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Friday, October 19, 2012

In depth look at BYU opponent Notre Dame

With the Brigham Young Cougars travelling to Notre Dame this week, BLUE COUGAR FOOTBALL had the special privilege to swap notes with The Unofficial Home of Notre Dame. Below is an in depth look at the Notre Dame Fighting Irish offense, defense, and special teams provided by uhnd.com. A final analysis and score prediction is also included.

Note: To read BLUE COUGAR FOOTBALL's report on BYU at The Unofficial Home of Notre Dame, click here.

Notre Dame Offense
Despite its best start to a season in a decade, Notre Dame actually has a number of question marks on the offensive side of the ball half way through the season - mainly behind center where even before Everett Golson suffered a concussion last week the situation seemed fluid at best. Golson's injury, though, clouds what was already a murky situation for the Irish offense.

Golson was cleared to practice earlier this week, but Brian Kelly has said that he will make a game time decision on his starter because he wants to see how Golson responds to practicing this week. Still, it is generally assumed that the Irish head coach is just aiding on the side of caution right now, and that Golson will start unless he suffers a setback.

So far this season, Golson's had his fair share of ups and downs. Two weeks ago against Miami, the sophomore quarterback was sharp and efficient and looked like he was turning the corner as a starting quarterback. Last week though, Golson turned the ball over three times - all fumbles - and struggled getting comfortable in the pocket in the face of Stanford's strong pass rush. Ironically, Golson was just starting to get into rhythm and look comfortable right before he got hurt and had to leave the game.

If Golson starts, look for the designed runs we've seen for Golson the last two weeks be extremely restricted as Kelly will want to a) keep Golson from taking unnecessary hits and b) will likely have some justified concerns about Golson's ability to hold onto the football a week after he lost those three fumbles.

Should Golson be unable to go, Notre Dame will turn to Tommy Rees - one of the most under appreciated quarterbacks in recent college football history. Rees has some obvious limitations in terms of mobility and arm strength, but all the kid has done this season is come off the bench three times to lead Notre Dame to wins - Purdue, Michigan, and Stanford. Not bad for a kid most Notre Dame fans are still giving very little credit.

With Rees under center, the Notre Dame offense would be a bit more limited in what it could run. At the same time, Rees has shown that in terms of reading a defense and knowing where to go with the ball there are very few quarterbacks that rival him.

Outside of the questions at quarterback, Notre Dame has had a lot of ups and downs from its offensive line as well. The Purdue and Stanford games were not bright spots for the Irish line while at other times, such as against Miami, the line has been almost dominant. Each time the Irish offensive line has had a bad game though, they have bounced back with great performances the following week, which could mean we'll see a heavy dose of the running game this week.

Notre Dame features a stable of backs that could start at most schools. Theo Riddick has been getting the majority of the carries because of his skill as a receiver, but Cierre Wood's workload has been increasing each week and he has been the much more successful runner. George Atkinson III meanwhile is the home run hitter in the group and has made a couple defenses this year look like they were running in sand with a pair of long touchdown runs.

Switching back to the passing game, look for whoever is throwing the ball for the Irish to look for All-American tight end Tyler Eifert often. Rees already goes Efiert's way more often than not and Golson is starting to develop a good chemistry with the senior tight end as well. Outside of Eiefrt, sophomore Davaris Daniels and junior TJ Jones have started to establish themselves as the go-to wide receivers in this offense. Jones made an excellent catch on a pass thrown behind him for what ended up being the game winner last week and has been the best Irish receiver in the open field.

Notre Dame Defense
The reason Notre Dame is 6-0 this season is because of the defense. It's that simple. Notre Dame's defense has developed into one of the elite units in the country and comes into the game riding a streak of 16 straight quarters without allowing an offensive touchdown. Those 16 quarters came against real, legit opponents, too - Michigan State, Michigan, Miami, and Stanford. They haven't just been shutting down FCS or crazy directional schools; they are doing it against BCS conference foes.

