We’re closing in on kick-off of the 2014 Notre Dame season opener. In just over 24 hours Brian Kelly will lead the Fighting Irish on the new FieldTurf at Notre Dame Stadium for the first time to face the Rice Owls. Here’s the UHND preview of this weekend’s opener.
Notre Dame Offense
Everett Golson returns to be Notre Dame’s starting quarterback after missing all of 2013 due to an academic suspension. Golson is 10-1 as a starting quarterback and in 2012 completed 187 passes out of 318 attempts for 2,405 passing yards along with 12 passing touchdowns, 6 interceptions, and a 58.8 completion percentage. In addition, Golson also ran for 298 rushing yards and 6 rushing touchdowns. Malik Zaire redshirted in 2013 and enters the season as Golson’s backup this season. Zaire was impressive in the 2014 Spring Game with 292 passing yards and 2 touchdowns and completed 18 of 27 passes.
The Irish return everyone from the running game with the execption of George Atkinson III, who declared for the NFL Draft and Amir Carlisle moves over to slot receiver this season. Cam McDaniel led the Irish with 152 carries for 704 rushing yards with a 4.6 average and 3 touchdowns. Tarean Folston had a larger impact in the second half of the season and had 88 attempts for 470 rushing yards with 3 touchdowns and a 5.3 average. Greg Bryant was expected to have a larger impact going into last season but was shut down early on with injury and only ran the ball 3 times for 14 yards.
With DaVaris Daniels out for at least the Rice game, Chris Brown is expected to be a main target. Brown had six games with zero receptions last season, but was impressive in the Pinstripe Bowl and for the season had 15 catches for 209 yards with 1 touchdown and a 13.9 yard average and Brown also was impressive in the Spring Game with 5 catches for 105 receiving yards. Corey Robinson and William Fuller also are expected to be counted on with Robinson having 9 catches for 157 yards with 1 touchdown, while Fuller had 6 catches for 160 yards with 1 touchdown as well. In addition, CJ Prosise had 7 receptions for 72 yards in 2013, and true freshman Justin Brent enrolled early and both could have an impact, regardless of what happens with DaVaris Daniels. Tight End remains a consistent top position for the Irish with Ben Koyack taking over for Troy Niklas, who departed early for the draft. Koyack had 10 catches for 171 yards with 3 touchdowns and a 17.1 yard
average. Durham Smythe could also have an impact along with other backup tight ends like Tyler Luatua.
The Irish lost one of the best left side duos in recent time in Zach Martin and Chris Watt. These two had an impact together over the previous three seasons and Martin was a four year starter with 52 career starts. Ronnie Stanley takes over for Martin after starting all of 2013 at right tackle, Matt Hegarty brings experience and versatility to the left guard spot as a key reserve and emergency starting center when Nick Martin went down. Nick Martin started 11 games prior to injury at center and returns as a starter, Christian Lombard brings 33 career appearances and 20 starts and returns to the right guard spot. Steve Elmer started 4 games at right guard as a freshman and played most of the season and will start at right tackle.
Notre Dame Defense
The Irish lost two major players up front that declared for the NFL Draft in Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt. Sheldon Day made an impact in 2012 before starting 7 games in an injury-filled season with 33 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss most notably. Jarron Jones notably blocked two kicks last season and had 20 tackles along with 1 sack and 1 tackle for loss, while Isaac Rochell had 10 tackles. Andrew Trumbetti enrolled early and made his way up the depth chart and will be starting as a true freshman. Ishaq Williams will be out with academic related reasons like Daniels will be. Justin Utupo, mainly a special teams player and has 35 game appearances in his career will be counted on to provide depth along with true Freshman Daniel Cage and junior Romeo Okwara who had 19 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and 0.5 sacks.
Jaylon Smith was a top player for the Irish as a true freshman with 13 starts and had 67 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 3 pass breakups, and made the game-winning tackle over Navy. Joe Schmidt was once a walk-on and played in every game last season, with 15 tackles and 2 tackles for loss and James Onwaulu was a former receiver who made his way to a starting spot. Injuries affected Jarrett Grace and Ben Councell last season and will be counted on along with John Turner, who mainly was a special teams player. True Freshmen Greer Martini and Nyles Morgan also made the depth chart as well, and Kendall Moore is out with academic reasons.
