The long, long off-season is almost behind us and we are now just counting down the hours until Dayne Crist leads the 2011 Fighting Irish onto the field as Notre Dame plays host to South Florida and Matt from SportsCrack.com was kind enough to provide us with a preview of tomorrow’s season opener.
(Note: tip of the hat to long time UHND poster and contributor Jack Daniels for this afternoon’s headline)
This will be the first ever meeting between the South Florida Bulls and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. South Florida comes in with a head coach who is all too familiar with Notre Dame in alum Skip Holtz. ND head coach Brian Kelly has a history with the South Florida program too as he went 3-0 while the head man at Cincinnati with an average win of 12 points per game. Notre Dame has been traditionally stout in home openers going 12-3 since 1996 including 3 straight wins since the 2007 Georgia Tech debacle. If the Fighting Irish have BCS dreams they need to come out with swagger, focus, and intensity as soon as they hit the Play Like A Champion Today sign and run out of that tunnel. The Bulls of South Florida are preseason Big East favorites by some pundits.
South Florida Offense: The Bulls have one of the best duel threat QB’s in the nation in B. J. Daniels. Daniels will be looking to escape the pocket against a swarming Irish defense. In the backfield with Daniels is Colorado transfer Darrell Scott who was a 5 star prospect (#1 tailback in 2007) coming out of the prep ranks who never lived up to his billing in the Rockies. Also in the backfield is Demetris Murray who is a little smaller than Scott and they will be looking to break off some 10+ yard runs against a good Irish run defense. They will be running behind an inexperienced offensive line and Daniels will be looking to throw the ball downfield to A.J. Love and Sterling Griffin. As talented as Daniels is he is known to make mistakes and had more interceptions than touchdowns last year. The Bulls will be looking to run the ball and control the line of scrimmage. With the bodies ND has up front I expect the Irish to have an advantage.
South Florida Defense: The Bulls have major issues on the defensive line with only one returning starter. Like their offensive line Notre Dame should be able to control the line of scrimmage against an undersized Bulls unit. Their best defensive player is weak side linebacker DeDe Lattimore who as a freshman last season was the second leading tackler on the team. He will be one of the better defensive players Notre Dame goes against all season. Their secondary returns 3 of 4 starters along with 7 of the top 8 players and they will be looking to shut down the Irish passing game behind a somewhat inconsistent Dayne Crist. South Florida will look to run stunts and confuse the Fighting Irish into making mistakes. If the defense can cause 2 or more turnovers the Bulls could pull the upset.
Notre Dame Offense: QB Dayne Crist is looking to prove all the naysayers including myself wrong this season. Last year Crist was inconsistent and often looked like a deer in headlights with a 4-5 record before going down with another knee injury. This season I expect Crist to step up his game behind a stellar offensive line. In the backfield with Crist is junior Cierre Wood. Wood is a fast and elusive back who can take it to the house anytime he touches the ball. Look for Wood to run all over an inexperienced USF front four. When not handing it off to Wood Crist will be looking for All-American WR Michael Floyd. Nobody in the college game can cover Floyd and being the nightmare he is to gameplan against expect Crist to be locking into him early on. Receivers Theo Riddick and TJ Jones are good complementary receivers and should get touches along with TE Tyler Eifert. I expect the Irish to control the line led by left tackle Zack Martin and Kelly’s spread offense to blossom in it’s second year in South Bend.
Notre Dame Defense: The biggest reason for optimism this year under the Golden Dome is the defense. Last season the defense improved tremendously in the last 4 games and this should be their best defense in a decade. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco has a tremendous front 7 led by an experienced front 3 with plenty of depth. Look for Kapron Lewis-Moore and Ethan Johnson to be causing havoc to a virgin Bulls line all day. Freshmen Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt will also get reps in the second series and will keep the Irish legs fresh. The linebacking crew is led by All-American Manti Te’o. Te’o is on a mission to destroy any ball carrier on his field..yes, his field. He will be teamed up with senior Darius Fleming who will look to contain Daniels if he does escape the pocket. The secondary is led by senior captain Harrison Smith. Smith had 7 INTs last year and along with CB’s Gary Gray and Robert Blanton they should have one of the best secondaries in the nation. They along with safeties Jamoris Slaughter and Zeke Motta will be looking for timely turnovers from the somewhat erratic Daniels.
What I Expect To Happen: This is the biggest game potentially in the Bulls young history. Expect Holtz to have them fired up and ready. I think it will take a couple of series for the Notre Dame offense to shake off some of the cobwebs and I think the ND defense should control the game. I don’t think it will be high scoring because of this. Daniels will have some big plays but I also expect the Irish to cause some crucial red zone turnovers. I think Murray will be effective at the tailback position and Scott will be neutralized. The spread is 10 points in favor of the home team but I think it will be closer than that. In what should be a tight and entertaining game and probably a little too close for some ND fans including myself’s comfort the Irish pull it out behind some huge catches from senior WR Floyd.
Prediction: Notre Dame 21 South Florida 13