The seventh-ranked Fighting Irish are unlike pretty much any team No. 17 Stanford has seen up to this point. Unless the Cardinal compare what they see in the mirror to the product Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly puts on the field.
Senior running back Theo Riddick is just one player Stanford is mindful of before heading to South Bend Saturday
“You could also say they have some similarities to us, which is a big, physical defense and a running game that they want to stick to no matter who they play,” said second-year Stanford coach David Shaw, who brings his 4-1 squad to South Bend Saturday. “The styles might be a little different, but I think we’re also pretty similar as far as our philosophies on playing the game of football.”
Their educational approaches also share a common thread. Saturday’s contest marks the first time two universities on the U.S. News & World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges” list will square off when both ranked in the top 20 of the weekly football polls. They’ve been battling each other for years for the right recruits that fit their congruent profiles.
The biggest challenge for each school is to distinguish itself from the other.
“We’re different than everybody,” Shaw proclaimed. “Our guys have to complete an application before we send them a Letter of Intent. Our guys need to get into school. Our guys need to take [advanced placement] classes. For us, it’s more difficult than basically every school. We show them what the positives are.
“Stanford University is always going to be a top-five education in America and one of the best in the world. To do that and combine that with high-level football is appealing. Not to mention [we’re in] Palo Alto, Calif., and all the positives about this area and Silicon Valley, etc. What we just do is play to our strengths. We’ll go after the young men that all those things are appealing to.”
The recruiting tug of war will undoubtedly continue up until National Signing Day. There are more immediate concerns for Shaw and Co., however.
“It’s hard not to start with Manti Te’o,” Shaw said after a long exhale. “He just continues to get better. He looks bigger than he’s looked in years past. The guy reads quarterbacks; he reads route combinations. His acceleration from point A to point B has to be the best in college football. Once he sees it and diagnosis it, it doesn’t matter — sideline to sideline — he can get after you.
“Besides that, the way Louis Nix is playing, along with Stephon Tuitt. Those guys inside, they make it tough to single block them. You have to try and double-team them. If you double-team them, then you leave the linebackers ready to roam. They’ve got a really good thing going. They’ve got good size and good speed. They’re a tough team to beat obviously.”
Notre Dame’s offense, which ran through, over and around Miami last week to the tune of 376 rushing yards — the most since it put up since 2000 — isn’t foreign to the Cardinal, which have already faced some sound running teams in USC (158 yards per game), Washington (137) and Arizona (183). It’s that Notre Dame (187.4) is doing it with a three-headed attack that gives the Irish fresh legs on nearly every snap.
“I think the difference is these guys can rotate backs that can hurt you,” Shaw explained. “They have three backs that can really … if you give them a crease they can take it the distance. [Theo] Riddick, [George] Atkinson and [Cierre] Wood, I mean, these are really, really good running backs. We’ve got to be in our gaps; we’ve got to be where we need to be. We can’t miss tackles. You miss a tackle on these guys and you’re lining up for a PAT.”