Twas the Night Before Cristmas…

In a little over 24 hours, Dayne Crist will lead the Irish onto the field for the first time in 2011 as he looks to rebound for a second major knee injury and lead the Irish on a BCS quest. (Photo / IconSMI)

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 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

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  1. I think it was quite evident that Rees has a more favorable impact on the team versus Crist. In fact, it is downright disappointing that as a Senior, Crist has not progressed much in the “mental” department (AKA mental toughness, personality impact) regarding his job. That is where Rees is much superior to Crist and it is translated in on-the-field results. I still think we have a QB mismatch with the type of spread offense that Kelly wants to truly run. I think Goolsen and Hendrix better get more reps. It may be time to bring them in if Rees falters and see what they do. This offense is capable of SO MUCH MORE (Look how Wood performed in the first half when they were trying to be run first), if the true dual threat personnel at QB is in place. Crist isn’t it and Rees knows the offense & seems comfortable with it, but, he is not the typical QB to fully implement the spread either. We need more than a guy “managing” a game at QB. I’m not ready to throw in the towel. The offense did generate over 500 yds of offense but moral victories in that catagory don’t mean much when you lose in the points catagory. We need better leadership, both in the player ranks & in the coaching staff to prevent another debacle like this from occurring.

    One other thing. I predict Skip Holtz will never coach as a ND coach. Lou will tell him not too.

  2. -I think Rees should start next week and this week Hendrix and Golson should start receiving a greater portion of the backup reps.

    -The depth issue at tailback is very simple: you move Theo Riddick to his natural position and can replace him with either Roby Toma who has excellent hands or John Goodman who has excellent speed.

    -On defense, we should be sticking to what was successful at the end of last year and playing more man/bump-and-run as opposed to the zone we’ve been using so frequently.

    1. I agree with your opinion on the zone. We have 2 good cover corners why on 3rd and long are they playing back 12 yds and allowing an easy conversion on a curl route or out route.I say play man with outside recievers and challenge the qb.This is my only gripe with the defense.I want to shut people down!

  3. Theres no way im gonna say we need a coaching change yet. But it really hurts. It really hurts to see other ranked teams come in and take care of business in their first games, then watch ND lose to a team with almost zero football history. During the Willingham/Davie era i watched us get torched by teams with stud WR and RB’s simply playing pitch and catch. Why cant we do that to other teams with a guy like Floyd who i consider to be better than the guys that used to torch us (Mario Manningham, Kerry Colbert, Plaxico Burress,etc)?

    Even if this florida team goes on to win the big east its not going to make me feel any better about losing to them, wake forest, or Tulsa and Navy last year. ND SHOULD beat all these teams. I go onto this board as a way to beat myself up emotionally reading the posts but i dont know how much more i can take. I feel like the season is over already with this loss and theres nothing to look forward to. I still want ND to win but my heart is crushed and losing to this team doesnt make me feel confident going into any game this season. The one thing i will take from this is that ND seemed to me to lose this game (turnovers in the red zone, bone head penalties, missed FGs) than florida did to win it. Am i wrong?

  4. This team seems to play so much different with Rees at QB. I don’t know why Crist can’t do it, but he never seems to throw Floyd’s way, while Rees throws it to him constantly. This team gets outscored 16-0 with Crist at QB and outscores them 20-7 with Rees at QB. Crist looks uncomfortable, while Rees seems to know what to do.

    I was all for Crist being the starter, heck, I even said he’d be in the Heisman discussion by mid-season. But it is obvious that Rees is the guy to lead this team right now. He knows how to manage the game and Mayock said over and over how Rees is on time on all his throws while Crist seems to think to much. Wood ruch for over 100 yards, most of it in the first half. Our defense was pretty good, so we just need to correct the mistakes and rally around Rees like last year.

    There was all the hype about the QB competiton, one game set the team straight. Let’s see if Rees can go 5-0 as a starter as he leads the team to the big house. I think the last 2 years this team has gone to Michigan a bit overconfident. Well, we will not need to worry about that now.

    Some are already saying that Skip Holtz should be the head coach at ND, but I still like Kelly and he will turn this thing around. I hope we see an angry team at Michigan next week.

    1. Rees definitely looks more comfortable with the offense and has better command ot the team.Who here is sick of hearing how good Theo Riddick is? he couldnt catch a cold and i hope to never see him return a punt ever again.he is a talent but we have had talent for years what i want is football players.with that said isaw some good things defense played pretty good , i would like to see a forced turnover.cierre wood looked really good and for the most part the o line as well.get back to just playing football,hopefully this is the kick in the pants we needed to turn the corner.

  5. Teo,
    ND doubled their garage, they were not better. ND shot themselves in the foot, I don’t foresee that happening again. Rees is the QB and the defense didn’t five up over 300 yds and only one TD. They will beat Michigan.

  6. Much of the same problem as the beginning of the year last year- two dfferent halves two different teams – the question about Crist or Reese seems to be settled know unless Reese implodes – Yes he threw two picks – one you cannot reaaly pin on him the other I did not see – game off the air. But he looked a lot better than Crist – he came in down 16 and nearly brought them back. Some regrouping needed – defense not a bad job considering the position they ere put in – only gave up one TD – being over optomistic never helps – nine wins maybe ten still there – the self destruction must cease though

  7. IF Notre Dame some how pulls a win out they should just keep Rees as the qb. Christ doesn’t look comfortable in this style offense as were Tommy played hs in an offense similar to this.

    Go Irish!!!

