Nevada ’16: Notre Dame Defense vs. Nevada’s Offense

Nevada RB James Butler (Photo: Lance Iversen // USA TODAY Sports)
Nevada RB James Butler (Photo: Lance Iversen // USA TODAY Sports)

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.

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  1. I can’t understand this team. The coaches should have the defense running better at this point. As deplorable as the defense seemed, it was the offense that lost the game. First when they failed to take the home crowd out of the game with a respectable lead. Then they settled on running plays and using the clock instead of finishing them off after they had the lead in the fourth quarter. It almost seemed that the coach didn’t want to win. Texas will be a good team, but they aren’t that good.

  2. We are not losers, there is no lack of “toughness”, and nobody I know of in the program accepts failure. If anyone did, Brian Kelly would say goodbye to them immediately.

    As for the days of Jerry Faust – just remember that “the boys who really know football” all wanted to “turn Dan Devine’s program around” – and these football geniuses all applauded loudly and publicly when Faust was hired. Well, Jerry turned Dan’s program around, for sure, and very quickly.

    The smart play is to give Coach Kelly a few more years – right now we have some mixed results…and some issues that need to be resolved. But we also have a really good offense, and some really good players, who, though they never seem to get credit for it, are beating really good teams, especially on our own field.

    If we have a mediocre season, we can reevaluate in December. But everyone knows we are going to have a good season. The same people who think we just lost to a rinky dink team in Austin are going to be the only ones surprised by Charlie Strong and Texas this year.

    Patience guys.
    Bruce Curme

    Bruce Curme
    La Crosse, Indiana

  3. So much acceptance of failure and a fear that getting rid of Kelly and or Bvg returns us to the days of Jerry Faust. It’s a losers attitude and this is what the Irish have become.

  4. I just dont trust this defense its a mess and has been last year umass rip off a big run so did boston college where is the speed to stop this I understand usc having great speed but we shouldnt allow big plays against inferior teams can nevada do this too bvg defense is just terrible

  5. SteelFanRob,
    Yes, we have been annihilated by bigger, stronger, quicker and faster teams – especially in bowl games to Ohio State and Alabama…and we need to close that gap, which is more a depth problem at the end of the year than a systemic problem.
    We do need to recruit a little better, especially on defense. We also need a simplified defense that does not take two or three years to master, to go along with our more complicated packages. Either that, or stay healthy! At the end of the year, if our juniors and seniors can’t play, and we don’t have a simpler, but still effective package to run on defense, this problem in the bowl games will persist.
    On the other hand, we are hardly alone in losing games badly to Alabama and Ohio State. This is not just a “Notre Dame” problem. Everybody has it – but they are beatable (Mississippi and MSU, for example). Bruce Curme

  6. I don’t think recruiting has anything to do with the ineffectiveness of the defense. It wasn’t one player out of position or missing tackles, it was quite a few. In my opinion, the coaching is to blame. As the schemes were being blown up. I cannot remember which article I read this in, but the quality of players being recruited on defense are just the same as on offense. However there is a sharp difference between the stats the two produce. Which further leads me to believe the problem is a coaching issue. To be honest, I have been a BVG fan from the beginning, I thought the schemes he brings are great. However, the adjustments are not made when it is apparent that the schemes are not producing the desired results. If he cannot make the adjustments for this season and ND ends up losing 3+ games, he needs to be replaced. With the offense ND has, there is no reason ND cannot win out the rest of the season and have a shot at the playoffs.

    1. No recruiting problem on “D”?!! On our two deep for the safeties and the corners we have exactly one guy over 6 feet tall – one out of 8! What is this – Drue and the seven dwarfs? I commend those guys for their speed and quickness and their desire, but in modern football we need taller guys back there, too! Everyone else has 6’2 and 6’3 d-backs…why can’t we get (and keep) them? We also need a dominant pass rusher or two. There are plenty of them in the SEC and some in the ACC and Big 12 too. Where are ours?
      Bruce Curme
      La Crosse, Indiana

  7. “We just need to win some big road games.”

    Obviously, easier said than done!

    The whole point is why does BK and his teams continually fall just short?

    We could also mention the times they just get outright manhandled by bigger, stronger, tougher, faster, quicker, better-coached, etc. rivals.

  8. Sure we can blame BVG and his scheme , but what eally hurts us is lack of good recruiting on defense. We have to get difference makers on that side of the ball especially on the D Line. We have a championship caliber offense but thats not good enough. Brian Kelly has to find a way to tap into the south and bring in some elite DL from the south. There is no way around it.

  9. Brian Kelly’s head? Let’s remember he took the Irish to an undefeated 2012 regular season, they were in the national title hunt until a week 9 loss in 2014, and last season they were likely a defensive play away from making the BCS playoffs. I read ND returned the least amount of starters of any Top 25 team as well.

