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Cardinal picking it up

Elliott Almond of the San Jose Mercury News talks about Stanford's new quarterback, its smothering run defense and how the Cardinal fare against Notre Dame.
Posted on Oct. 12, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

STANFORD, Calif. — The ESPN College GameDay bus has rolled into South Bend with the No. 18 Stanford Cardinal not far behind it.

Elliott Almond, a college sports writer with the San Jose Mercury News, was in the hot seat this week to talk about Stanford's passing game, its ferocious run defense and how the Cardinal fare against No. 7 Notre Dame.

Q: Fans around here breathed a sigh of relief when Andrew Luck went to the NFL. How is his replacement, Josh Nunes, faring this year? How's his chemistry with the receiving corps and those monstrous tight ends?

Elliott Almond: Firstly, Josh Nunes is not Andrew Luck and never will be. The question, then, is whether Josh is a quality Division I quarterback. So far I cannot tell other than to say he has real potential. Everyone needs to remember that he played seven downs in a college game before this season.

As a result, his last game competition came in high school four years ago. In other words, Josh still is feeling his way around the complexities of game situations.

If there has been a fault it has been a lack of cohesiveness with the receivers, including the tight ends. Sometimes the receivers have not helped by dropping balls that should be caught. That really has hurt Josh's confidence though he'd never acknowledge it. Other times Nunes has struggled with underthrown passes on simple 5-yard routes. He seems to have corrected the later in the last game against Arizona.

If Nunes really has made big strides as shown against an awful Arizona defense then Stanford might be competitive against the Irish. However, if it is the Josh of the Washington game then Notre Dame fans should expect to enjoy some serious payback.

One other thought: The reason you can never count Nunes out is because he is a great competitor who stays composed. He will try to do what it takes to win the game. In other words, he possesses some of Andrew Luck's intangible qualities.

Q: As Le'Veon Bell and Denard Robinson learned, Notre Dame's defense doesn't give up a lot of yards on the ground. How do you see the matchup between the Irish front seven and tailback Stepfan Taylor and the Stanford offensive line playing out?

EA: This is where the game will be won. If Notre Dame does not allow Stepfan to get into a rhythm then Nunes will be rendered ineffective. So the Irish will win that side of the ball and keep Stanford from scoring much.

The Cardinal must get Taylor going. It looks like he will have his main backup Anthony Wilkerson returning to the lineup. That could help though Stepfan dislikes leaving the field.

To specifically answer your question, the Stanford O-line has not proven to be overly dominant in the past two games. I get the sense Notre Dame can exploit this situation.

Q: Stanford's defense was in the Top 25 in points allowed until Arizona put up 48 points on the Cardinal last week. Was that just an off-game for the defense, or did the Wildcats expose some big weaknesses?

A: It wasn't exactly an off game for Stanford. It was more the result of facing a spread offense. The Cardinal has recently struggled with slowing down spreads.

It has been unable to stop Oregon the past seasons for example. I am looking forward to seeing how the front seven responds to Notre Dame's more traditional formation.

If there are weaknesses it remains speed in the secondary. While the current crew is faster than the previous ones they don't have the same experience yet. It does seem to be an area the Irish can exploit.

But I would remind fans to look back at the USC game. Stanford defenders proved capable against another talented and fast team.

Q: Again with defense, the Cardinal has one of the best run defenses in the country (No. 6) but scrapes the bottom of the barrel in pass defense (No. 113). Notre Dame knows how it feels to start young guys in the secondary. Is that the case with Stanford or is it something more?

A: It's my belief that Stanford coaches feel they have super talented players in the secondary now. They say they are more athletic than before. But the secondary lost its two senior captains and is feeling its way a bit.

It's clear Ed Reynolds is something special and he and his crew know they will need to be extra focused this weekend. Stanford also seems stronger at cornerback than during the Luck Era.

Q: At least from Notre Dame's end, there couldn't be more hype surrounding this game. College GameDay is coming to South Bend. NFL Films spent a week and a half with the team. If Stanford is going to spoil the Irish party, what will the Cardinal have to do on both sides of the ball?

EA: From what I have seen through five games I don't see Notre Dame losing it. But anything can happen in college football as they like to say.

For starters, the Stanford front seven will need to return to the way it played before Arizona. The linebackers and defensive ends must get to Golson and Rees, whoever is calling signals.

If Chase Thomas and Ben Gardner and bring the heat it will alleviate the pressure on everyone trying to shut down George Atkinson III, Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick. It also will help prevent the quarterbacks from making the morale-killing deep plays to receivers.

Stepfan Taylor needs to get a rhythm going on first and second downs to help Nunes get into a comfort zone. If they do that then the Irish can expect to face a serious challenge.


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