Frank’s Notre Dame Nevada 2009 Preview

Notre Dame kicks off its 2009 season by hosting the Nevada Wolf Pack on Saturday. (Photo - Icon SMI).

The long off-season wait is almost over.   After seven months of posturing and hypothesizing, we will finally get to stop wondering how Notre Dame will look this year and will be able to see for ourselves with the Irish set to open the season by hosting the Nevada Wolf Pack.  For the first time since 2006, expectations in South Bend are high and the words BCS and Notre Dame are being used in the same sentence without that sentence being a punch line. We’ll get our first glimpse of just how realistic those expectations are in just over a day.

This year’s season opener is a pretty unique matchup for Notre Dame.  The Irish have never played Nevada before and this game was the result of Notre Dame moving the 2004 BYU game ahead of the Michigan game in order to give Notre Dame a tuneup for Michigan.  Well, we all know how well that turned out for Notre Dame.

When the original deal was made to move that BYU game, this game was thought to be a gimme for the Irish.  Times have changed though and this game is anything but a gimme for the Irish.  While Notre Dame has more talent on both sides of the ball than Nevada, the Wolf Pack are a good team and if Notre Dame takes them lightly and sleep walks through another season opener like they did last year, those sky high expectations could come crashing down in a hurry.

Notre Dame on Offense

By now everyone knows that Nevada had one of the worst pass defenses and one of the best run defenses in all of college football a season ago. So it seems pretty obvious that Notre Dame will come out and try to take advantage of their weak pass defense with Jimmy Clausen throwing to the duo of Golden Tate and Michael Floyd at wide receiver. Nevada’s head Chris Ault is in the Hall of Fame for a reason though and will likely try to force Notre Dame to run the football – something the Irish haven’t been able to do with any consistency since 2005.

For Notre Dame to take control of this game early, the offensive line is going to have to show some of the improvements we’ve been hearing about over the last seven months and take it to the Wolf Pack defensive front. If Notre Dame isn’t able to establish the run early, Nevada will simply drop eight men back into coverage and take away throwing lanes for Jimmy Clausen just as teams did last year when it was clear Notre Dame couldn’t get a running game going.

Notre Dame has the backs to have a formidable running game if the line can take a step (or two) forward from last year and force the Nevada defense to play honest. If they can do that, it could be another “bombs away” day for the Notre Dame offense because the Nevada defense simply doesn’t have the talent in the secondary to be able to cover either Floyd or Tate one on one. Nevada is going to be hard pressed to cover Kyle Rudolph over the middle as well.

Establishing the run will be the key to the game for Notre Dame. The Irish have enough talent to be able to win this game threw the air even if the running game stalls, but if they can move the ball on the ground and open up the play action passing game, we could see another Hawaii Bowl-esque offensive performance.

When Notre Dame does pass, look for Nevada to try and get some pressure on Clausen until he shows he can handle it and make them pay. Up to this point in his career Clausen hasn’t shown the ability to avoid a rush and make plays downfield when the pass rush doesn’t get to him. Weis has praised Clausen’s improvement in this department this summer. We’ll get our first glimpse at that progress this weekend. Nevada also doesn’t have the talent in the secondary to stick with Floyd or Tate very long so they will have to try and force Clausen to get rid of the ball quickly.

Notre Dame on Defense

Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick will be one of the better quarterbacks Notre Dame faces all year. He isn’t quite as dangerous as Washington’s Jake Locker, but he is close. Last season Kaepernick threw for 2,849 yards and ran for another 1,130 yards. Notre Dame has had trouble with dual threat quarterbacks in the past and if the blitz happy Irish defense doesn’t get to Kaepernick when they bring pressure he could make them pay with some long runs.

The Wolf Pack offense strives to create a ball control, balanced attack. If they are going to make Saturday’s game competitive throughout, they will have to wear out the Notre Dame defense and keep the Notre Dame offense off the field.

Notre Dame’s biggest weakness on defense last year was holding up against the run throughout games. Teams like Pitt and Michigan State wore Notre Dame out through the course of the game and were able to run the ball almost at will by the time the fourth quarter rolled around. Now, some of that was due to the Irish offense being ineffective at sustaining offense at times and putting the defense in tough situations. Still, the defense was not able to stop the run at critical junctures of games last year and it ended up costing the Irish a couple wins.

