Having surrendered 50 points and 517 yards in its opening night defeat to Texas, the Irish defense needs to quickly fix some gaping holes before their September 17 matchup against Michigan State. Before that takes place, they’ll be facing the Nevada Wolfpack, which is led by former Irish assistant Brian Polian.
This Notre Dame Nevada 2016 matchup offers some ironic connections to the only other meeting between the two in 2009, a 35-0 Irish shutout. Then-head coach Charlie Weis was beginning his last year, with Polian serving as an assistant. By the end of that 6-6 campaign, Weis was gone and Brian Kelly was hired.
Nevada Players to Watch
In this Notre Dame Nevada matchup, the Wolfpack’s main offensive strength is based on the ground game. James Butler rushed for over 1,000 yards last year and began the season last Friday night by collecting 123 yards on 21 carries. His two touchdowns were a 50-yard sprint up the middle for the first score and the overtime game winner.
Behind center is quarterback Tyler Stewart, a fifth-year senior who possesses some mobility. He was accurate in the opening clash, connecting on 17 of 23 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns. That precision is his calling card, though his arm is fairly suspect.
Despite this flaw, Stewart will be protected by an experienced line and showed that he can spread the ball around by connecting with nine different receivers against Cal Poly. Chief among this group are Wyatt Demps and Jerico Richardson, who combined for seven grabs. Demps’ touchdown bordered on amazing, coming in one-handed fashion.
Match-Ups Notre Dame Can Exploit
Keeping Butler in check sounds easier than it actually is, but focusing almost exclusively on him should go a long way in shutting down this facet of the Nevada offense. Against Cal Poly, he provided two-thirds of the Wolfpack rushing attack, with the three other rushers only accounting for 51 yards.
In reality, simply keeping the Nevada offense off the field should be the main goal of the Notre Dame defense. Cal Poly was able to use its running game to rack up 383 yards on the ground, holding almost a 22 to 8 advantage in the area of second half ball control. That resulted in 14 fourth quarter points and kept the Wolfpack off the scoreboard until the overtime portion began.
Match-Ups Notre Dame Should Avoid
Butler’s presence on the field certainly demands close attention in this Notre Dame Nevada contest. Yet given the state of the Irish passing defense, the need to quickly find a way to make up for the talent depletion in the secondary is imperative. That’s due to the number of different options that are available to Stewart.
While Demps and Richardson should be the main areas of concern for the Notre Dame defense, Andrew Celis and Victor Gonzalez were also able to make things tough for the Cal Poly secondary, despite only combining for three catches. Celis grabbed two passes for over 20 yards each and Gonzalez had a single catch, though it was for 46 yards.
The Bottom Line
Ordinarily, facing offenses from the Mountain West conference in front of a supportive audience might be cause to look ahead. However, after watching both the rushing and passing sides of the Notre Dame defense get riddled by Texas, this Notre Dame Nevada 2016 matchup needs to have a confidence-boosting effort. While the short week won’t help, the likelihood of coming away with a comfortable win against the Wolfpack is still very high.