Stanford’s Love Is Stronger Than Notre Dame’s in Primetime Game

Monday, September 24, 2018 3:25 PM UTC

Monday, Sep. 24, 2018 3:25 PM UTC

Notre Dame hosts Stanford on Saturday in a battle of undefeated, top-10 teams. Each teams boasts a star named "Love," but Stanford’s will help give his team the edge.

Rainman's Notre Dame Betting Record: 2-2

No. 7 Stanford (4-0) at No. 8 Notre Dame (4-0)Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBC)Free NCAAF Pick: Stanford +4.5Best Line Offered: GTBets

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Last Saturday, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly made the unexpected decision to replace quarterback Brandon Wimbush with a competent passer. Ian Book allowed Notre Dame’s offense to be aggressive and win the game instead of having to rely on the defense, which rested in the fourth quarter. Kelly unleashed another new offensive innovation by lining up speedsters Jafari Armstrong and Avery Davis out wide. He had mostly confined Armstrong to between the tackles and Davis was largely absent from the offense. Against Wake, they showed off their potential by complementing the strength of Notre Dame’s power running back and big-bodied receivers.

The decision to start Book was not announced until game day. The late announcement was not just unfortunate for us, but also for Wake Forest’s defensive coordinator, who got fired after his team allowed 56 points. He was clearly not ready to face Book, although partly for good reason. Wake Forest’s pass defense had been getting shredded by the deep ball and Wimbush is known for having a good arm. Wake’s coordinator did not want Notre Dame to do what Boston College did — establish a power running game and then launch play-action passes to receivers so wide open downfield that even Wimbush could probably hit them. So, Wake played the entire game in deep zone coverage. The problem with this strategy is that it’s absolutely the worst one possible against Book. Book, unlike Wimbush, does not have an arm. All he did was all he could do and what Wake’s defense gave him — stand in an amazingly clean pocket and complete shorter passes. When Wake’s now former defensive coordinator interviews for a job, i’m sure his prospective employer will ask why he didn’t adjust his defense based on Book’s strengths.

It’s true that Book is more accurate than Wimbush, but that’s not saying much. Don’t forget that Book had always worked in special situations such as mop-up duty and relief against defenses that hadn’t game planned for him. Wimbush had always beaten him out for the starting position. Besides the fact that Wimbush is a better runner, (although Book’s mobility is noteworthy) the numbers don’t substantiate a significant difference between the two. For example, in 76 passes attempted this season, Wimbush threw four interceptions. Last season, in 74 attempted passes, Book also threw four interceptions. Book’s quarterback rating was only five points higher than Wimbush’s is. Book's performance against Wake last Saturday doesn’t prove improvement because last year he was 8-for-8 with a touchdown against a similar Wake defense that has been a catastrophe since missing the now departed safety Jessie Bates.

Book won’t benefit from the same clean pocket against a Stanford defensive line that has responded to doubters by achieving 13 sacks combined against San Diego State, USC, and Oregon and will look to maintain that success against a Notre Dame pass protection that has been inconsistent after the departure of two first-rounders and the position coach. Moreover, Stanford’s linebackers and secondary will do an even better job of challenging both Book and Notre Dame’s rush attack because they are elite. The linebacking corps returns five with starting experience. The foremost linebackers include outside linebacker Joey Alfieri, who is notorious for wreaking havoc in the backfield and leads the team with four tackles for loss. He is underrated because he had to spend last year at inside linebacker. Sean Barton, with his speed and physicality, leads the team in tackles. The secondary features cornerback Alijah Holder, whose tackling ability and low opposing catch and yards per reception rates substantiate his elite status. When the Stanford corners watch film on the career backup Book, they’ll learn to exploit his long windups and telegraphing tendencies.

Notre Dame’s defense faces its toughest test. Quarterback K.J. Costello is enjoying huge strides in his second year as Stanford starter, throwing for more yards per pass attempt and more touchdowns.

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Costello has great size, leadership, pocket presence, arm strength, and accuracy in all three levels of the field. He benefits from a number of receivers with great size and route running ability, above all JJ Arcega-Whiteside, who has 408 receiving yards and seven touchdowns this season. Arcega-Whiteside is a jump-ball threat who can reliably catch 50-50 balls and is also able to juke out opposing corners to get open. He isn’t as big as tight end Kaden Smith, another jump ball threat who caught six passes for 95 yards against Oregon and is another mismatch against Notre Dame’s secondary. Osiris St. Brown is also a deep threat with his speed. He caught a 49-yard pass against Oregon. Lastly, Costello benefits from a solid offensive line that returns 94 career starts and four blockers with All-Pac 12 honors. Notre Dame ranks only 98th in sack percentage. Stanford's o-line will help superstar running back Bryce Love thrive with his improved health. Love combines the ability to power through defenders with the ability to make defenders miss at the second and third levels and to use his breakaway speed for large gains.

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