  10. Kizer will be the go to QB. That pretty much already happened. After Zaire’s quick 3 and out starting the 3rd quarter you didn’t see him again. BK gave him a fair shot. I wouldn’t say Zaire blew it, he’ll get his chances going forward, but until Kizer implodes (which hopefully does not happen) he will be the go to guy.

    I think BK is just being coy, the old coaches trick of keeping your opponent guessing. I’m sure Zaire will hit the field for some plays, and if ND does open a big lead, I’m sure he’ll get on the field. But I doubt you’ll see the QB carousel this week as long as the game is competitive.

  11. We lost a close road game at Florida State, then a close one at Clemson, then a close one at Stanford, and now a really close one at Texas. Where would we (and Brian Kelly) be if we had split those instead of going down in the last minute, or overtime, all four times? That’s right, brutal critics, we’d be in the penthouse.

    So it’s really simple – we just need to win some big road games – and we’ll be fine.

    Meanwhile, nobody has been beating us in South Bend, including the “great” programs that struggle to beat us with absurd home field advantages. Just keep it up guys. Keep it up. It will take care of itself, if you keep with the program.

    One change we might have to consider is going back to Independent Referees. That is a sad, unfortunate fact that Ara learned the hard way. I think maybe we just “relearned” it once again – the hard way. We should start talking to BYU again, about that and other things.

    Bruce Curme 77, 82
    La Crosse, Indiana

  12. we’re -28 over Nevada. Should be a confidence builder coming up against Mich. St. Football is all about Momentum. Lets let it start vs. the Wolfpack.

  13. I agree with RichM about the play-calling. Too many wasted downs. Very concerned about the overall sloppy play, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The 2 QB thing needs to end today. I have no problem with Malik getting some snaps, but going back and forth has to stop. Malik is a great person and a heck of a QB, but Kizer is the man. The Irish need to dominate Nevada for four quarters on Saturday. Another sloppy game will bring big-time discontent upon BK and his staff.

  14. I was reading a question on FOX Sports about a ND fan wanting BK to be fired and I’ve come to the conclusion some fans are living in a dream land. The Saban-Meyer type coaches are not coming to ND, ever. They got nice plum jobs where they are at already at schools willing to fork over millions to keep them there, all without having to meet the stringent academic standards ND has.

    Now before anyone gets all twisted out of shape, I’m not saying other schools don’t have academic standards. But let’s be honest, ND’s is stringent. They’ll turn away a 5 star recruit if they don’t meet those standards. Saban, Meyer and others like them can basically recruit whoever they want.

    Most of the world outside some delusional ND fans think BK has done an excellent job at ND. Firing him would be a costly mistake. Any coach in his right mind would not come to ND under those circumstances, no way. If BK is fired (which there is no chance of happening in the near future, BTW), you’d have to be prepared to return to the mediocre Davie-Willingham-Weis years, probably permanently. Now is that was you really want.

    I’m not saying fans should be satisfied, neither is BK. But remember when Weis was fired, ND was teetering on the edge of irrelevancy. One more bad coach and ND would have been just like Northwestern and other schools like that. High academic standards, barely average football team that pokes it’s head above water and maybe has a 10 win season every 10 years or so. What do we have now, a perennially top 25 team that other teams respect on their schedule. Not elite yet, but a team that year in and out is contending for a NY Day 6 bowl. Fire BK and that’s all gone. ND is not mediocre anymore, as some fans contend. They are a solid contender that needs a few more steps to being elite (a shakeup in the defensive staff may be needed).

  15. Let’s face it the defense did not show up against Texas, both the line and backs! I’m sure changes will be made there. If not I feel sorry for the Irish. Kizer needs to be #1 just based on last week alone. Let’s hope this week the Irish will iron out the defense and continue to roll as an offense. Scoring 47 pts. and losing is not anywhere near acceptable. Van Gorder needs to wake up more then the echos quickly or he maybe looking at the door. And who is calling the plays? That sequence right after the extra pt. return was as bad as it gets! Be a little more imaginative and throw at least one pass. Come on! You didn’t need to put the offense to sleep and run clock at that point. Wake up ND or it will be a long season. You could be looking at 9-3 at best and that will be just another Kelly mediocre season at ND! Go Irish!

  16. Hopefully the defense just stays disciplined. If they just keep to their assignments, complete tackles and avoid bonehead penalties that would go a long way. That part should not be complicated. I will say usually, if they know going in there’s a guy to keep bottled up they are effective at that. They know Butler is dangerous going in and they will probably be effective at that.

    I think back to the Stanford game last year where they had to keep McCaffrey bottled up, and they did a good job at that (unfortunately Stanford found other ways to win). So I think they’ll do the same here. What helps is Nevada isn’t quite as good as Stanford so keeping Butlers stats in check should be enough, as long as they complete tackles, stick to their assignments and don’t take bonehead penalties.

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