Whether Stanford’s offense and quarterback Josh Nunes have progressed as far as their showing against Arizona would suggest will be tested when the No. 17 Cardinal (4-1) plays No. 7 Notre Dame (5-0) on the road Saturday.
Rolling up 617 yards and 54 points at home against Arizona’s mediocre, injury-plagued defense was one thing, but moving the ball successfully and scoring against Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., is an entirely different challenge.
The Irish rank second in the country in scoring defense, and they have not allowed a single touchdown in their past three games, all against quality opponents: then-No. 10 Michigan State, then-No. 18 Michigan and Miami, which was 4-1 entering Saturday’s game against Notre Dame. None of those three scored more than six points against the Irish, who not only stop opposing offenses but create a lot of turnovers, having recorded 13 takeaways this season. Plus, Notre Dame may have the best defensive player in the country in linebacker Manti Te’o.
“We’re not a great team right now, but we’re getting better,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “And the one thing we have is guys who have won a lot of games. You can’t discount that experience.”
Nunes was outstanding in the 54-48 overtime victory against Arizona on Saturday, particularly in the fourth quarter, when he engineered a comeback from a 14-point deficit in the final nine minutes. But the Wildcats have one of the worst defenses in the country now that so many of their defenders are sidelined by injuries.
Plus, in his only previous road game, Nunes struggled mightily against Washington, as the Cardinal failed to score an offensive touchdown against the Huskies.
On the other hand, Notre Dame does not present as many offensive problems for Stanford as Arizona did when the Wildcats torched the previously impenetrable Stanford defense for 617 yards and 48 points.
Neither of the two Notre Dame quarterbacks who have seen considerable playing time this season — starter Everett Golson or Tommy Rees — is the passing threat that Arizona’s Matt Scott was out of Arizona’s spread-option offense, although Golson is coming off the best game of his career.