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Notre Dame Football

Scouting Report | Stanford

November 24, 2021
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From 2011 to 2017, playing in Palo Alto was Brian Kelly’s kryptonite. He was 0-4 on the road against Stanford, which includes a crushing two-point loss in 2015 when the Irish had a chance at the College Football Playoff.

He flipped the script there in 2019 when the Irish beat Stanford by three touchdowns against a bad Stanford team and the good news for Kelly is that he is facing an even worse team this season.

David Shaw’s program is struggling. They’ve lost six straight for the first time since the Walt Harris days. They are 11-18 in the last three seasons and have been outscored in their last two home games 93-18.

It was not just that they got crushed, but the way they got crushed by Utah and Cal. Stanford used to be the bully. They clearly aren’t that anymore.

They’re ranked 98th in SP+ and 84th in FEI.

Injuries

One of their best players up front, starting guard Branson Bragg, is out for the season.

Outside linebacker Stephen Herron has missed the last two games and he was one of their better pass rushers.

Offense

The offense went through a stretch where they were playing well, but things have declined significantly in the second half of the season.

They are 100th in EPA per play, 99th in points per drive, 98th in yards per play, and 122nd in YPP in the month of November.

FEI has them 82nd and SP+ has them at 94th.

Expected Strengths

The quarterback is a good player. Former Tanner McKee was a top-50 recruit in the 2018 cycle, but he took an LDS mission and returned in 2020. He took over as the starter in the second game of the season and gave their offense a spark.

He’s 40th in total QBR and was playing like a top-20 quarterback for a good chunk of the season.

Tight end Ben Yurosek might be the best tight end in the Pac-12. He’s a problem in the intermediate areas and they won’t be shy about throwing him 50/50 balls.

Potential Weaknesses

Woof, the running game is bad.

They’re 125th in average line yards, 112th in yards per carry, 123rd in Stuff Rate, and 109th in EPA per rush. They aren’t anywhere close to where they used to be up front and don’t have a Christian McCaffrey or anywhere close to that in the backfield.

They’re 103rd in sack rate so they don’t protect the quarterback all too well either. Right tackle Myles Hinton in particular has struggled in protection. The running backs aren’t very good in protection either so that’s something that I would expect Notre Dame to exploit.

Without the run-heavy offense of the past, they can’t play keep away like they used to. They’re 102nd in time of possession and they can’t execute well enough to stay on the field. They’re 111th in 3rd down conversion percentage.

I do believe McKee is a good player and has a chance to be a great one, but he started out fast with 11 touchdowns and no picks in the first five games. Since then he’s only thrown three touchdowns compared to seven interceptions. With little help from the running game and the offensive line not playing as well, the regression for him was inevitable.

Scheme

They still have many of the same elements of the Stanford offense that Notre Dame fans are used to seeing, which hasn’t been a good thing for them. Shaw’s offense hasn’t evolved enough as things have changed in college football, although they do sneak in some RPOs.

They aren’t trying to play at a fast pace. They average only 61.8 plays per game.

It’s a pass-happy offense. They throw the ball 55.4% of the time, which is 16th in the country. Even going back to 2017, it’s easy to see how things have changed with them being 90th in that statistic.

They still run a good amount of heavy formations and will move Yurosek around to play outside. They throw a lot of 50/50 balls and ask too much of the receivers to win those matchups.

Key Players

QB Tanner McKee - He missed the Utah and Oregon State games with an injury, but was back for Cal. He averaged only 5.6 yards per attempt against Stanford’s biggest rival.

TE Ben Yurosek - 15.4 is a healthy clip for a tight end. Another Stanford tight end with an NFL future.

RB Austin Jones - Their lead back who has also chipped in with 30 catches. Only one game all season with over 4.0 YPC.

WR Elijah Higgins - 6’3” 235 and another jump ball red zone target.

Key for Notre Dame

Get to McKee

It seems like a simple formula, but it really is that simple. Teams have sacked him 16 times in his last four starts and he’s been really bad when pressured. He’s completed only 30.4% of his passes when pressured in those games and his YPA is only 2.1.

Defense

Where have you gone Derek Mason and Vic Fangio? This defense continues to be unrecognizable from the units that helped them become a consistent winner over the last decade.

112th in EPA per play, 102nd in points per drive, and 112th in YPP (126th in November). It’s gotten ugly.

They are 89th in FEI and 106th in SP+.

Expected Strengths

They do have some quality players that could play for most teams in the country.

OLB Gabe Reid is a twitchy pass rusher and DL Thomas Booker should have a lengthy NFL career ahead of him. He’s their best player up front.

CB Kyu Blu Kelly is a long corner that finds the football. He has 12 total Havoc plays including two interceptions, one for a pick six.

Unlike many of the recent defenses Notre Dame has faced, they haven’t given up the big play through the air very often. They are 8th in receptions of 20+ yards allowed, which is remarkable given where they rank as a defense.

Potential Weaknesses

The run defense is putrid. It’s beyond putrid. It’s embarrassing for them when considering how they have traditionally played under Jim Harbaugh and Shaw.

They are 118th in EPA per rush, 126th in YPC, 127th in average line yards, and 124th in Stuff Rate. Only Akron has a worse run defense grade from PFF than the Cardinal.

The scary part is that they’ve gotten worse. They’re allowing 7.7 YPC in November. They gave up 10.4 YPC vs Cal and 9.6 YPC against Utah. The run fits have been bad and the tackling has been atrocious.

But, but, but wait it gets worse...Stanford is 120th in sack rate. Outside of Reid, they don’t have anyone who frightens you one bit as a pass rusher.

They don’t create negative plays to help themselves out either. Their Havoc Rate is 12% and they’re 124th in tackles for loss per game.

They might not give up the big play, but they give up way too much in the passing game as a whole. They’re 118th in EPA per pass.

Oh, they also can’t get off the field. They’re 117th in 3rd down percentage.

Scheme

They play three down as their base, but will play four down a decent amount. All in all, it’s pretty vanilla.

There might not be a more passive defense when it comes to bringing pressure. They have only blitzed quarterbacks on 18.1% of drop backs and there really hasn’t been a game where they have flipped that.

Maybe that changes this week? What else do they have to lose. They aren’t stopping anyone with the way they are currently playing.

Key Players

Edge Gabe Reid - 23% win rate as a pass rusher is top-20 in the country. He doesn’t have the sack numbers, but his 13 total Havoc plays are a better reflection of his game.

DL Thomas Booker - His length can disrupt the quarterback, but he lacks down to down consistency as a pass rusher.

CB Kyu Blu Kelly - He’s only given up two touchdowns on the season and the last one was in week four against UCLA.

Key for Notre Dame

Don’t overthink it

They’ve shown who they are as a run defense. There will be times when Notre Dame can take shots in the passing game, but if they simply execute in the running game, the backfield is going to eat all night long.

Special Teams

K Josh Karty is 10 of 14 on field goals, but three of his four misses have come from beyond 50-yards.

P Ryan Sanborn is averaging 42.9 yards per punt this season.

Booker has blocked three field goals in the last two seasons.

Stanford isn’t swinging the game with their special teams.

Overview

This is easily the worst Stanford team that Brian Kelly has faced while at Notre Dame. Even if they bring their best to this matchup, they still don’t have enough game wreckers to come close to matching the best players from Notre Dame.

They played Cal tough early in the game and missed some opportunities that deflated them. If Notre Dame starts fast, then I expect an even lighter than usual Stanford crowd to not stick around to watch the beatdown.

 
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