KeiVarae Russell was expected to be the top cornerback for the Irish but also is out with academic reasons. Cole Luke played in every game as a true freshman with 15 tackles and 2 pass breakups, while Florida transfer Cody Riggs brings over 26 career starts and played cornerback and safety. Austin Collinsworth had 3 interceptions with 43 tackles and started last season. Max Redfield played a good amount last season and started in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Notre Dame Special Teams
Kyle Brindza kicks and punts for the Irish and does kickoffs as well. Brindza has made 43 of 57 field goals over his careet and has only missed one extra point. Brindza averaged 41.1 and 62.5 yards on punts and kickoffs, respectively. Amir Carlisle and Cody Riggs take over on kickoff returns and punt returns, respectively.
Driphus Jackson takes over at quarterback for the Owls with Taylor McHargue done. Jackson completed 5 of 16 passes for 50 yards with 1 interception and ran for 156 yards and 1 touchdown. However, in 2012 he completed 39 of 69 (56.5 percent) for 672 yards and 6 touchdowns and ran for 86 yards with 1 touchdown. While he has some experience, he has only made 1 career start in his time at Rice. His backup, Tyler Stehling has zero stats to his name. Charles Ross was an impressive running back with 211 attempts for 1280 yards with a 6 yard average and 15 touchdowns, but has now graduated. Jawon Davis takes over with 95 attempts for 476 yards (5 yard average) with 3 touchdowns. Darik Dillard has 82 carries for 396 yards with 3 touchdowns and a 4.8 yard average, while Luke Turner has 39 attempts for 164 yards (4.2 average) with 2 touchdowns. Jordan Taylor might be out this weekend and he was the leading receiver last season with 55 catches for 848
yards and 8 touchdowns. Dennis Parks had the second most with 29 catches for 508 yards with 3 touchdowns (17.5 yard average) and Mario Hull has 12 catches for 99 yards. Tight end Connor Cella will be out with injury against the Irish. Robby Wells III will take over and has seen a good amount of playing time but has zero catches in his career. Rice allowed 37 sacks last season and 90 tackles for loss, but has experience on the right side of the line in Andrew Reue and Caleb Williams.
Christian Covingtion is a major impact player with 59 tackles along with 11.5 tackles for loss and 4 sacks. Stuart Mouchantaf had 33 tackles and 3 tackles for loss last season, while Bryan Nordstrom had 12 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks, and Derek Brown moves over from wide receiver to defenseive line. Michael Kutzler is gone from last season and he was the top tackler. James Radcliffe had 64 tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss and 1 sack and Alex Lyons had 32 tackles with 2 tackles for loss. Paul Porras is also gone in the secondary and the top returning player is Julius White with 67 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2.5 tackles for loss, and 9 pass breakups. Malcolm Hill intercepted 3 passes and also 49 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and 8 passes broken up. Gabe Baker had 36 tackles, 2 pass breakups, and 2.5 tackles for loss, while Bryce Callahan had 3 interceptions with 10 pass breakups and 34 tackles and 3 tackles for loss, and
Jaylon Finner had 30 tackles. The Secondary was a position of strength for Rice and will likely remain that way despite the loss of the teams #2 tackler from a year ago.
Rice Special Teams
Taylor Knopf takes over at kicker with Chris Boswell done and has zero kicking experience at Rice. James Farrimond was solid at punting last season with a 42.1 yard average and put 15 punts inside the 20. Malcolm Hill averaged 21.5 yards per kickoff return with 237 return yards. Bryce Callahan averaged 6.3 yards per punt return with 114 yards.
Notre Dame Offense vs. Rice Defense
The Irish may be without DaVaris Daniels, but plenty of other players returning offensively along with Golson will help. Relying on the run game will help considering the strength of the secondary for Rice, but passing is just as important as well. The Irish should easily get 200 yards on the ground with a couple new starters up front. Accounting for Christian Covington and Julius White will be important.
Rice Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense
The Irish do have quite a few new players on the defensive side of the ball, and that is further seen with Ishaq Williams and KeiVarae Russell being out. Rice having to bring in new starters at quarterback, running back, and tight end will hurt on offense and the offensive line let opponents into the backfield with ease last season. With Jordan Taylor’s status being unknown for Saturday, that also hurts as well. Rice will be capable of moving the ball and containing them is important.
The Irish may be without some key players on both sides of the ball from academic issues and the NFL. Rice equally lost some important players on both sides of the ball as well. The Irish will want to run the ball a decent amount and mix in the pass as well, despite some youth at a few areas, the Irish should reload no problem, and Ben Koyack assures the Irish another solid tight end. Avoiding three and outs is important along with putting points on the board. This game could look similar to the 2011 and 2012 games against Navy where the Irish relied on their running game effectively and passed the ball a solid amount. The Irish should be able to get a good lead in and let the backups come in to close out the game and get vital experience.
Prediction: Notre Dame 43, Rice 16