When the Notre Dame football schedule gets underway on Sunday night, the Irish defense has to adapt to whoever happens to line up behind center for Texas. The misery of a 5-7 season in 2015 for the Longhorns resulted in a number of changes for Texas head coach Charlie Strong’s team, including the hiring of a new offensive coordinator, Sterlin Gilbert.
That means that Notre Dame will be facing a spread offense that will at least attempt to offer a balanced attack. The Irish defense will be tasked with trying to make sure that any success will be achieved later in the season.
Texas Players to Watch
At quarterback, Tyrone Swoopes may start against Notre Dame, though his inconsistency is one reason that true freshman Shane Buechele could end up calling the signals. While Buechele is more accurate, he would be entering a pressure-packed situation.
That may force the Longhorns to focus on their running game. Led by “The Smash Brothers,” otherwise known as D’Onta Foreman and Chris Warren, their nickname stems from their massive size, though both have speed. Warren’s problem has been staying healthy.
The top receiver for Texas will be John Burt, who caught 28 passes in 2015, though he only scored two touchdowns. He’s likely to be joined by former quarterback Jerrod Heard.
The Longhorn offensive line has been ravaged by injuries, with Connor Williams one of the few who’s still healthy. Fellow tackle Tristan Nickelson, guard Patrick Vahe and freshman center Zach Shackleford need to make it back after sustaining some of those injuries.
Match-Ups Notre Dame Can Exploit
The play of the Texas offensive line could very well determine whether the Longhorns can spring the upset. That’s especially true, because of the Irish possessing the depth to cause a great deal of trouble during the game.
Given that weakness and the shaky passing attack that’s trying to adapt to a new system, this Notre Dame Texas matchup should allow the Irish to effectively implement an eight-in-the-box defense. That will help keep Foreman and Warren in check and could make life chaotic for two signal callers who have either given no indication that they can handle the job or lack experience.
The only issue may be trying to bring down the duo of Foreman and Warren on a regular basis over the course of a game. That’s a tiring prospect, especially in the early September heat.
Match-Ups Notre Dame Should Avoid
The likelihood of Texas being able to immediately take advantage of the up-tempo offense being constructed isn’t strong. Still, forcing the Longhorns to run the ball is preferable to putting the onus on a Notre Dame secondary that’s been decimated.
Heard has the speed and quickness to make things happen. Coupled with that is the fact that Burt is a two-sport athlete, with that other sport being track & field. That’s a fairly potent indicator of his own speed.
As always, there are skilled athletes in the Irish defensive backfield, but Brian Kelly would prefer not having them put to the test this early on the Notre Dame football schedule.
The Bottom Line
Prior to the start of training camp, Texas had seven starters returning for an offense that relied too much on its running game in 2015. The problem for them is that offensive line injury woes hurt the Longhorns, especially in their attempt to smoothly transition to a new philosophy. That makes the challenge of winning this Notre Dame vs Texas matchup more difficult.