If Notre Dame can get a couple stops early and force Nevada into passing the ball, they will force the Wolf Pack to play right into their strength – the secondary. Notre Dame has one of the best secondaries in college football. That secondary should allow Jon Tenuta to dial up as many blitzes as he wants on Saturday because Nevada does not have a lot of experienced talent at receiver this year. Robert Blanton, Raeshon McNeil, and Darrin Walls will most likely be playing a lot of one on one coverage – a task they should be up for.

Notre Dame on Special Teams

Freshman Nick Tausch won the starting place kicking and kick-off duties in camp and will be the starter for Notre Dame this weekend. He will be making his first collegiate kicks so it will be interesting to see how he handles the pressure as a true freshman.

Notre Dame had one of the best kick coverage units in the country last year and with gunner Mike Anello back combined with a kicker who is said to get considerable more hang time than last year’s kickers that shouldn’t change this season. Notre Dame will have the advantage in the return game with Armando Allen and Golden Tate returning punts and freshman Theo Riddick returning kick-offs if for no other reason than the strength of their own coverage units preventing big returns.

Nevada will most likely be jacked up to start the game and there’s a chance we could see a big return early if they are too aggressive and over pursue a kick.

Notre Dame Players of the Game

Look for Jimmy Clausen to put up some big numbers this weekend. While Notre Dame will have to run the ball to be successful, the Irish will be relying heavily on Clausen’s accurate right arm this season. Weis is going to want to build up Clausen’s confidence early and will let him throw the ball a lot on Saturday. Look for Kyle Rudolph to be a big part of the offense this weekend too. Weis will want to show other teams that Notre Dame has a tight end to be reckoned with so they are forced to account for him at all times.

Defensively, if Notre Dame can force Nevada into throwing more than they’d like, Robert Blanton could have a nice game. Blanton is a very instinctive corner and could end up with a pick this weekend. Also look out for Darius Fleming as a pass rusher from the edge and Ethan Johnson from the inside.  Johnson showed a glimpse of what he is capable of in the Hawaii Bowl and should be a disruptive force again this weekend.

Prediction Time

I’ve been torn on how I think Notre Dame will come out of the gates Saturday. My heart tells me that Notre Dame is going to come out and start fast after getting a taste of beating a team soundly in the Hawaii. But, my head tells me that this is still the same team that lost to Syracuse and has a lot of work to do. It’s the season opener though, so what fun would it be listening to my head at this point?

Notre Dame 42, Nevada 21

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  1. Just goes to show you can’t please everyone regardless of the fact that ND shut the wolf pack down. No points,nothing. Came close a few times but the IRISH D held when it had to. Is there room for improvement yes but I think overall the D performed well. Supposedly the wolf pack has one of the best rushing attacks but I didn’t see it. Yes the wolf pack did get some good run but not when it counted. Out of 11 3rd down conversions only 2 were completed by the wolf pack. So give the D the credit where credit is due. One more thing TEO SHOULD BE SARTING.
    The offense was clicking like it should. Passing was right on. The run game is still a work in progress but 178 yards is alot better than I thought it would be. Wolf pack was to have one of the better rushing Ds as well. Funny the IRISH got what they needed when they needed it and yet people still complain. I think as the season goes forward the rushing game gets better and Riddick takes the starting position. This kid is just too good to keep on the sideline.

  2. I love it when I’m right… doesn’t happen very often so I’ll take this one and stick it in my back pocket. I am so happy right now. Tailgate was great, rain never came and my Irish destroyed. All in all, a pretty damn good day.

  3. I’ll echo the first post as well, yes the
    mind says this is our ND team that has been
    inconsistent for as long as we can remember but
    hey if Weis can get them up and motivated I think
    we’ll see a repeat of the Hawaii game.

    I hope that between Gray and Allen we should
    be able to keep our backs fresh, and God willing,
    if our line performs as it should we should be able
    to have a balanced attack on the ground and
    in the air against these guys.

