The Irish will look to rebound from a disappointing 2013 campaign by getting back to their winning ways in 2014, and that begins when the Rice Owls travel to South Bend. Rice crafted an impressive 2013 campaign going 10-4 with loses to Texas A&M and Mississippi State. However, many key contributors from that Rice team are gone, leaving a team with a lot of youth at key positions. The Owls have nothing to lose and will come out guns blazing but the Irish should have more than enough tools to put Rice away with relative ease. The following are the matchups the Irish must control to start off the season on the right foot:
Nick Martin vs Christian Covington: Nick Martin will anchor an Irish offensive line that will need to deal with the loss of his brother Zack as well as Chris Watt. Martin will start the season off lined up across from Rice’s Christian Covington. Covington is a load at 300 pounds and the Canadian possesses the ability to both stop the run and pressure the quarterback. Covington led the Owls last season with 11.5 tackles for loss and also blocked two kicks. Martin should be able to wear Covington down through the course of the afternoon with the help of the power run game.
Everett Golson vs James Radcliffe: Quarterback Everett Golson returns after his dismissal from the university that cost him the 2013 season. The South Carolina native will lead an exciting Irish offense that will need to put up a lot of points this season. His first test will be a Rice defense led by returning leading tackler James Radcliffe. The linebacker isn’t particularly big at 6’1’’ 220 pounds but isn’t afraid to get his nose dirty. The Owls defense is susceptible to big runs so Golson could get opportunities to scramble for big plays if Radcliffe can’t contain him.
Jaylon Smith vs Jowan Davis: Sophomore Jaylon Smith is likely Notre Dame’s best player and with the status of KeiVarae Russell uncertain he is the undisputed leader of the defense. Smith will be charged with shutting down the Owls strength of running the football and the key to that, fellow sophomore Jowan Davis. Davis rushed for 455 yards last season while playing behind the now departed Charles Ross. Rice runs the ball often out of the spread so Smith will need to use his trademark speed to meet Davis in the hole consistently.
Cody Riggs vs Jordan Taylor: Riggs, a transfer from Florida will play his first game for the Irish when the Owls travel to Notre Dame. The fifth-year senior is Notre Dame’s number one corner with the aforementioned Russell currently suspended. His first assignment will be fellow fifth-year senior Jordan Taylor. Taylor was the Owls leading receiver last season totaling 55 receptions for 848 yards and eight touchdowns. Riggs will be at a tremendous height disadvantage as he stands 5’9’’ compared to the 6’5’’ Taylor. The Owls will no doubt look to Taylor early and often so Riggs will need to be at his best.