Another week, another top 15 opponent coming into the House that Rockne built to take on the Fighting Irish who now sport a top 10 ranking of their own. Notre Dame is suddenly one of the hottest teams in the country and being talked about as a legit playoff contender. With the College Football Playoff Committee releasing their first official rankings on Monday, the Irish have a chance to add another impressive win to their resume. Standing in their way, however, is a NC State team bringing one of the most stout rush defenses in the country and looking to make a playoff statement of their own.
What Concerns Me This Weekend
Notre Dame abandoning the run too soon. NC State has one the 6th best rush defense in the country statistically speaking this year and they are going to come out keyed on stopping the Notre Dame run game that is averaging over 300 yards a game. It’s classic strength vs, strength. Too many times in the past we’ve seen Notre Dame attack such matchups by ignoring their strength and insteading focusing solely on the opponent’s weakness.
Notre Dame is a running football team and they have to stick with the running game today. Even if NC State comes out and shuts down the run game early, Notre Dame needs to keep feeding its stable of backs the ball and trust that its offensive line will win out in the end. If the Irish bail on the run too early, things could get dicey.
Too few carries for Dexter Williams. Dexter Williams is supposed to be back this week. If he is, he needs to run the football more than a couple of times and before the 4th quarter. I do like the idea of hitting opponents with Adams and Tony Jones Jr early and then unleashing Williams late because of his athleticism, but he needs to get the ball early as well to get into a groove before then. Williams is a dynamic playmaker and Notre Dame is going to need all of its playmakers this afternoon.
Let down alert. Last week was an epic beatdown of USC and took a lot of emotional energy. In some ways, the ease with which Notre Dame won makes it a bit easier than if the Irish own a hard fought close game. The problem now is keeping those heads from getting too big. Hopefully all Brian Kelly had to do was put on the tape from last year’s debacle in Raleigh to keep them grounded. Hopefully it reminded Brian Kelly of exactly what not to do.
Trick plays on both sides. Chip Long called one hell of a game last week and he did it with creativity – not trick plays necessarily. He did dial up a flea flicker with the Irish up large, but by then it didn’t matter. Leave the trick plays in the playbook today Chip. On the reverse, I am worried that NC State will hit a trick play against the Irish defense today.
NC State’s bye week. NC State has had two weeks to prepare for Notre Dame. Look what that did for Notre Dame against USC last weekend. The Wolf Pack staff has had a lot of time to prepare for Notre Dame and will come out ready for this one.
What Doesn’t Concern Me This Weekend
The Notre Dame passing game. Brandon Wimbush took another step forward as a passer last week. Now if the Irish wide receivers step up and limit the drops, the Notre Dame passing game could have it’s first big game of the season. For as good as the NC State run defense is, it’s pass defense is that bad. Notre Dame should be able to move the ball through the air. If they can’t, things might go south this weekend. While it’s worriesome that NC State is coming off the bye, they could also come out just a tad rusty so look for Notre Dame to take a shot deep early. They have to hit it when they do.
The revenge factor. I hope Notre Dame is thinking about nothing more than revenge today. Last year could have turned out a lot different actually had it not been for that travesty of a game. Had the Irish won, they would have been 3-3 at the time with a chance to turnaround their season. Instead they were 2-4 and things fell apart even more from there. Notre Dame already got revenge against Michigan State and USC this year. It’s time to add NC State to the list today.
Ryan Finely’s lack of turnovers. Hey NC State quarterback Ryan Finley hasn’t turned the ball over so far this year. Who cares. He will today. Mike Elko’s defense has been creating turnovers in droves and that won’t stop today just because a hot quarterback is coming in to town. Notre Dame got after Turnover machine Sam Darnold last weekend and harassed him into mistakes. Finely isn’t the interception turnstyle that Darnold is, but he isn’t going to leave South Bend having played a completely clean game this week either.
The weather. No hurricanes will be rolling through South Bend today like we saw last year. The weather will actually work in Notre Dame’s favor a bit with a little bit of chilly air breezing through Indiana today. It won’t be a major factor by any means, but after last year’s horrible conditions, any modicum of weather advantage is welcomed.
Players to Watch
Kevin Stepherson – He had his best game of the year last week. Look for him to build on that this week. When Notre Dame dials up that deep play, there is a good chance that they will call on Stepherson. Look for the speedster to go over 100 yards today.
Equanimeous St. Brown – It hasn’t been the year most expected from St. Brown, but he had a good game last week and had a big touchdown early. After Stepherson burns NC State deep early, look for St. Brown to start feasting on some intermediate routes.
Shaun Crawford – Notre Dame’s turnover maker has had a quiet couple of weeks. That’ll change today as Crawford gets back in the mix and becomes the first player to intercept Finely today.
Josh Adams – Look for Adams to continue his strong play and to build on his Heisman resume. I don’t expect another 19 carry, 191 yard type performance from Adams, but I do expect him to top 100 and bust off at least one long run.
Tevon Coney – Coney had a monster game last week and even with Greer Martini back this week, look for Coney to continue his strong play. A good argument could be made that Coney has been Notre Dame’s most impressive linebacker this season.
Mike McGlinchey – Notre Dame’s big man gets a chance at redemption after his showing against Georgia. NC State is bringing in the nation’s #6 rush defense. Look for McGlinchey to step up today.
Tommy Kraemer/Robert Hainsey – Notre Dame’s right tackle duo will have their hands FULL with Bradley Chubb. If they can handle Chubb, Brandon Wimbush has his breakout pass performance.
Notre Dame safeties – See trick plays above. Notre Dame needs its safeties to be disciplined today.
How’d I Do Last Week?
Well I expected last week to be MUCH closer, but then again so did everyone else. I did say that Wimbush and Adams would both go over 100 yards on the ground though and both did indeed eclipse the century mark. I did not give Mike Elko’s defense nearly enough credit though. I thought the USC offense would be the first to top 20 points on them. Sometimes it is glorious to be oh so wrong.
It’s been a pretty hellacious week at work so I haven’t had too much time to worry about this game, but in the time that I have had to focus on this game I’ve been all over the place. On Sunday I was worried about NC State. There is a good chance that this is the best team Notre Dame will face between now and bowl season. Miami has been living on the edge all season and Stanford looked downright anemic on Thursday without Bryce Love. All that said, for some reason that I can’t quite describe, I have a good feeling about this one.
In the preseason I didn’t expect NC State to be as good as they are and went with 34-17. Even with NC State coming in #14, I think Notre Dame will take care of business and make just a bit of a statement today. They won’t make a statement like they did last week with that thrashing of USC, but they will win by 10 this weekend.
NC State will be the first team to get over 20 points on the Irish, but Brandon Wimbush will top 250 yards for the first time in his career and toss a pair of touchdowns to Stepherson and St. Brown again this weekend. Adams and Wimbush will both find the endzone with their legs as well.
Actual Prediction: Notre Dame 34-24
Preseason Prediction: Notre Dame 34-17
|Week 12: Stanford
|Week 11: Navy
|Week 10: Miami
|Week 9: Wake Forest
|Week 8: #14 NC State
|Week 7: #21 USC
|Week 6: North Carolina
|Week 5: Miami OH
|Week 4: #16 Michigan State
|Week 3: Boston College
|Week 2: #3 Georgia
|Week 1: Temple