August 21, 2014 // Notre Dame Football

2014 Notre Dame Schedule Breakout – Part II

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Notre Dame goalline stand vs. Stanford 2012

Notre Dame’s epic goalline stand against Stanford in 2012. (Photo: Matt Cashore / USA Today Sports)

In Part I of Notre Dame’s 2014 season prediction, the Fighting Irish’s opponents from August and September were examined and a 3-1 record was forecasted after a close loss at the hands of the Michigan Wolverines.  In Part II we look at the heart of Notre Dame’s schedule when analyzing Stanford, North Carolina, Florida State and Navy.

Notre Dame vs. Stanford

Summary: Stanford returns to Notre Dame Stadium for the first time since the controversial goal line stand in 2012 that kept Notre Dame’s undefeated regular season alive.  The matchup in 2014 will involve some new names on both sides of the ball, as Stanford returns only one offensive lineman from last season in future NFL left tackle Andrus Peat.   In addition, Stanford will have to find a way to replace the 1,700 rushing yards produced by running back Tyler Gaffney, who has since moved on to the New England Patriots.

Davaris Daniels - TD vs. Stanford

DaVaris Daniels (10) celebrates after a touchdown against the Stanford Cardinal during the third quarter at Stanford Stadium. The Stanford Cardinal defeated the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 27-20. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinal’s biggest transition, however, is likely on the defensive side of the football.  New defensive coordinator Lance Anderson will have to replace veteran starters within the front seven, including defensive ends Ben Gardner and Josh Mauro, but most notably linebacker mainstays Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov.

Prediction:  Stanford has been to four BCS games in a row, and while many critics have waited for the production drop off after former Cardinal head coach Jim Harbaugh’s departure to the NFL, the Palo Alto-based program has remained steady under head coach David Shaw’s leadership.  While holes and inexperience can be found within Stanford’s roster, the unit with the biggest question marks heading into this matchup comes courtesy of Notre Dame’s defense.

Notre Dame vs. North Carolina

Summary: The North Carolina Tar Heels will be one of 2014’s most intriguing teams.  Starting last season with a 1-5 record, the Tar Heels finished with extreme momentum after winning six of their last seven contests, closing out the year with a 7-6 overall record.  Whether or not that hot streak is a sign of things to come in 2014 is up for debate given the victories were against weaker competition, such as Virginia, Old Dominion and N.C. State (the one loss was to Duke).

North Carolina’s offensive line is undergoing changes with new starters at center and left tackle, though the Tar Heel offense has explosive potential.  Likely starting quarterback Marquise Williams has dual-threat capability, amassing 100 yards and two touchdowns with his feet in action against Duke last season.  In addition, North Carolina boasts a deep and talented backfield that includes former 5-star running back and one-time Notre Dame commitment, Elijah Hood.

The Tar Heel defensive unit has talent but lacks true star power and depth.  North Carolina’s secondary is the biggest area of concern with underclassmen Brian Walker and Des Lawrence starting at cornerback, as well as sophomore Dominique Green at safety.

Prediction:  Notre Dame’s matchup against North Carolina will be a must-win after suffering losses to Michigan and Stanford and could very well be decided by a crucial turnover.  Look for Irish quarterback Everett Golson to take advantage of the youth in North Carolina’s secondary to pull out a hard-fought victory.

Notre Dame at Florida State

Summary: What kind of an encore can be expected from a Florida State squad that won a national championship and managed to score 51 points per game – while also only giving up 12 points per game – all while returning a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback?  If Las Vegas is to be believed the Seminoles will up last year’s ante with an undefeated 2014 campaign, and there isn’t much to counter such sentiment other than the extreme difficulty that goes into an undefeated season.