    I’m not sure if I really want our freshman RBs
    and Shaq Evans using up their first year of eligibility
    this year, but on the other hand I’d be excited to see
    them tear up the field just the same.

    Ok enough rambling, GO IRISH, BEAT WOLF PACK!

  4. Good to see all again! Today is like Christmas for me. I woke up and immediately smiled before even opening my eyes. The season is here! GO IRISH!

  5. VicPaul, you are right. And in fact, we did lose 2 games that way. We lost to NC State and Syracuse. We had the lead on both of them and we let up and wound up losing. And would have lost to Navy and I believe it was Stanford that started coming back on us, too. We have to put games away early and though we want to run the clock down, we can’t be too conservative and allow the other teams to outscore us in the 4th quarter, unless we are up by 40 points and even then, our D needs to play like it’s still the first quarter. Our offense can slow up but the defense better now!

  6. I personally think we are going to win this game handley. That being said, if Charlie takes his foot off the gas and doesn’t keep putting up the points I will puke in my chili. I understand not wanting to show anyone up but damn it we almost lost 2 games last year because of that blunder. Full throttle for 4 quarters. Go Irish and God Bless.

  7. Folks, let’s get real.

    Giddiness is fun and great and all, but remember this team and Weis have MUCH to prove. #1 for me is 4 quarters of intensity and toughness. Not since the USC game in 2005 have I seen REAL intensity and toughness from a Charlie Weis ND team. This trumps over anything else by an order of magnitude. I’d rather have 1/2 the raw talent and get twice the scrappiness and heart from this ND team. This really falls on the shoulders of Weis and his staff, and of course senior leadership.

  8. Frank

    Good work. I’m pessimistic on a lot of fronts but this year’s team looks promising. Sure, they lost to Syracuse last year and they blew real leads to too many teams, too, but they’re full of talent.

    As individuals, it seems that these guys are quick, strong, smart, talented. They’ve got real skilled players at skill positions and they have a reworked offensive line. They should come out and dominate. As a team, I am not sure whether they can all play as a unit. I know this, though: Weis is motivated and he’s got some equally driven assistants, too.

    ND 31-17.

    You gotta start somewhere and Saturday in South Bend is a wonderful place to start. Here we go!

  9. Offensive Line

    Defensive Depth ( No stars yet, but we’re two to three deep and should rotate them in and out )

    Offensive line asserts itself?
    Defense stays fresh?

    Everything else takes care of itself.

    Toughness, patience, belief.


  10. lyle? (first entry) That is the most refreshing entry I tink I’ve ever read. Not only do you recommend that people calm down, but you add some mature perspective right from the start. This is college football. And while “YOU PLAY. TO WIN. THE GAME.” (Tony Dungee might say) you also have to RELATIVIZE. (President O’Bama’s recommendation to Americans) We Irish fans must chill-out. We’re gonna win the game. Tony Dungee would be happy.

  11. The closer this game gets the more nervous i am becoming. I hope Notre Dame walks all over Nevada but the Wolfpack are a dangerous team. Her’s hoping the Irish finally play upto their potential and make this a memorable year.

  12. We have to deal with worst-case scenarios in our real lives, but when it comes to sports and Notre Dame, why not let our hearts lead the way?

    Irish special teams have steadily improved due to the higher calibre of our non-starters. They should be even better this year. And if Tausch performs as he has in practice, much of the game should be played in Nevada’s half of the field.

    Everyone expects Tenuta to blitz, blitz, blitz. But the Pistol is an option hybrid. Kaepernick, his thousand-yard runners, and his O-line are veterans. They can make an aggressive defense pay. It’s possible the Irish will focus more on clogging running lanes while containing Kaepernick, and save blitzes for obvious passing downs.

    42-21 sounds good to me. I think we’ll pick up a couple of scores via special teams and turnovers.

      1. I love hearing about people’s predictions, but after last year’s debacle in some of the games I think we should leave them out. Let the players and coaches determine the score! Go Irish

    1. That first line is the best I have read in a long time. You are 100% correct. I am going with my heart on this one too and looking for a great Irish victory.

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