1. Force Stanford to win through the air. This was Notre Dame’s strategy last year, as Christian McCaffrey was held under 100 yards but Kevin Hogan threw as many incompletions as touchdowns (four) in that 38-36 loss. McCaffrey, if he plays, hasn’t been effective recently (84 yards on 20 carries against Washington and Washington State) but is still the unquestioned best player on this Cardinal offense. Shutting him and Stanford running game down and forcing quarterbacks Ryan Burns/Keller Chryst to pass frequently, even with Notre Dame’s young secondary, is the best strategy Saturday night.
2. Get a few sacks. Notre Dame only has three sacks this year, an embarrassingly low number, but Washington State entered its games against Stanford last weekend with only four. The Cougars tallied three sacks en route to limiting Stanford to just 16 points — and if they can do it against a stunningly scuffling Cardinal offensive line, maybe so can Notre Dame.
3. Convert third downs. Stanford’s defense has been awful at allowing third down conversions (47.8 percent, 118th in FBS), while Notre Dame’s offense only converted 39.4 percent of its third down tries before that stat-skewing loss in a hurricane at N.C. State last weekend. Stanford’s defense doesn’t allow many big plays, but if Notre Dame’s offense can just take what’s given, it should have no problem going up and down the field on Saturday.
Prediction: Notre Dame 31, Stanford 27. The Irish temporarily right the ship as DeShone Kizer returns to form and Notre Dame’s defense is able to generate a few sacks (really!) and TFLs against a suspect Cardinal offense.