Notre Dame - Florida State

Notre Dame and Florida State last played in the 2011 Champ Sports Bowl.  The Irish jumped out to a big early lead but let the lead slip away in the second half eventually falling to the Seminoles. (Photo: Douglas Jones-USA TODAY Sports)

Florida State scored more points than any other program in history last season and the weapons are in place to do it again.  Jameis Winston returns at quarterback and will be protected by an elite offensive line unit that will provide Winston ample time to throw to playmakers Rashad Greene and tight end Nick O’Leary.  Florida State’s defense has experienced reshuffling with new defensive coordinator Charles Kelly, but the transition will be tempered by one of the best secondaries in the country.

Prediction: Las Vegas lists Notre Dame as a three touchdown underdog in Tallahassee, and one look at Florida State’s loaded roster and it’s easy to understand why.  Everett Golson steps forward and has the best game of his career, and though it will not be enough, earns Notre Dame some national respect for keeping the game close before the Florida State offense overpowers the Fighting Irish defense for good late in the game.

Notre Dame at Navy (FedEx Field)

Summary: If you’re a Notre Dame fan and you don’t fear Navy in 2014 it’s because you haven’t taken the time to watch Navy quarterback Kennan Reynolds’ highlight film.  An argument can be made that Reynolds is the best quarterback to don a Navy uniform since legend Roger Staubach, and the proof is in the numbers.  Reynolds’ lethal execution of the triple-option offense was on full display against San Jose State in 2013 when he rushed for seven touchdowns and added another with his arm, totaling eight touchdowns in one game.

Notre Dame - Navy

Navy running back Demond Brown (25) is tackled by Notre Dame linebacker Dan Fox (48) and cornerback Bennett Jackson (2) in the fourth quarter at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

If Reynolds’ production doesn’t cause anxiety, the inexperience of Notre Dame’s defensive line should.  Additionally, the last time Notre Dame trotted out a new defensive coordinator against Navy’s triple-option the Fighting Irish defense was systematically dismantled.  Will first year defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder be up to the task?

Prediction: Notre Dame’s annual game against Navy could be an offensive firework showcase with both sides struggling to slow down offensive attacks.  Look for Notre Dame to mirror its 2012 strategy when the Midshipmen were defeated 50-10 – score fast, score often, and take Navy out of its comfort zone by forcing them to throw.  The problem with such a plan: Notre Dame’s defense will not be nearly as strong as its 2012 predecessor.

Notre Dame’s offense eventually wins the day, but Irish fans are on edge throughout the majority of the game.

Notre Dame hits the halfway point of the 2014 season with a 5-3 record.  The Fighting Irish’s final four games will be previewed in Part III of the season prediction series.

Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor.  He talks football 23 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his fiancée.  Scott can be reached at scottjanssenhp@gmail.com.

Comments to this Article

  • JDriveSth commented on August 21st, 2014 at 9:48 am

    I’m sensing a pattern here regarding Everett Golson and Jaylon Smith! :)

    Hope you’re wrong. 5-3 isn’t good enough.

    [Reply]

    Scott Janssen replied on August 21st, 2014 at 10:04 am

    I hope I’m wrong too but it’s a brutual schedule. And yeah, you’ll see Golson and Smith’s names pop up a lot by the MVPs. I think they’re both in for very special seasons.

    [Reply]

  • Connors commented on August 21st, 2014 at 10:12 am

    Notre dame never follows suit like u predict ! That’s only thing u can almost guarantee

    [Reply]

  • Henighan commented on August 21st, 2014 at 10:53 am

    Apparently you think our defense is going to take MAJOR steps backwards with these scores you’re predicting?

    [Reply]

    Scott Janssen replied on August 21st, 2014 at 11:54 am

    Notre Dame’s defense gave up 22 points per game last season. With a new defensive coordinator and the losses of Tuitt, Nix and Springmann, anticipating that ND will give up 8 additional points per game due to those losses isn’t unreasonable.

    [Reply]

    Jake W replied on August 21st, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    Tuitt and Nix were both so banged up last season that I don’t think it’s fair to assume a regression in productivity on that basis. Even if Russell is out for the season, I think this is the best secondary we’ve seen in a while at ND. The D-line has size and depth, and I think they’ll hold their own. As weird as this sounds, I think a lot of the defense will pivot on Joe Schmidt. He’s undersized for a middle linebacker, but if he can fly around, make plays, and not get bullied around, I think the defense will be better than last year.

