(UHND.com) – Notre Dame closes out its home schedule of the 2006 season on Saturday when the Black Knights of Army travel to South Bend. A game between the Irish and the Black Knights would have been hyped much like this weekend’s Ohio State-Michigan game if this game where being played 50 years ago. Instead, this game should be a nice way to send out this year’s seniors with a win in the last home games of their careers.
On paper, this game is a mismatch in almost every way possible. Army comes into the contest with a 3-7 record on the heels of 43-7 home loss to Air Force two weeks ago – the same Air Force team that Notre Dame just beat 39-17 last weekend. Loses to Arkansas State (6-14), Rice (14-48), and Tulane (28-42) also liter the Army schedule this year.
At quarterback, Army started the season with David Pevoto as their starter, but in the 8th game of the season head coach Bobby Ross went with freshman Carson Williams. Williams responded with a three touchdown performance against Tulane in his first start of the season, but followed that up with four interceptions against an Air Force secondary that isn’t exactly overwhelming.
Williams is a talent young quarterback and his offers coming out of high school back that up. Schools like NC State, Vanderbilt, and Arkansas all offered the Alabama native a scholarship, but Williams elected to become a Black Knight for Army instead. He’s got some potential, but he’s likely never seen anything quite like what he’ll see Saturday in Notre Dame Stadium.
Ross could go back with Pevoto this week, but its likely Williams will be under center for the Knights. Look for Notre Dame to get some pressure on Williams and hopefully force a couple turnovers – something the Notre Dame defense has not done much of this season.
On the ground, Army is led by sophomore Wesley McMahand who has totaled 592 yards on 133 carries (4.5 yds/carry) with four touchdowns. Joining McMahand at tailback is Tony Moore (88 carries, 351 yards, five touchdowns). The two backs compliment each other well with McMahand being the small, quicker back. Small is not an understatement when describing McMahand – the sophomore back is just 5’6”, 171 pounds. Moore is just a tad bigger at 5’11”, 223.
Army averages a respectable 137 yards on the ground a game, but I don’t think they’ll be able to run very effectively against the Notre Dame defense. Notre Dame’s interior defensive line has been playing as good as it has in years with Trevor Laws and Derek Landri elevating their game down the stretch.
The Black Knight’s passing game actually produced less offense than its rushing attack with just 135 yards a game despite throwing the ball 249 times in 10 games for an average of almost 25 pass attempts a game. In those 249 attempts, Army quarterbacks have combined to throw 20 interceptions – that’s one pick every 12.45 attempts and an average of two interceptions a game. If the Irish secondary can’t get their hands on a pass this week, either Army decided to run the ball more or something is wrong.
Defensively, Army simply won’t be able to do much more than maybe slow down the Notre Dame offense. The Army defense has surrendered 40 or more points three times this year to the likes of Air Force, Tulane, and Rice – offenses that don’t really compare to what they will see this weekend.
Army’s run defense is ranked near the bottom of Division IA in allowing over 190 yards a game on the ground. Their pass defense ranks in the top 20 in terms of yards allowed per game (164.3), but their pass efficiency is ranked just 84th.
Look for Notre Dame to soften up the Army defense early with the pass and then pound the ball with Darius Walker and most likely freshman James Aldridge. Aldridge saw some first half action this past weekend and should see more this week.
Notre Dame’s senior-heavy offense should light up the scoreboard one last time for the Notre Dame faithful in Notre Dame Stadium. Brady Quinn should have a field day throwing to his fellow seniors Rhema McKnight and Jeff Samardzija – all of whom will be making their final starts in Notre Dame Stadium. Another 250+ yard, four touchdown performance from Quinn is very likely.
Darius Walker should top 100 yards again this week if he gets enough carries. It wouldn’t surprise me if Aldridge took some carries away from Walker this week with USC on the horizon. Walker has been worked heavily all season and if Weis can save some gas in Walker’s tank this week, I think he will.
Emotions are always a factor in Senior Week games – as they were last year when the Irish came out flat against an at best average Syracuse team. With all that is at stake for the Irish after last week’s upsets, I just don’t see that happening for the Irish this week. In 1995 the Irish needed a big stop on a two point conversion from Ivory Covington in the final minute to beat Army in the Meadowlands, but there’s several factors working in the Irish’s favor this time around that should prevent any such drama from occurring.
First, the ’95 game was on the road in the Meadowlands and not in the friendly confines of Notre Dame Stadium. Second, that ’95 team was out of the national title picture at that point. They were still eligible for a major bowl game, but their title hopes were ended by Ohio State a few weeks early.
Ironically, the week after that ’95 Army game, Notre Dame hosted rival Southern Cal and beat the 5th ranked Trojans 38-10 killing USC’s national title hopes. I’m just sayin…
Prediction: Notre Dame 45, Army 10