The Andrew Luck-to-Coby Fleener connection was one of the most effective pass-catch duos in college football in 2011.
But as new Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes continues to develop as a starter, he doesn't have the luxury of having Fleener around as Luck did last fall.
Stanford is 10-1 when Zach Ertz catches a touchdown pass.
However, Nunes still has the dominant tight end duo of Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo. The 6-6, 252-pound Ertz is coming off of a six-catch, 64-yard, one-TD game against Arizona, while the 6-8, 265-pound Toilolo had five catches for 141 yards and a score against the Wildcats. And David Shaw's team just happens to be 10-1 when Ertz catches a touchdown pass.
But on Saturday on the road against Notre Dame, the Cardinal will face the toughest defense yet in their 2012 season.
In its win over Miami at Soldier Field, Notre Dame didn't allow a touchdown for the third straight game, and the Fighting Irish are allowing a meager 7.8 points per contest this fall. They have forced 13 turnovers and recorded 14 sacks, so it will be quite the test for Nunes, whose worst performance was on the road in the loss to Washington.
But the new Cardinal signal-caller overcame adversity last week by rallying the team from a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit and lead Stanford to an overtime victory. He recorded five touchdowns, including three on the ground, and passed for 360 yards in the win.
However, Nunes will likely be missing his top outside receiving threat, Ty Montgomery, on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. And that loss hurts even more because not only is Montgomery one of the lone receivers who can stretch the field for the Cardinal, but the Irish secondary is young and vulnerable — the lone weak spot on Bob Diaco's unit. The defensive backfield has had two starters go down since preseason camp and had no returning starters at cornerback to start the year. The unit, however, has held its own after a rough start against Miami last week. But Montgomery's presence would have opened things up more for Stanford's athletic tight ends. And that would definitely help an offense that could become one-dimensional if the Irish front seven is able to contain star running back Stepfan Taylor.
Still, Nunes will have a chance to build off of his strong game if Ertz and Toilolo are open. The duo should get their fair share of catches, but can the Irish keep the tandem out of the end zone?
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