    1. That is, unquestionably, the bottom line. We are less prepared as a team than they are.

      Everyone — myself included — thought we were superior. One thing that was shown throughout this game was that South FLorida is better than we are. They are better prepared. They are more poised. They want it more. Period.

      The freaking Koolaid. It’s tempting when you see the 6-foot-4 quarterback with the rifle arm. It doesn’t help when he throws it to the other team in the end zone. Unreal.

      1. Teo,
        I disagree. They choked. They are a better team the QB play was horrible. Jonas Grey needs to carry a football with him everywhere for a month. This is the second time a fumble if his cost ND. They turned the ball over in the redzone to much.

      2. This is the thing. At a certain point, a person has to ask, “Why are we turning the ball over five times — four in the red zone? And, why aren’t we forcing five turnovers?”

        I mean, they are a better team, South Florida, and they didn’t choke.

        We have a few very talented athletes. And we have a lot of very good athletes.

        They all look solid. They don’t drop passes at key moments. They don’t underthrow at critical times. They don’t overthrow on two-point conversions, either.

        Unquestionably, we choked. But I think South Florida is a better football team than we are right now.

  8. Where is the vaunted defense! Where are the Irish! I drank the Koolaid again……damnmitt!! Put Rees in !~!!!!!!!!!!! Crist sucks!!!!

  9. I agree with Chi-town…if Crist cannot make something happen, he time as a starter are done. Put the kid (Rees) in and rekindle the magic we had last season.

    Again – what is the deal with Jonas Gray??

  10. Can we ever just come out and comfortably handle an inferior opponent? Lately it doesnt matter who the coach is in this dept. Its been a while since we’ve been able to watch ND handle the game against people they
    should be able to beat and be competitive or beat teams they are equal to or ranked. When and if this game resumes i agree with the commentators that they give Crist a series and if he cant move the ball put in Rees. Im trying not to, but its almost panic time.

  11. Same old story. Killing themselves against an inferior opponent. Did I miss the announcement that Kelly had hired Davies, Willingham and Weis as assistants?

  12. Terrible first half – I said all last year that Crist does not look comfortable in the offense – no change there – Woods running great – Unless he picks it up Crist will not be in the starting lineup long – If they pull this off the season could be good – may need to regroup

    1. Awful. They don’t have an offensive touchdown and we don’t have any points.

      Too many turnovers. Lucky we’re in the game given the field position we’ve provided them.

  13. I am getting excited and ready for some football. Enough guessing and lets see the product on the field. The only thing I hate is the feeling of being let down by high expectations. This team needs to step up and show the nation what they can do. As far as the front 7 for South Florida, they are fast but small. It will be 90 degrees in South Bend and they will be dealing with 300 lb offensive lineman which will take it’s toll. If ND takes care of the football they should win, but I just think back to the past 5 yrs and don’t want to be let down.

  14. After the Tulsa loss, this team could have packed it in, as it looked like the season was a disaster in the making. But what actually took place is that the D played as well as any ND D had in decades. They were ferocious and highly active, which is a testament to Kelly/Longo’s brutal but effective S&C program. IMO this is the key that makes Kelly’s ND teams far different than recent ones. These guys are in fantastic shape and have the ability to play well ALL through the season. The coaching and player development are far ahead what we’ve been seen since perhaps Holtz. If we get beat, then it won’t be because we’re not physically able to compete, it’ll be due to other factors. I don’t expect that to happen, not this year, any probably not again. ND 34 USF 17…..

  15. It’s tough to predict a first game but I can see us winning by a lot. Offensively, our line should give Crist plenty of time and should allow the Irish backs, Wood and Gray, some room to make some real gains. They have a relatively small front four and I think our guys should be able to move them based on our experience — 3 solid seniors and a couple of juniors — and size.

    When we are on defense, South Florida will struggle. Our front three, Johnson, Lewis-Moore and Cwynar, are big and fast. And the linebacker crew is very quick and tackles pretty well. But it’s the first game of the season and no one has seen anyone yet, so I suppose anything can happen. Daniels looks tough to defend because he can do a lot but, again, I go back to our size, speed and experience on defense and I think, “Utah.”

    I think we close it out early in the 3rd quarter and win comfortably, 31-14.

  16. As a Bulls fan I want to point out one misunderstanding in your analysis, USF’s defensive front. You rightly point out that we aren’t returning many starters from last year on the line, but you forget that this was the situation last year for the Bulls as well. They had two great ends graduate and the ends that came in after them did their job. You can’t count our “inexperienced” line out, at least 3 of them had decent playing time as back ups last year.

  17. I need to see them play one game before I make a prediction. Lets see if they are for real or all of our hopes were again wrong. I hate to ge a negative but to many years to be let down, I need to see a dominate performance or I think it will be a 7-5 year with a minor bowl. They need to hammer this team. If you don’t match up on paper than it shouldn’t be close. They are real light on the defensive front 7 with a LB weighing 195lbs. They need to assert their dominance in this game.

    1. I can’t be negative, it would mean that BK is a bust and I really can’t believe that. Lose this game and everyone will be wishing we hired Skip. I just can’t bring myself that far down. But CW really rattled our confidence to its very core.

  18. It is hard to make a prediction when you base a prediction on last season, spring and fall practices and most importantly a QB coming off a major knee injury. We know that each side of the line will be strong. Also that there are multiple playmakers on both sides of the ball.

    I’m saying ND beats South Florida 24-14

  19. This is a Must win for the Irish. Lose it and we’re looking at 4 to 6 loses. Win it and we’re looking at 11 or 12 wins. Irish by 20 plus.

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