2015 Notre Dame Football Schedule Breakout – Part I

Notre Dame vs. Michigan 2014
Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly leads his players onto the field before the game against the Michigan Wolverines at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The time has finally come.  With the 2015 season set to kick off in several short weeks, UHND is ready to roll out its annual breakdown of the Notre Dame football schedule with the first of three segments.  While momentum fluctuates and injuries occur, UHND will look deep into its crystal ball to project Notre Dame’s future record given the evidence currently at hand.

The Fighting Irish are ready to field their most talented team since 1993, an era when legendary coach Lou Holtz roamed the sidelines and the program was at its zenith.  Can current head coach Brian Kelly take the talent he has brought in and return Notre Dame to the top of the college football world?

Notre Dame vs. Texas

Notre Dame starts its season with a bang, hosting one of college football’s most historic programs, the Texas Longhorns, after a nearly twenty year hiatus.  Texas head coach Charlie Strong is entering his second season in Austin after a 6-7 campaign.  It took Strong two full seasons in Louisville to get the Cardinals to an elite level.  Can he do the same for the Longhorns?

Texas will bring a questionable offense with it to South Bend.  The Longhorns’ top two wide receivers from last year have graduated, making their most experienced wide receiver Marcus Johnson, a senior that mustered only 27 receptions last fall.  The running back position isn’t in much better shape.  Although Texas boasts former five-star Jonathan Gray in the backfield, Gray suffered a devastating Achilles injury in 2013 and has yet to prove he’s recovered from its aftermath, accumulating only 9 yards on 17 carries in Texas’ last two games.  Making matters worse, the quarterback position is unsettled, and Strong intends to deploy a two quarterback system in Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard.

The Longhorns’ defense finished second in the Big 12 last season, although statistics can be misleading.  Five different power five programs scored 30 or more points on the Longhorns last year, including Iowa State, who managed to pile on over 40 points.  Making matters worse, Texas loses six defensive starters from last year’s squad, including standout defensive lineman, Malcom Brown.

Prediction

By the end of 2015 Charlie Strong will have Texas turning the corner toward a brighter future.  That will not be the case to start the season, however.  The Longhorns have too many questions on offense, and defensively will have no answer for Notre Dame’s dominant offensive line.

Notre Dame pulls away in the second half after initially stumbling when Texas deploys an up-tempo offensive attack, something defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder struggled with last season.

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Result: Notre Dame 31, Texas 21

Notre Dame at Virginia

Notre Dame kicks off its ACC schedule with a trip to Charlottesville to play Virginia, a program not faced on the gridiron since 1989.  Mike London is entering his sixth season as the Cavaliers’ head coach and is speculated to be on the hot seat, having posted only one winning season and dropping five of the last six games to conclude 2014.

Virginia had a similar offseason to Notre Dame, beginning with a quarterback battle that prematurely ended when last season’s starter, Greyson Lambert, transferred out, making room for up-and-comer Matt Johns.  Johns is a pro-style passer that complements Virginia’s rushing attack, which finished No. 97 in the country last fall.  The Cavaliers’ ground game should see a significant boost this fall now that former five-star running back Taquan Mizzell, nicknamed “Smoke” due to his elusiveness and speed, is the starter.

Virginia’s stingy defense carried them last year, helping them to not only beat Louisville – a team which defeated Notre Dame – but limit their potent offense to 21 points.   Unfortunately for Virginia, defensive stalwarts Eli Harold and Max Valles departed early for the NFL.

Prediction

This game may very well have the makeup of a business trip Fighting Irish fans just want to end.  With Georgia Tech looming on the schedule – and Virginia’s poor record over the past several seasons – Notre Dame could get caught sleepwalking through this contest, a dangerous proposition given the blue-chip talent interspersed throughout Virginia’s depth chart.

Look for Brian Kelly to lean on his rushing attack to work through the malaise as Notre Dame takes advantage of Virginia starting three new linebackers on defense.

Result: Notre Dame 28, Virginia 21

Notre Dame vs. Georgia Tech

Much of the football world scoffed when Georgia Tech hired Paul Johnson, Navy’s former head coach who brought his triple-option offense with him to Atlanta, but who’s laughing now?  Entering his eighth season in the Peach State, Johnson boasts a .690 winning percentage and is coming off an 11-win campaign after handily defeating a top-ten ranked Mississippi State program in the Orange Bowl.

Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas became a bona fide star last year and is tailor-made for Johnson’s offense.  Thomas rushed for over 1,000 yards at a nearly six yards per carry average , but what makes him dangerous is his efficiency in the passing game, tossing 18 touchdown passes to only 6 interceptions.  A triple-option offensive attack with a legitimate passing threat is a nearly unstoppable combination, which played a key role in Tech unexpectedly tearing through the ACC last season.

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As good as Georgia Tech was on offense, they were equally poor on defense.  Johnson’s defensive unit surrendered over 400 yards per game, and the graduation of All-ACC linebacker Quayshawn Nealy will pose a significant challenge for a squad in need of improvement.

Prediction

There will be two explosive offenses on the field when Notre Dame and Georgia Tech clash, making the tipping point which defense will make the most big plays.  There has been a long-running debate amongst the Irish faithful as to whether Notre Dame’s defensive collapse late last season was due to scores of injuries suffered at a nearly unprecedented rate, or legitimate cracks in the defensive foundation.

What many Irish fans fail to recall is Notre Dame surrendering 336 yards to Navy and trailing the Midshipmen in the third quarter prior to star linebacker Joe Schmidt’s season-ending injury.  There were legitimate questions as to Brian VanGorder’s ability to handle the triple-option prior to the Navy game, and he did nothing during to quell those concerns.  If VanGorder struggled to stop the triple-option scheme against Navy, how does he intend to stop that same scheme when run by power five-caliber athletes, particularly after the loss of nose guard Jarron Jones to injury for the season?

Result: Georgia Tech 41, Notre Dame 31

Notre Dame vs. Massachusetts

The Minutemen’s visit to Notre Dame Stadium will mark the first time the programs meet.  Head coach Mark Whipple posted a 3-9 record last season, although there is strong reason to believe UMass is trending upward.  The Minutemen return 18 starters from a squad that lost five games by a margin of seven points or less.

Quarterback Blake Frohnapfel completely transformed the Minutemen’s offense upon his transfer from Marshall last season.  Massachusetts went from a basement dweller to the No. 1 passing offense in the Mid-American Conference in just one season, and those numbers should only increase with the return of senior wide receiver Tajae Sharpe, who managed to secure 85 passes for 1,281 yards.

The Achilles heel for Whipple’s team is on the defensive side.  The Minutemen were incapable of producing any pass rush whatsoever, ranking 112th nationally.  The secondary was also leaky, surrendering big plays and finishing 99th in passing yards allowed.  And a quarterback with plenty of time against a questionable secondary spells bad things for any team.

Prediction

A contest against Massachusetts will be perfectly timed for an Irish squad looking to rebound after a tough loss to Georgia Tech.  Notre Dame will be able to do whatever it pleases offensively, forcing Massachusetts into a one-dimensional offensive look it can ill afford.

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Result: Notre Dame 45, Massachusetts 20

Notre Dame exists the month of September with a 3-1 record.  The Irish’s next four opponents – Clemson, Navy, USC and Temple – will be previewed next week in Part II of UHND’s Season Prediction series.

Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor.  He talks football 24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his wife and those around him.  Scott can be reached at scottjanssenhp@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter.

 

 

 

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12 comments

  1. david 4 years ago

    Much of the football world scoffed when Georgia Tech hired Paul Johnson, Navy’s former head coach who brought his triple-option offense with him to Atlanta, but who’s laughing now?
    —————————–
    I threw out Johnson ‘s name as my hope for the ND job after the ‘Air Weis’ debacle…and was laughed at right here on this board. No way did the smart fans here want an option-happy, “small-timey” coach like Paul Johnson.

    So here we are….with the Brian Kelly vaudeville act looking pretty old, Malik Zaire (a Tony Rice option doppleganger) at QB, and ND destined to be embarrassed by Johnson’s GT.

    Hunh.