One of the main reasons the defense has been as dominant as it's been for Notre Dame is the defensive line. Louis Nix anchors the interior of the Irish front and right now you can count on one hand the number of nose guards in the country who are playing the position better - if you could find any. Sophomore Stephon Tuitt, meanwhile, is playing at an elite level and was just named a first-team All-American for the first half of the season by Sports Illustrated. Tuitt has basically been unblockable and is on pace to break Notre Dame's single season sack record.

The star and leader of the Irish defense, though, is inside linebacker Manti Te'o. The Hawaiian native is playing lights out football right now and is earning all of the accolades and press he is getting right now. Te'o is getting mentioned as a Heisman candidate and the talk is justified. He is the leader of the Notre Dame defense and has been playing at an elite level all season. Without Te'o, Notre Dame isn't 6-0 right now.

The real surprise of the defense though is the secondary. Notre Dame is starting three first time starters - all of whom started their careers on the offensive side of the ball - and so far, opposing offenses haven't been able to make them pay for the youth and inexperience. Bennett Jackson has four interceptions already this season after converting to corner last year from wide receiver. True freshman Kei' Varae Russell, recruited to play offense, is started opposite Jackson and might be the most improved player on the Notre Dame roster since the start of the season. Throw in sophomore Matthias Farley, another converted wide receiver, whose performance against Stanford is a major reason the Cardinal was kept out of the end zone all day, and you have three first year starters all playing at a high level.

Notre Dame has been as successful as its been defensively because they have been able to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks without needing any exotic blitzes. This has allowed the young secondary to be shielded somewhat and allowed them to grow in confidence each week.

I expect to see more of the same from Notre Dame this week as well. Nix, Tuitt, and the rest of their linemates should be able to get enough pressure to force some bad throws just as they've done each week. Notre Dame will blitz from time to time, but they will be more timely blitzes that end up being more effective because they are called at the right time.

Against the run, Notre Dame has been particularly stout because of that same front seven. In fact, Notre Dame is the only team in the country that has yet to allow a single rushing touchdown this season. Overall, Notre Dame has only allowed three touchdowns all season.

Notre Dame Special Teams
Sophomore Kyle Brindza has become a reliable place kicking option for Notre Dame. The youngster already has a game winning and a game tying kick under his belt this season - the latter came last week in a driving rain storm. Notre Dame has had some trouble with snaps this season, but when the snap and hold have been there, Brindza has been outstanding for Notre Dame.

Putning has been a bit more inconsistent with senior Ben Turk having some ups and downs this year. One punt will be 50+ yards with great hang time while the next will go 35 or 36 yards and set up the opposing offense with great field position.

In the return department, Notre Dame has a couple of dangerous returnmen, but neither has had room to do much this season as Notre Dame's blocking schemes have left a lot to be desired.

Final Analysis
Notre Dame is coming off of a very emotional win over a team that's pushed them around the last three years and has a showdown with a top 10 team on the horizon next week making this weekend's contest a classic trap game and that has me a bit concerned going into this weekend. I think Brian Kelly will be able to keep his team focused on what is in front of them and have them ready to play, but everything about this game just screams letdown to me.

That said, I think we'll see Notre Dame run early and often with good success regardless of who starts at quarterback. Notre Dame might start a little slowly on offense, but by the second half, I see Notre Dame's line and those running backs taking over.

Defensively, Notre Dame will be tested, but I see the secondary holding up again this week and coming up with a turnover or two while keeping BYU in check all game long. Whether or not they can push that touchdown-less streak to 20 remains to be seen though. Actually, I would be surprised if BYU didn't reach the end zone.

In the end, I think this game will be close at half time before Notre Dame pulls away in the second and rides off into Noman, Oklahoma next week with a 7-0 record.

Notre Dame 31, BYU 13

The Editor appreciates all feedback. He can be reached via email at bluecougarfootball@gmail.com

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