Notre Dame preparing for physical test against Stanford

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Notre Dame preparing for physical test against Stanford

Last week was fast and athletic. This week, it's big and physical.

Miami came out swinging last week, and would've jumped out to an early lead had wide receiver Phillip Dorsett not dropped two sure-fire touchdown passes. Notre Dame weathered that storm and went on to hold the 'Canes to just three points, extending the team's touchdown-less streak to 12 quarters.

On Saturday, Notre Dame's opponent has a different offensive profile.

"Theyre a run-first team, theyll try to smash it down your throat and then throw a shot pass or something, so you really gotta be locked in on your assignment each and every play," safety Matthias Farley said of Stanford's offense. "If you have a tight end, then you have to be locked in on the tight end or whatever it is, because the tight ends are big, theyre fast, theyre physical and they can lull you to sleep with the run."

Tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo are matchup nightmares for a defense, and the pair top Cardinal pass-catchers in receptions. But running back Stepfan Taylor is who makes Stanford's offense go, carrying 119 times for 555 yards and five touchdowns.

"He's fast, he's strong, he's a powerful runner, and he keeps his legs moving, which makes it hard for opponents to bring him down," linebacker Manti Te'o said. "I played against him my sophomore year, and the strides he's made to improve his game have really shown. He's doing really good."

In two games against Notre Dame -- both wins for Stanford -- Taylor has rushed 226 yards on 48 carries. He's gone above 100 yards on the ground in both games, acting as an offspeed pitch for an offense led by Andrew Luck.

This year, though, the roles are reversed. Taylor is the go-to guy, while Stanford's passing game is the change of pace.

While Notre Dame has seen opposing defenses roll coverages to keep the ball out of Tyler Eifert's hands, teams haven't been able to do that against Stanford. Roll to Ertz, they'll throw to Toilolo, and vice versa.

"It's basically a skinnier lineman running up that can catch that has some speed," Te'o said. "Whenever you have that threat, it's similar to the threat, a dual threat quarterback."

"It's a nightmare," coach Brian Kelly explained. "Tyler Eifert is the same problem if we split him out, if we put the ball in a good location he's going to catch it every time so we've got to have some answers there. If it just becomes a matchup every time, we're going to have to look at some different key coverages. So we're aware of what our problems are and we'll have to address them if the game shows them to be real issues."

Stanford's offense was at its best last week, scoring 54 points in a shootout win over Arizona. Taylor rushed for 142 yards and two touchdowns, while Ertz and Toilolo combined to catch 11 passes for 205 yards and two scores. On the flip side, though, Stanford's defense gave up 48 points and 617 yards to an offense that had quarterback Matt Scott throw 69 times.

"I think Arizona's quarterback was outstanding. I don't know that he played at a level that he's never played before because I didn't have enough film to watch, but I hadn't seen a guy play that well so the quarterback was outstanding," Kelly said. "Arizona got worn down. They're not a big, physical team. Stanford started to exert their will on them and that's how that game got up into the higher numbers. The quarterback was outstanding for Arizona, and then Stanford just wore them out."

Stanford has shown it's equipped for a shootout, even as uncharacteristic as that sounds. Notre Dame hasn't shown that -- largely because they haven't had to -- but chances are, this Saturday won't replicate last Saturday in the box score.

A key here for Notre Dame, though, is Stanford has only been tested once on the road this year. That was a 17-13 loss at Washington, a game in which Taylor only ran for 75 yards and Stanford's offense didn't score a touchdown. The Cardinal only mustered 235 yards of offense against Washington, so there is a blueprint out there.

The national spotlight is back on Notre Dame this weekend, with College GameDay posting up in front of Hesburgh Library and NBC sending Doug Flutie, Hines Ward and its college football crew to South Bend. The first batch of BCS standings will be revealed on Sunday, and if Notre Dame wins, they could be in the mix for the No. 1 spot.

But the mantra all week, and all year, has been to tune out the noise.

"For us, I think I our team is at a point where we're mature enough where we understand where our mindset needs to be, where our focus needs to be," Te'o said. "That's on Stanford. It's going to take all hundred and something of us, players and coaches, to be focused on Stanford in order to beat them."

Marist 2018 DT Elijah Teague pledges to Minnesota

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Marist 2018 DT Elijah Teague pledges to Minnesota

Chicago Marist three star ranked defensive tackle Elijah Teague (6-foot-3, 292 pounds) made his first visit to the University of Minnesota this weekend and earlier this evening gave head coach PJ Fleck and the Gophers his early verbal commitment.

"I'm excited, or as Coach Fleck would say, I'm elite," he told Rivals.com's The Gopher Report. "(The coaches) were excited themselves. They really wanted me, so they were excited -- more excited than me I believe."

Teague has seen his recruiting stock soar over the past few months. Teague, who is the first known State of Illinois verbal pledge to Fleck and the Gophers in the Class of 2018 and the fourth Minnesota pledge overall chose Minnesota over 30 plus verbal offers from Power 5 schools from across the country.

"Everything made it the right place," he said. "Just looking at (Fleck's) background and what he did at Western Michigan, I think he can do the same thing (at Minnesota). I'm excited to be a part of it."

Blown out by Iowa, Maryland stumbles to third straight loss

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USA TODAY

Blown out by Iowa, Maryland stumbles to third straight loss

It's been a tough week for the teams at the top of the Big Ten standings.

Maryland and Wisconsin both lost earlier this week, and Purdue lost on Saturday afternoon. Saturday night, the horrors continued for the Terps, who suffered their third straight defeat in a blowout 83-69 loss to the visiting Iowa Hawkeyes in College Park.

Maryland's last lead came near the midway point of the first half before Iowa sprinted away on a 22-10 run to build a double-digit lead, an advantage that grew as big as 22 in the final minutes. All in all, the Hawkeyes knocked down 16 3-pointers. The Terps weren't too far behind with 11 deep balls of their own, but they shot just 40.7 percent in the second half, unable to keep up.

The high-scoring Hawkeyes were powered by freshman Jordan Bohannon, who scored 24 points on a whopping eight made 3-pointers. Fellow freshman Tyler Cook joined him with a 20-point night, finishing with 21 points, while Peter Jok and Nicholas Baer each ended with 11.

Iowa, not completely out of the NCAA tournament realm of possibility, helped its shaky case greatly with this victory.

Maryland, meanwhile, is a lock to make the field of 68 teams, but much like the other presumed conference powers, its struggles are hitting at the most inopportune time.

The Terps have lost five of their last seven and three of their last four at home. Back-to-back home losses this week against Minnesota and Iowa have featured big days for opposing offenses. Prior to the Hawkeyes' performance Saturday, the Golden Gophers dropped 89 points on 50-percent shooting.

The woes of Maryland — plus those of Purdue and Wisconsin — set up not just an interesting final week of the regular season but an interesting Big Ten Tournament that could feature a dark horse like Minnesota entering as the favorite. A surging team like Michigan might be more capable of making a deep run than the top three seeds given their recent struggles.

The Terps will have as good a chance as any to make noise in that tournament and the one that follows throughout the month of March. Winnable games against Rutgers and Michigan State remain, but they're on a bad stretch right now, one that should only elevate the panic after Saturday's defeat.