No. 14 Stanford takes on No. 9 Notre Dame in South Bend on Saturday, continuing one of Stanford’s most well-known regular season series. The Stanford Daily’s Winston Shi had the opportunity to ask Isaac Lorton, assistant managing editor of The Observer (the newspaper of the University of Notre Dame and St. Mary’s College) a few questions about the Fighting Irish.
The Stanford Daily: This is Brian Kelly’s fifth year at Notre Dame. How do you evaluate his performance so far?
Lorton: He’s had some ups and downs, definitely, with the high point being the national championship [game in 2012], but I think it’s been hard for him to implement the offense he’s wanted, the one that he had in Cincinnati. It’s been hard to implement that because he hasn’t really had the personnel, but it seems more that this year he has the personnel to do that. I think a lot [of the reason why he didn’t before] was the circumstances, especially last year with [quarterback] Everett Golson not playing, and the people who were already here from the previous recruiting classes of Charlie Weis. So I think now this would be all of his own recruiting.
TSD: You bring up Golson. Opinion seemed pretty mixed about him in 2012. Obviously he missed last year. Much has been made of Golson’s lessons with [QB guru] George Whitfield when he was out, but how is Golson playing this year relative to two years ago, and do you think that with him ND’s offense can carry the Irish through the season?
Lorton: He was more of a game manager, I think, in 2012. The defense was more heavily relied on than I think it is this year because Golson wasn’t as, maybe, trusted – wasn’t as mature – which was why they brought in Tommy Rees in a few games to close out the games, or to get him out of certain situations. As far as this year, I think the team’s sentiment seems to be that he has matured and that he’s a leader of that team, rather than a game manager, and that he can go out – they trust him to go out and make plays if needed. The defense being much younger this year than it has been in the previous years – they’re still trying to figure some things out, whereas [the offense] can’t rely so much on the defense as they did in 2012.
— Stanford Football (@StanfordFball) September 30, 2014
TSD: How has replacing Bob Diaco with Brian VanGorder affected Notre Dame’s defense? Is the defense up to the historical Notre Dame standards that we’ve all come to expect?
Lorton: They switched schemes a little bit, going from the 3-4 to the 4-3, and they recruited more heavily for faster guys, quicker guys. And you see that in a lot of the guys who are now playing as sophomores, led by Jaylon Smith. It seems as though they’re going towards a faster defense, maybe not something as big as the Louis Nixes, the big power lines. I don’t think the defense has necessarily declined because Notre Dame is still only allowing 108 yards per game to rushing offenses – not quite up to Stanford standards, but it’s been a pretty solid defense so far this season. There have been a few issues in the secondary with injuries and people being out – there’s been a lot of chances and mixing up in the secondary, and I think that’s been exploited a few times, especially in the Rice game, but since then it hasn’t seemed to be an issue and the defense seems to be coming along pretty well.
TSD: Putting it all together, ND’s undefeated and ranked in the top 10 this season, but it also hasn’t played any top-tier opponents so far. How do you rate ND going into the Stanford game?
Lorton: I guess it’s kind of up in the air. It’s a lot of speculation. Stanford really is the first true test of Notre Dame. We thought it was going to be Michigan, but Michigan has turned out to be, well, not very good. We thought it was going to be Michigan, and that was definitely a big win for us, but they’ve been playing the way they have – it doesn’t look like they’re the greatest. Stanford’s definitely the first true test and we’ll kind of see if we’re worthy of that top 10 ranking. [As to whether it deserves that ranking right now,] I think it has played well enough.
TSD: Do you have a prediction for the game? What do the Irish need to do to beat the Cardinal, and the other way around?
Lorton: I’m holding off on predictions for the game because I haven’t even made that for our paper yet. But in order for Notre Dame to win, they definitely have to shut down the run game, and I think it will come down to shutting that run game, and not to give up any big plays in the secondary. Our offense has been producing, so I don’t think that will be the issue in this game. But as far as what Stanford needs to do, it’s similar. It needs to control Everett Golson, contain him, and not allow his running – and to balance both the containment and his passing ability.