    As for a new coordinator, I think it’s a blessing. The D caught a LOT of breaks in 2012 (although I’m not trying to take anyone away from what they did – they were solid). Everyone lauded Diaco, but I hated the idea of “bend but don’t break” in hopes that the offense won’t execute. The top defenses in the country don’t bend; they attack and force the offense’s hand. I’m excited to see BVG’s attacking defense and I hope the players can buy into it and execute (unlike under Jon Tenuta), but again, I think a lot of that will rely on how Schmidt plays.

    [Reply]

    George replied on August 21st, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    So you’ve explained that a diminutive walk-on LB has you optimistic about the linebacker position, but please take this opportunity to sell me on the secondary. Point to something Cole, Redfield, or Collinsworth did on the field last year to give you the warm and fuzzies. And as far as Riggs goes, based on what I’ve read he basically got demoted from CB at Fla, and they forced him to play safety. It doesn’t sound like he exactly dominated. Or perhaps it’s Farley who’s got you so hopeful. And yeah, Nix and Tuitt under-performed last year, but you’d have to be out of your mind if you’re trying to say that ND is upgrading on the D-line this year.

  • George commented on August 21st, 2014 at 11:31 am

    Define “major.” Either way, there’s zero reason to believe there will be any improvement in the defense from last year. A new DC? I’ll believe it when I see it. I’ve heard the line about being an aggressive, attacking D before. It comes down to the players and I don’t have high hopes, especially now that Russell is gone. Just look at the depth chart. College football is a high scoring game anyway.

    [Reply]

    Jake W replied on August 21st, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    First off, at not point did I say that Schmidt has me optimistic about he linebacker position. In fact, he scares the crap out of me. Rather, my point was that IF he can make plays and not get run over, the defense as a whole will do well.

    As for last year, Cole Luke was behind Russell (potential top-3 round pick), and a team captain Bennett Jackson, who was drafted, so it’s unfair to make presumptions of his skills. I think our backup CBs (Luke/Butler) could start at plenty of other schools. Redfield was a true freshman, third-ranked safety in his class (I know, I know, rankings shmrankings), and became a starter (possibly by default) last season. I think he’s going to have a big season. And maybe Collinsworth doesn’t jump out from a physical standpoint, but he’s a smart guy who can quarterback the defense, much like a McCarthy or Motta. Riggs moving to safety/rover position at Florida, in my eyes, shows his versatility, which assuming Russell comes back (you mention that he’s gone for the season, which is not true).

    To be honest, I’d take a healthy Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones plus depth over an unealthy Nix and out-of-shape and injured Tuitt with little depth any day. There’s more depth and size on the d-line this year, so again, I’ll take lesser-known, but talented players going 100% for the full game over big-name players being forced into a majority of the snaps going at 70%.

    [Reply]

    George replied on August 22nd, 2014 at 9:44 pm

    Yes I’m very familiar with the secondary, and my intention was not to bash them. How could I? Other than collinsworth they have rarely seen the field at ND. And for that reason I totally disagree with stating they’re the best we’ve had in years. That’s such an odd thing to say just days after the all-American safety (and arguably best player on the team) gets booted off the squad.

    Day is hurt more than anyone yet you’re high on him but bash nix for never being healthy. I look forward to seeing what Jones can do but your optimism of the D as a whole seems a little unfounded at this point. Sure there’s plenty of potential but I need to see some real playmakers before I get on board

    [Reply]

    Jake W replied on August 23rd, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    I can respect that. I try not to be overly optimistic, but I truly have no worries about the secondary this season.

    And just to note, Russell hasn’t been booted, nor is he a safety. And I’m not bashing Nix. I loved watching the guy play, but he was banged up a lot.

