Head Coach: Tyrone Willingham
2003 Record: 5-7
Returning starters: Offense: 7 Defense: 6 (kicker and punter)
Stadium: Notre Dame: 80,795
2004 Record: 0-1
Offense: West Coast
ND Two Deep
QB- Brady Quinn (So.) Pat Dillingham (Sr.)
RB- Ryan Grant (Sr.) Travis Thomas (So.)
FB- Rashon Powers-Neal (Sr.) Josh Schmidt (Sr.)
WR-Rhema McKnight (Jr.) Chase Anastasio (So.)
WR- Maurice Stovall (Jr.) Jeff Samardzija (So.)
TE- Anthony Fasano (Jr.) Marcus Freeman (Jr.)
LT- Ryan Harris (So.) Scott Raridon (Jr.)
LG- Bob Morton (Jr.) Dan Santucci (Jr.)
C- John Sullivan (So.) Zach Giles (Sr.)
RG- Dan Stevenson (Sr.) Jeff Thompson (Sr.)
RT- Mark LeVoir (Jr.) Jamie Ryan (Jr.)
LE- Justin Tuck (Jr.) Chris Frome (Jr.)
NG- Derek Landri (Jr.) Trevor Laws (So.)
DT- Greg Pauly (Sr.) Brian Beidatsch (Sr.)
RE- Kyle Budinscak (Sr.) Victor Abiamiri (So.)
ILB- Brandon Hoyte (Sr.) Joe Bockington (So.)
ILB- Mike Goolsby (Sr.) Corey Mays (Sr.)
OLB- Derek Curry (Sr.) Mitchell Thomas (So.)
RCB- Preston Jackson (Sr.) Mike Richardson (Jr.)
FS- Quentin Burrell (Sr.) Tom Zbikowski (So.)
SS- Tom Zbikowski (So.) Freddie Parrish (So.)
LCB- Dwight Ellick (Sr.) Carlos Campbell (Sr.)
MVP: WR Rhema McKnight
Strength: Wide Receivers
Weakness: Inconsistent line play
Key to success: QB Brady Quinn
Surprise player: WR Jeff Samardzija
After a trial under fire freshman season, quarterback Brady Quinn (6-4, 210) now has a better grasp of Willingham's West Coast scheme. The Dublin, Ohio native should benefit from the added experience of his receiving core and offensive line. Quinn has superstar potential but it's just a question of how soon it will materialize in an offense that generally takes quite some time to master. Expect the success and failure of the offense to rest heavily on his young shoulders.
Quarterback depth is a big problem for the Irish. Walk-on Pat Dillingham is
the backup and former starter Carlyle Holiday may have to move back there from
receiver if Quinn goes down. The backfield should be more productive this week
for ND since it appears that Ryan Grant will start this week after missing last
Saturday's game due to injury. Grant is a between the tackles type back that
will have a solid offensive line in front of him. The Irish also have versatility
in their backfield. Senior fullback Rashon Powers-Neal is a converted tailback
and backup fullback Josh Schmidt is a productive receiver out of the backfield.
Junior Rhema McKnight (6-2, 207) hasn’t been as much of a playmaker as many thought he would be coming out of high school, but he certainly has big play potential. He was productive working the middle of the field last season, gathering 600 yards off 47 catches, and was one of the bright performers last week. On the other side, junior wideout Maurice Stovall (6-5, 220 19.1 avg.!) has dominating size and uncanny speed for someone of his stature. However, he has been plagued by inconsistency, and that trait appeared again last week in Provo. Reserves Jeff Samardzija and Chase Anastasio are fast options from the slot and have playmaking ability.
The tight ends are a strong point as well. Anthony Fasano will start and is a pass catching type who adds another target for Quinn in the West Coast system. Billy Palmer only caught one pass last year, but you won't find a better blocking tight end around. Jared Clark and Marcus Freeman will also see time because of their excellent receiving ability. Established production is the biggest weakness of this offense.
The offensive line should be improved after a sub-par year last season, but they didn’t get off to a good start versus BYU. They paved the way for only 22 yards rushing and allowed Quinn to be under fire all night long. Junior offensive tackle Mark Levoir (6'7, 325) and Sophomore Ryan Harris (6'5 270) are two rising young linemen in the country and will protect the flanks for Quinn.
There's a heap of young talent for Irish at almost every position on offense, but not much proven production. Quinn, Stovall and McKnight still need to establish a rhythm and the offensive line needs to mesh if they are going to deal effectively with Michigan’s blitz.
MVP: DE Justin Tuck
Key to success: Pass Rush
Surprise player: DE Victor Abiamiri
You would be hard pressed to find a better defensive end than Justin Tuck (6-5, 248- 13.5 sacks last season). Tuck, who is nicknamed "the freak" by his teammates because of his rare athleticism, set the schools all time sack record last season and is a force against the run as well. He started off the season very strong with a two-sack performance versus BYU. Kyle Budinscak returns at the other end position. He's built like a tackle (and will occasionally rotate there) and has good enough athleticism to provide a consistent pass rush. One situational player to watch is Victor Abiamiri (6-5, 245-2003 USA Today prep All American). Abiamiri is a young but supremely talented pass rusher that showed signs of his disruptive ability as a true freshman last season and followed it up with a very strong spring. Dual 300+ pounders Cedric Hilliard and Darrell Campbell are gone from the interior of the Irish defense, but two talented players replace them in former Michigan targets Derek Landri and Greg Pauly. Pauly has been a solid reserve for years and appears ready to take the next step. Landri was a USA Today and Parade All American coming out of high school and has had high expectations since setting foot in South Bend. He has loads of potential and should be a solid contributor in his first year as starter. There's also solid depth along the line. Tackle Trevor Laws is youngster with lots of talent.
WILL linebacker Brandon Hoyte (6-0, 228), MACK linebacker Mike Goolsby (6-3,
245) and SAM linebacker Derek Curry (6-3, 240) have combined for 313 tackles,
39 TFL's and 15.5 sack over their careers. Hoyte and Curry are both quick to
the flanks and can make plays behind the LOS and in pursuit, while Goolsby is
a classic run stuffer who possesses decent range but is more effective taking
plays head on. Depth could be an issue here, as Corey Mays is the only reliable
backup at the position.
The make or break point for the Irish will be the secondary. Last year they weren't healthy or effective, surrendering over 2100 yards through the air and a completion % of 57.6. Factor in that they lose all four seniors from last year’s team (Vontez Duff, Jason Beckstrom, Garron Bible and Glenn Earl), and the outlook doesn't appear bright. Two seniors start at the corners in Dwight Ellick and Preston Jackson. Both saw part time action last year. Ellick and Jackson aren't very big (both are listed at 5'9 177) but they are not short on speed or toughness. Jason Avant put it best when he labeled them "quick and feisty". Carlos Campbell, a converted wide receiver, is the nickel back. All three lack ideal coverage skills and will need a consistent pass rush to help hide this weakness. Tom Zbikowski will lineup at strong safety with Quentin Burrell returning to free safety. Zbikowski was a highly regarded prep, who is a rangy athlete that good tackler in run support despite his lack of size. Burrell brings much needed experience and is the most proven player of the secondary. Freddie Parish is a nice reserve safety and will see playing time in some defensive packages.
DJ Fitzpatrick will return at kicker, where he connected 12 of 17 field goals and one field goal last week. Fitzpatrick will also handle punting duties, he has solid accuracy but lacks a strong leg (36.8 avg. last year). McKnight and Anastasio will handle return duties.
Michigan - 20
Notre Dame - 10