Looking for the same level of success that they had in their meeting last year, Notre Dame football gets the 2016 season underway with a road meeting against the Texas Longhorns. Last year’s Notre Dame vs Texas meeting was a 38-3 cakewalk for the Irish under the Golden Dome.
That rout served as a window into the long year the Texas defense would have, allowing 30 or more points six times. As the Notre Dame opponent this week, they’re looking to avoid déjà vu in front of a friendly Austin crowd.
Texas Players to Watch
Some of loudest cheers likely to be be heard for the Texas defense will be directed at a pair of sophomore linebackers, Malik Jefferson and Anthony Wheeler. Jefferson’s coming off a season in which he won Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year and Wheeler knows how to deliver a powerful hit.
Up front, two players that likely need to be held in check are Charles Omenihu and Naashon Hughes at the ends, with Hughes having packed on 30 pounds of bulk. Bryce Cottrell may end up starting against the Irish in place of Omenihu, but will only supplant him for a short time.
On the inside, that bulk is very much in evidence and led by fifth-year senior Paul Boyette, who was able to pick up eight stops behind the line last year. Amid the young players vying for playing time in this area, Jordan Elliott may emerge the quickest, though Poona Ford is one of the few in this area with experience.
Sophomore cornerbacks Devante Davis and Holton Hill could be pushed by Kris Hall after getting a baptism under fire in 2015. At the safety slots, Dylan Haines and Jason Hall are also back, with Haines having led the team last year with five picks.
Match-Ups Notre Dame Can Exploit
Considering how the Irish talent at wide receiver continues to flow, focusing on this area can pay dividends. Last season, Malik Zaire was 19 of 22 for 313 in shredding Texas, his lone 2015 highlight.
The Longhorn secondary they’ll be facing was scorched on a regular basis in 2015. While some of that can be attributed to the pass rush, much of the problem was because the raw talent on the field hadn’t quite meshed.
A new year allows for more experience, but this Notre Dame Texas battle comes at the start of the season, so everything might not yet be in sync for Texas. Plus, with all the newcomers up front for the Longhorns, the Irish signal caller (whoever it happens to be) could have enough time to do some damage.
Match-Ups Notre Dame Should Avoid
The Longhorns allowed 219 yards of rushing per game, which would seemingly be the area to attack. However, the major focus of Texas during the offseason has been to shore up this area and being the first game, it might be wiser to take to the air because of the Longhorns’ focused effort to make a statement.
Plus, the athleticism of the ends may preclude outside running and the inside figures to be bottled up by the contingent at linebacker. That means a focus on the air game should be the approach until shown otherwise.
The Bottom Line
While the Notre Dame opponent this week is still finding their way, the site of the game and the sting of last year’s loss will help Texas, which figures to make the Irish’s challenge of maintaining their fragile national title hopes slightly harder.