Matt Cashore / Irishillustrated.com

Notre Dame Fighting Irish: First Look

Army meets a reeling Notre Dame team on Saturday in the Alamodome. Here is your first look at the Fighting Irish.

The meeting with Army is the second Saturday in a row that Notre Dame will be taking on a service academy in a neutral site game. The Irish probably need to win out for bowl eligibility while Army needs to win two more games to become eligible for the postseason for only the second time in 20 years.

Season so far

This is certainly not how Notre Dame envisioned the 2016 season going. Head coach Brian Kelly and his staff have the luxury of two of the best quarterbacks in the country in Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer, but the team has performed well below the lofty expectations that are set for the Irish each season.

The issues at the beginning of the season were defensive. On opening night against Texas, the Irish gave up 50 points in a two-overtime thriller that tey lost 50-47. A ho-hum win over Nevada was followed by a loss to a Michigan State squad that has gone 0-6 since taking down Kelly's crew. After giving up 36 points to the Spartans, Notre Dame suffered the ignominy of a 38-35 loss to Duke. The opposition points kept coming even in wins, with Syracuse putting up 33 points in a 50-33 loss that left Notre Dame at 2-3 heading into October.

The next two weeks saw the defense back on track, but the offense not showing up. The Irish first lost at North Carolina State (10-3) in a game that was played on the edge of Hurricane Matthew in atrocious conditions. The weather, however, was much less of a factor when the Irish put up just 10 points in a 17-10 loss to Stanford. A win over Miami (via a field goal with 30 seconds remaining) was followed by a one-point loss against Navy in Jacksonville. The Irish are 3-6 and in real danger of missing the postseason.

Injuries and Suspensions

Attrition has been a big problem for Notre Dame with no less than nine players on the confirmed injury report for this weekend. Seven of those players, including WR Javon McKinley and CB Nick Watkins, are listed as either out for the season or out indefinitely.

The two players that are question marks for the Army game are both suffering from concussions picked up over the weekend in the clash with Navy. If both were unable to play, and it is worth noting that almost all Notre Dame players diagnosed with concussions do miss the next scheduled game, then it would leave the Irish very thin in the secondary. The two players in question are safety Drue Tranquill and cornerback Julian Love, with Tranquill being especially important as the best run stopping safety on the Notre Dame roster.

Challenges

The biggest challenge for Army here may just be one of belief. The uniforms of their opponents this weekend will say Notre Dame on them, but this 3-6 squad is far from a vintage Fighting Irish team. Notre Dame has underwhelmed all year long and with losses to the likes of North Carolina State and Duke among others the Black Knights can win this if they believe and stick to the game plan. Last weekend Navy beat Notre Dame by running the ball down their throat and grinding clock. Notre Dame scored on all but one possession, but Navy limited Notre Dame to just six possessions (and only two in the second half). That is the blueprint Army must follow to shock the football world as an 11 point underdog.


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