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  2. Michael the Archangel 4 years ago

    First road game and an obvious trap game between a Strong coached TX and an option GT team with a star returning QB running it, Virginia has the makings of a very dangerous game indeed, Scott.
    And it doesn’t seem to get much easier after the opening three. Here’s a safe prediction. This year’s schedule will be even more challenging and noteworthy looking back at the end of this season than it looks now.Throw in the several ACC teams to be faced with them giving themselves extra prep time leading up to the ND game and it gets even tougher.

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  3. Bruce johnson 4 years ago

    https://youtu.be/rX5dk3XvzYs
    If you want to be the best you follow this guy’s example.
    Notice the cheap hit at the end. The guy should have been arrested for assault.
    Go Domers

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  4. Brad 4 years ago

    I haven’t watched any of Georgia Tech. Since they are probably recruiting bigger and better athletes on the offensive line, do they block their triple option scheme a little more traditionally? (no cut blocks, etc.)

    That would ease some tension as the fear of injury may be less.

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  5. Shazamrock 4 years ago

    There should be a major difference in VanGorder’s defense this year…… they will be practicing against ND’s offense… which is now QB’d by Zaire… who is pretty gifted as a read option QB himself…. Something that Everett Golson didn’t do (or wasn’t allowed to do)

    I would be surprised if going against more of a natural running QB on a daily basis didn’t help improve the defense.

    One might also expect the ND defense to be a better overall tackling team given the improvement in quality and depth on that side of the ball… which normally allows for a bit more “full contact” in practice….. which is usually the difference between an average tackling team and an excellent tackling team.

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  6. Scott Janssen 4 years ago

    I’m a bit surprised people think the projected numbers are poor. Currently I have ND projected to score 33 points per game, which would have been No. 33 in the country last year (and also an improvement over last year’s offense). Likewise, I have the defense giving up 25 points per game, which would have them at about No. 50 (also an improvement from last year).

    I’m also a bit surprised there are those surprised to see Georgia Tech projected to score 41 points when Georgia Tech scored 38 points or more in 50-percent of their games last year, and ND gave up 39 points to Navy. Tech scoring an additional two points isn’t much of a stretch.

    Can VanGorder figure out the option and up-tempo offensive attacks? Sure, but in no way should anyone say that he has proven he can after last year’s Navy and USC game.

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  7. Bob R 4 years ago

    I’m more bullish on both the Notre Dame offense and defense than you are, Scott, not to mention the coaching. Eight months after the 2014 season ended, I will say that VanGorder knows option and uptempo offenses very, very well. I don’t see these as any sort of Achilles’ heel for ND.

    I don’t see them sleepwalking through any of the games on the schedule, either. The whole team is focused on a national championship. They understand that the way to get there is to play each game as if it were the championship game.

    I don’t think any of these games will be closer than seven points. This is a great team this year, a good deal better than the 2012 team.

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  8. Ron Burgundy 4 years ago

    “Only fools make predictions, and bigger fools pay attention,”
    -duranko

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  9. duranko 4 years ago

    Jack, I think new posters would be edified if you posted your pregame prediction for the ND Michigan game last Fall. You may further increase the edification by juxtaposing your prediction with the actual score of the game.

    And I would not even comment on the imprecise”this game” as you are a serial fraidy cat.

    Again, merely post your predictions.

    You know what they say: “daylight is the best illujnant, clean air the best disinfectant.”

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  10. Jack 4 years ago

    Scott,

    I see ND losing this game, but not by that much. Also, I am hoping BK doesn’t revert back to throwing the ball 40 times and runs the ball. I think it will be a 3 point game.

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  11. IrisChan 4 years ago

    I’m really looking forward to the Georgia Tech game. I already have began preparing my living room for this game. All throwable items have been nailed down & a chain link fence has been installed in front of my tv. lol

    It’s gonna be a hell of a game. It’s hard to disagree with the prediction based upon how our defense has gotten pushed around & allowed navy to run their offense down our throats in past years. These guys are far better athletes than Navy.

    That said. I’m not counting this as a defeat yet. Our defense is loaded with a lot of talent & veterans in very important spots. Loosing Jones is a big deal for this game but I still think the IRISH can win.

    At any rate. It’s gonna be an emotional game!

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  12. CGar 4 years ago

    ND 38 – UT 17 / ND 31 – UVA 14 / ND 35 – GaTech 24 / ND 49 UMass 10

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