Scores for six at a premium

Points, especially touchdowns, could be hard to come by Friday afternoon in El Paso.

Team No. 1 ranks second in the nation in both passing yards allowed (just 1,756) – and the more telling statistic of defense's tenacity – pass efficiency defense.

Team No. 2 limited each of its final five foes to less than 200 passing yards while yielding no TD pass in November and just five after the season's third game.

Team No. 1 picked off 16 passes, batted down xxx more, and surrendered just seven touchdowns through the air to its opposition. They boast the best pass defense among active bowl teams and the nation's 16th best defense, statistically.

Team No. 2 possesses the toughest defense to score upon over the season's final four contests (two offensive touchdowns total vs. Tulsa, Utah, Army, and USC.)

Exacerbating the offensive situation for both Team No. 1 and Team No. 2: a less-than-polished quarterback with a penchant for the pick.

Rees the record-setter

Notre Dame freshman quarterback Tommy Rees played nearly 16 quarters in a lead role. He threw 10 touchdowns in that span but also misfired for eight interceptions. Add a fumble on a sack and at least a handful of other passes that fell into the "nearly-intercepted" category and Rees endured his share of untimely mistakes as the team's triggerman.

Considering Miami's athletic pass-rush and sticky coverage schemes, two still-developing aspects of the freshman's skill set could become fatal flaws on Friday afternoon.

  1. Though lauded for his quick release by head coach Brian Kelly, Rees has limited mobility (he's not a consistent read-option threat) and – as you'd expect – possesses the pocket awareness of a freshman starter. Both issues could cause stagnation for the Irish offense vs. a Miami pass rush that generated 37 sacks (6th nationally) – with limited need for the blitz.
  2. The ‘Canes employ press coverage: that is – their cornerbacks play close to receivers at the line of scrimmage, a tactic that negates quick flares, bubble screens and the quick-fire to the slot following the snap (a read/audible often called from the sideline and one favored by head coach Brian Kelly).

Rees is capable of completing passes in bunches, but he'll have to be on point for any 5-6-or 7-completion streaks in El Paso as the ‘Canes secondary is capable of closing already-tight passing windows in a hurry.

The era of errors

On the opposite sideline, the highly touted Hurricanes of 2010 were no stranger to costly mistakes:
  • 23 interceptions – the second-highest total in the nation behind lowly Buffalo.
  • 32 turnovers – fewer than just three teams in major college football
  • Equal opportunity offenders: Backup QB Stephen Morris threw eight picks in limited action (120 passes). Starter Jacory Harris another 12 in eight games. Harris misfired to the opponent on 17occasions last season.

Miami can run (190+ yards per game with three regulars averaging better than 4.8 per carry) and can beat a defense with three talented wideouts (143 receptions from the trio). But it also shoots itself in the foot with the aforementioned turnovers and a 97th place finish in offensive pass efficiency. Numbers that will complicate any team's quest for extended scoring drives.

Intermittently potent and disjointed, the Irish offense managed just eight rushing touchdowns over its 41 trips inside the opponents' red zone (17 passing). Two of Rees' eight picks occurred inside the opponents' goal. Four others gave the opponent excellent field position before the Irish defense rose to the occasion with a four-point defensive stop, forcing a field goal on three separate occasions (vs. USC).

Both offenses are capable of turning a sure six points into the consolation prize of the field goal; both defenses capable of shutting down the opposing offense for extended stretches.

Fans craving free-wheeling football should look elsewhere (or check back in a calendar year or two).

Out of outliers?

The Hurricanes gave up 19 points per game over the course of the season, holding Pittsburgh to a field goal and North Carolina and Georgia Tech to one touchdown apiece.

Notre Dame yielded 25 per Saturday, but surrendered only one offensive touchdown in five contests (Purdue, Stanford, BC, Tulsa, and USC) and just two in two others (Pittsburgh and Western Michigan) while keeping both Utah and Army from pay dirt for the entire contest.

Only early season foes Michigan (4) and Michigan State (4), and recent foil Navy (5) bettered the Irish defense over the course of the season.

Both teams flashed moments of offensive brilliance in 2010. Both teams possess top tier playmakers and offenses that feature fast, cat-quick, and in some cases, fully developed, experienced football players.

There just happen to be more of both on the other side of the ball.


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