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Ready for big showdown

Notre Dame has the chance to make a big statement in its season finale.

The No. 22 Irish (8-3) travel to play No. 4 Stanford (10-1) and Heisman Trophy favorite Andrew Luck at 8 p.m. Saturday.

Notre Dame has won its last three games, but that was against opponents with a combined record of 11-22. In the Cardinal, the Irish have an opponent that is trying to reach a BCS bowl game and sits No. 6 in the BCS standings.

Saturday's game also gives the Irish a chance to even their record against ranked opponents this season. The Irish fell to Michigan and USC and only defeated Michigan State this year.

Even though the nationally televised game is a chance for Notre Dame to put an exclamation mark on the season, senior captain Harrison Smith said the Irish cannot approach it any differently from other games.

"It's really the same thing you do every week, you can't make it a bigger game because they're ranked high, they have the best quarterback," Smith said. "Then you are not going to do what you normally do. To this point, we have trusted in what we've done, and that's what we need to keep doing."

The main thing Notre Dame needs to keep doing is keeping its opponents from scoring. The Irish have only given up 53 points in the last three games, but the Cardinal provide a very different challenge then what Notre Dame has faced in the previous three weeks against Wake Forest, Maryland and Boston College.

Luck leads an offense that averages the 10th most yards in the nation with 485.6 per game and scores 45 points per game, No. 4 in the nation.

"We know they're going to get their yardage, they're going to run the football, they're an outstanding football team, they're well coached," coach Brian Kelly said. "But keep the points down and give us an opportunity offensively to run our offense and not get into a state where we have to play catch up. Anybody that's got to play a lot of catch up against them is in for a tough day."

Even though Luck gets a lot of the attention, Stanford also hurts foes with its running game. The Cardinal average 209 rushing yards per game, and the backfield is led by Stepfan Taylor's 94.1 yards per game.

"They are an explosive offense," defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said. "That is a run-the-ball-first mentality with a group of probably the best O-line we've faced and, for sure, the best tight ends we've faced. And a pack of running backs that is as good as any team we've faced so far."

The Journal Gazette's Assistant Sports Editor Tony Krausz covers The University of Notre Dame. Krausz, a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a native of St. Louis, has been assistant sports editor since October 2005. Prior to joining the JG, he worked at two papers in Mississippi covering high school and college athletics.