismatch. Notre Dame’s offense came alive and carried the team in the 2nd, but how will it perform against Stanford?
The Cardinal defense is well-coached and can adjust to stopping either a great passer or a great runner. It’s not well-suited to stop everything all the time. Stanford was upset by SDSU early in the season, giving up almost 200 yards to Rashaad Penny and failing to harass QB Christian Chapman. USC beat them in a similar fashion, scoring 42 points with a versatile offense that didn’t let Stanford stack the box OR throw away its run-blitz package.
Opposing RB Myles Gaskin got his yards but no big plays in the 30-22 win over Washington. The containment up-front allowed the Cardinal secondary to focus on stopping Jake Browning through the air. With RB Bryce Love coming into his own as a superstar, it didn’t take much for Stanford’s defense to win the advantage – just force a few 3-and-outs and let the offense control the ball with long drives.
The Irish haven’t had a great day on defense since a 35-14 win over NC State back in October. Stanford could have a distinct advantage in the 1st half, riding on home-field momentum and the fact that their offense is more vanilla and therefore less likely to be stoned in the 1st quarter. An off-tackle handoff to Love is simple enough – block well and the play will work. Kelly and Wimbush, meanwhile, run an offense which can be prolific but becomes more effective as the game wears on.
Though odds-makers are absolutely correct not to discount the Irish based on a couple of tough weeks, the point spread should probably give Stanford a slight edge. The teams are evenly-matched with 2 great running games, 2 decent passing games and 2 marauding defenses.
But Fear the Tree. Stanford is at home, which will give the front-7 an extra burst in rushing Wimbush. At some point, the Irish will have to pass – and 3rd-down conversions won’t come as easy this time as in the close win over Navy. Bryce Love is a better RB than anyone carrying for the visitors.
Stanford is the pick, ATS or on the money line.