Oct. 14, 2016
By John Heisler
Irish head coach Brian Kelly's 2016 Notre Dame football team returns to Notre Dame Stadium Saturday night to play host to Stanford following two straight road games. Here are five things to watch as the Irish play their second home prime-time game of the season:
Stanford has said very little about the health of its star running back and all-purpose performer. He apparently was injured in the third period of last week's Cardinal game against Washington State and was “pretty beaten up,” though he did return to warm up on the sidelines later in the contest. Said Stanford coach David Shaw, “He just got banged up during the course of the game. We'll be cautious with him as we are with all our guys here.” Shaw said McCaffrey's status probably would not be known until Friday or Saturday. If McCaffrey cannot go at all or is limited, that likely would have an affect on Stanford's potential offensive production, given the junior's normal all-around contributions.
2. Where does the Irish defense go from here?
Brian Kelly liked the way his defense responded against Syracuse and NC State in terms of passion and enthusiasm--and also reaching his goal of playing more people. The Irish secondary these days is heavily populated by freshmen, though Kelly notes that after six games they can't be considered rookies. The Raleigh weather played a role in last weekend's statistics—yet, regardless, Kelly and new defensive coordinator Greg Hudson appreciated the fact that the Irish displayed enough toughness in the miserable conditions to keep the NC State offense out of the end zone. Keeping future Irish opponents to 198 total yards (the number gained by the Wolfpack) won't be easy, but at least there's more confidence in the Notre Dame camp than there was three weeks back.
3. Both running games need a boost.
Both Stanford and Notre Dame are used to being able to play smash-mouth football when it comes to running the football. Yet that has not been easily accomplished by either unit in 2016. Neither team has been able to produce numbers that resemble what these programs like to brag about—even though backs like McCaffrey and Notre Dame's Josh Adams are deemed major threats. Expect both these teams Saturday to try to make strides in establishing something more on the ground than what their fans have seen in recent weeks.
4. Can Kizer and the Irish offense regain their touch?
Throw out the numbers from Raleigh because the weather heavily skewed them in the wrong direction. Before the NC State game, Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer and the Irish offense had been among the most productive attacks in Notre Dame history, at least from a statistical standpoint. The weather forecast for Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium is excellent—and no one is more excited about that than Kizer. While yardage and points generally have come easy to the Irish, Kelly wants his team to find ways to close out football games. Whether the score is 38-35 or 10-3, the Irish head coach expects some degree of future success to hinge on his squad's ability to make late-game plays.
5. Virtual reality
NextVR , the leader in broadcasting live events in virtual reality, will deliver several virtual reality features from the Notre Dame-Stanford game. Multiple NextVR virtual reality cameras will surround the field to provide viewers with different angles and vantage points. NextVR will release several highlight packages throughout the game in virtual reality, concluding each quarter with audio commentary from Notre Dame Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown and NBC announcers Dan Hicks, Doug Flutie and Kathryn Tappen. In addition, NextVR will offer additional exclusive content from Brown. Fans can access behind-the-scenes virtual reality game day experiences including tailgating, the Notre Dame player walk to Notre Dame Stadium and other pregame festivities, all of which will be available on-demand in mid-November. Fans can download the virtual reality experience of the Notre Dame-Stanford game on the free NextVR platform for Samsung Gear VR, which is available in the Oculus Home app store. Check the NBC Sports Channel on NextVR for game highlights and additional feature experiences. For more detailed instructions, go to http://www.NextVR.com/GetVR.
Check out this week's issue of Sports Illustrated (Dak Prescott is on the cover) for features on two former Notre Dame football players. Leading off the Scorecard section (pages 16 and 17) is a Pete Thamel piece on former receiver and current student assistant Corey Robinson. Then, on pages 30-35 comes a feature by Ben Baskin on former Irish captain and current Minnesota Viking safety Harrison Smith.
Senior associate athletics director John Heisler follows the Irish football scene for Fighting Irish Media. Look for his Sunday Brunch piece, an inside recap of what happens against Stanford as Brian Kelly's squad continues its 2016 season.