    My whole point revolved around IFFFF Joe Schmidt can hold his own, I think the D will make more plays, force more turnovers, and improve on last year.

    George replied on August 24th, 2014 at 8:32 pm

    To rate a unit of a football team even partially predicated upon suspended players actually playing is very misleading and pretty much inaccurate. That’s all. With KR in the equation, I wouldn’t have thought anything of the statement. Maybe I’m delusional and all four play vs Mich!

    [Reply]

  • Connors commented on August 21st, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    Will see when these linebackers are flying Around the ball and blitzing . I think defense will be better in coverage than run stop and most teams what to throw anyways.Also run game will also help the d this year GO IRISH!

    [Reply]

  • Jack commented on August 21st, 2014 at 12:50 pm

    I will agree that the new DC is going to cause a problem, but the argument that Truitt, Nix and Springman aren’t there I disagree. Nix was hurt a majority of the year, Truitt didn’t come on till late and Springman didn’t play. I look at this defense and personnel wise it’s better than any of Weis’s or early BK. I say they average 24-26 a game. Still not good but not 30 a game.

    [Reply]

  • ahn2844 commented on August 21st, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    I agree with George. We can tell ourselves the D is going to be okay until we’re blue and gold in the face but let’s not kid ourselves about this mess. It’s going to be brutal. To get to 8-9 wins, EG and the three-headed RB monster are going to need to explode for 30+ ppg.

    Look at the facts:

    > New coordinator (I would rate BVG as a “B” hire), new system
    > Starting a three-star freshman at one DE position
    > Remainder of the DL contributed just 1.5 sacks to last year’s defense
    > Onwualu (a converted WR) is starting at OLB
    > The other starting OLB is a walk-on convert
    > Replacement-level CB Cody Riggs is at ND primarily to get his MBA
    > No Ishaq. No Keivare Russell.

    Our best hope is that Jaylon Smith makes up for inadequacies at 2-3 other positions, Redfield does the same, and Jarrett Grace returns to form in time for the tough part of the schedule.

    It doesn’t matter how you slice and dice it – we don’t have the talent, experience (player or coaching) to stop top-40 college offenses.

    If you thought it was frustrating to watch out-of-shape Tuitt and Nix chase QB’s, these were future NFL players. We are going to get absolutely mauled in the trenches this year. Pray.

    [Reply]

    Jack replied on August 21st, 2014 at 5:29 pm

    First of all Trombeti (sp) was a four star on some sites. Which site are you quoting.

    Second the starting linebackers fluctuate with the packages so to say that he is starting is incorrect it could also be Council who was a four star 6’5″ 265.

    Fourth this the walk on could be replaced by Grace later in the season

    Fifth Williams was being pushed by Rochell, it does hurt depth, but Rochell has shown me more than Isaq.

    Russell us a hit but ND is deep at that position.

    I look at the unit with overall talent which is better than 4 years ago. Could the give up an average of 30 a game yep, but could they give up 24 a game yes and if the defense is that good, which isn’t that great and the offense averages 34, they won a majority of their games.

    It’s not going to be 2012 but shouldn’t be as bad as under Weis. Somewhere in the middle not great not horrible, but ND will need to outscore opponents to win

    [Reply]

    George replied on August 21st, 2014 at 7:12 pm

    Oh, well if Grace and Councell actually play this year then we’re saved!! Councell is a senior who has shown absolutely nothing. The only time his name has ever been mentioned in a broadcast was when he got ejected for a bonehead play. Who cares about his stars in high school. And the jury is still out on Grace, and I’m REALLY giving him the benefit of the doubt by saying that. He was looking real shaky early last season but might, might have been coming around when he got hurt. But yeah, we’re better off than we were during the Weis years. That’s not debatable.

