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Four Down Territory: Stanford vs. Notre Dame

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Tommy Rees may be up in arms when Stanford dials up the pressure. Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images.
Tommy Rees may be up in arms when Stanford dials up the pressure. Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images.

While neither Stanford or Notre Dame have much at stake the final week of the regular season, they'd each love to add another victory to their totals and inch up the AP poll. They face off tonight at 7 p.m. ET on Fox.

First Down: Not Taking The Week Off

Stanford locked up the Pac-12 North with its win against Cal and Oregon's loss to Arizona. While the stakes appear to be low for Stanford (9-2) when they face Notre Dame (8-3), the team needs every win it can get. A few losses could be the difference between a Rose Bowl berth and a lack of a decent bowl. A loss to Notre Dame and in the Pac-12 title game would push them out of any bowl worth attending, and Stanford wants retribution from last year's loss.

In the final seconds, running back Stepfan Taylor failed to break the goal line according to the call on the field, but replay appeared to show he scored. It deprived Stanford of a one-loss season in a year where there were no unbeaten, bowl-eligible teams. It was one call that — in hindsight — greatly affected the outcome of the bowl schedule.

Second Down: Shades Of Hogan

Who is this guy?

Kevin Hogan has been serviceable against strong opponents. With the exception of USC, he is an accurate passer and a good runner who gets first downs. He does his best not to turn the ball over. Against lesser opponents, he really turns it on. He had a huge five-touchdown performance against Cal. Then there was the aforementioned outlier loss to USC where he threw two interceptions and no touchdowns.

His performances season by season indicate that he leans upon the strength of the positional groups.

Last season, he threw 42 percent of his throws to tight ends. This season, he has thrown only six percent to tight ends. He relied almost exclusively on receivers — and mostly downfield. According to ESPN stats, Hogan is completing 50 percent of his passes thrown 25 yards or longer this season, which is 20 percent better than last season.

So we know he will be passing to receivers for the remainder of the year, but how will Hogan be used for the rest of the season? And with so much young talent on the roster next season, will Hogan show signs of a higher ceiling?

Third Down: Linebacker Love

I explained just how good the Stanford senior linebackers are, and James Vaughters deserves some love too. The linebackers have been the only constant group of players on the team, providing consistency and leadership.

The grouping will combine to defend Notre Dame’s one-two punch of Cam McDaniel and George Atkinson III. McDaniel had a 117-yard performance against BYU last week and Atkinson averages 6.2 yards per carry. As Stanford has done with almost every team, it will hold Notre Dame under its season average on the ground and limit the Irish running game for all 60 minutes.

Fourth Down: Rees’ Pieces

At the beginning of the season, I thought Tommy Rees would give Stanford a better chance to win this game than last year's quarterback Everett Golson, who isn't enrolled at Notre Dame this semester due to academic fraud. I was wrong. Receivers T.J. Jones and DaVaris Daniels have helped Rees put up 25 touchdowns, more than double what Golson recorded last year. Rees, however, has been turnover prone, throwing five of his 11 interceptions in the last three games. Perhaps players like Jordan Richards and Ed Reynolds can shake his confidence early and pick on him all day long.