    [Reply]

    Jack replied on August 22nd, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    George,

    The only reason I brought up stars was because the person I responded to mentioned stars for recruiting. We never heard Council’s name because he was a drop linebacker in that system and was required to cover. He played the same position Danny Spond played. I just think personnel wise this team is in a better place on D than they were 6 years ago. The only problem now are they going to play slow due to the learning curve.

    ahn2844 replied on August 22nd, 2014 at 5:58 pm

    Was the personnel on the Weis defenses (in particular the ’08 unit) that much inferior to what we’re playing with now? Or was the player development / coaching / execution just piss poor?

    -Ian Williams (now: NFL)
    -David Bruton (now: NFL)
    -Sergio Brown (now: NFL)
    -Darrin Walls (now: NFL)

    Harrison Smith was also a backup.

    No – the front seven besides IW was nothing to write home about and one could easily argue that three of the five players I’ve just named will never be anything more than below replacement-level NFL backups.

    But just looking at the talent, how many future NFL players do we count among this year’s defense? Smith, Morgan, Luke, Redfield?

    Thankfully, we don’t have Jon Tenuta on the coaching staff anymore, but what we do have is a 1st year guy who I would rate as “average” vis a vis the coaches he is going to be game-planning against.

    Jack replied on August 23rd, 2014 at 8:36 am

    Ahn2844,

    Other than Harrison Smith all of them were either late rounders or undated free agents. Also Harrison Smith was a hybrid LB on that team. Who was Weis’ s starting LB’s, other than Teo none are in the NFL.

    Other than personnel Weis had Corwin Brown running the defense who wasn’t ready to be a coordinator and than he brings in Tenuta and allows him and Brown to co-coordinate which was a disaster. Name one player on those defense that had the athletic ability of Redfield and Smith. Also if Tuitt had stayed like most Weis players they would have had better depth. I’m not saying this defense isn’t going to struggle but look at the 2 deep under Weis and look at the to deep now Kelly. It may be young but they have talent

  • Shazamrock commented on August 21st, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    Fact. You can’t rate a new coach when the team hasn’t played a game.

    [Reply]

    duranko replied on August 22nd, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    Shaz, you know I think you are a rock, but there was an exception to the rule you stated.

    Weis, C. I’m sorry, and my family will aver that I screamed bloody murder when I saw his press conference with the ig’nant “schematic advantage” mental seppuku.

    then he started talking about Belichick, and Parcells, two men who divorced, making them non-role models at Notre Dame,
    and then Brady, he with the bastard child.

    At Notre Dame, you genuflect early and often to Leahy and Rockne–q.v. Kelly’s initial recruiting press conference when he held up Leahy’s recruiting as the Gold Standard.

    Then the charity…..

    Ara started his AFTER his ND career, Kelly cares was preexisting.

    I knew, not thought, but knew early on that Weis was an emotional midget, insecure, flailing, who committed the faux pas of elevating the NFL over Notre Dame.

    It was akin to lying lunkhead George O’Leary comparing Notre Dame to the Yankees. At the risk of blaspheming, the BVM took a moment out from squashing the
    snakes under her feet to throw a lightning bolt at O’Leary, the loudmouth with the shortest tenured Notre Dame career.

    Otherwise, you are correct, Shaz, and you should post more and read less!

    [Reply]

    Shazamrock replied on August 22nd, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    Big-D,
    That’s deep man.Very deep.

    I don’t know how one follows that up but here goes.

    -Reading is good.

    -Never judge a book by its cover.

    -Rules were made to be broken.

    -Paper covers Rock, Rock breaks Scissors, Scissors cut Paper.

    -I used to assimilate George O’Leary with Timothy Leary…
    who interestingly enough once said:

    “The universe is an intelligence test”

    Now I’m off to try my hand at that new Ice Bucket Challenge thing.
    (I guessing I could do maybe 3 buckets, which, as we all know, is about 18 beers)

    Wish me Luck!

    [Reply]

  • Sean commented on August 21st, 2014 at 8:59 pm

    I’ve seen a lot of complaints about the defense so far. I don’t think you realize how horrifically bland they were last season. Would I take Rochell and Jones over Tuitt and Nix? Hell no. Would I take them over Tuitt and Nix from last year? Hell yes. Tuitt and Nix were nowhere near 100% which factored into the struggles on defense. You want to say that Cole Luke has shown nothing so far. Matthias Farley…that is all. Even Bennett Jackson sucked last year. I don’t even know how he got drafted. He constantly got bullied against the team’s best receiver. I’d take this year’s secondary over last year’s in a heartbeat. Let’s not forget LB. Did any of you see last year’s unit? Smith was really good, but out of a lot of the action due to his position, Calabrese was slow and couldn’t cover a rock. Fox was okay, but never put it all together until later in the year. This unit has way more athleticism and more depth. So excuse me if I think this defense giving up 8 more points than last year’s unit is pretty outrageous. Is is gonna be elite? Probably not. Will it be better than last year’s unit? Damn straight.

    [Reply]

    Jack replied on August 25th, 2014 at 6:31 am

    All it has to do is keep teams around 20-24 points a game and the Irish will win. This offense will look like Cincinnati ‘ s from BJ’S last year. The only difference is he’ll be able to grind in th 4th quarter with the beef up front, not to mention McDaniel who is the king of 3-4 yard run.

    [Reply]

  • duranko commented on August 22nd, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    but check Carolina’s schedule before they play us.

    They play at East Carolina, an emotional revenge game and a niggling non-Tobacco Road in state hatefest.

    Then they play at Clemson.

    Then they entertain a physical VA Tech.

    Sure, we play the Heels after we play Stanford and before FSU in the most pristinely defined sandwich game we’ve ever played, but the Heels
    may be in their season’s most significant physical and emotional trough after that troika of ECU, Clemson and Va Tech.

    Notre Dame fans forget, physical toil and emotional exhaustion affect all teams, not just the Fighting Irish.

    [Reply]

  • JackedDome commented on August 22nd, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    This schedule is predicated on one outcome, it almost always is…

    If we beat Michigan then things move upwards and we probably win at Stanford and give Florida State all they can handle. If we lose to Michigan then we start stumbling through another mediocre season. I both HATE and LOVE the fact that we play them so early in our schedule. The upcoming years without facing them are going to be odd and lacking a barometer for the season…

    [Reply]

    Jack replied on August 22nd, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    JackedDome,

    You hit the nail on the head. That game sets the tone for the season for ND. If ND wins it’s usually wine and roses, if they lose it’s usually a mediocre season. I think BK understands that Michigan is the game he needs to win this year and must win. If ND comes out and plays sloppy like most ND, Michigan games than I will predict a 4 loss season.

    [Reply]

  • qb2333 commented on August 22nd, 2014 at 6:12 pm

    Michigan’s down. I don’t think a win necessarily spells great year but loss would be horrible sign for team and BK (1/5).

    [Reply]

    Jack replied on August 25th, 2014 at 11:51 am

    qb2333,

    Look at the years he lost to Michigan and the records for those year. Look at the problems in the Michigan games and how they showed up all year long during those years.

    First year it was defensive issues

    Second year it was turnovers at horrible times, a characteristic for Turnover Tommy.

    Third year won 12-0

    Fourth year dumb turnovers and sloppy play, killed ND in every loss last year.

    By the way BK has been coaching at ND since 2010. He has only played Michigan 4 times not 6. He is 1-3 against Michigan at ND, I am not counting his years at Central Michigan or Cincy.

    [Reply]

    George replied on August 26th, 2014 at 9:36 pm

    Ok, but what does that have to do with what qb233 said? Mich owns ND, even in Mich’s down years. The fact ND plays terrible vs them every year is no excuse. When #98 walks around the corner at will every time they need a first down, ND deserves to lose. And by the way, in regards to that 12-0 win, its worth noting Mich turned it over SIX times and still almost won. ND played awful in that one too, at least offensively. As for this year, I’m sure that if the 3rd string Councell gets on the field we should be fine.

    [Reply]

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