Morning Briefing: Game Preview

O'Malley's final pre-game report from Dublin includes projected scenarios for both sides of the ball, opening game goals, and a final prediction.

DUBLIN, IRELAND -- "(We're) a team that you're confident can stop the run and that you can run the football. That's a pretty comfortable feeling as a coach to know that you can run the football or feel like you can run the football and stop the run." -- Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly

For the first Saturday of the season, that should be all that matters.

Notre Dame likely faces 11 tougher tests than that presented by the Midshipmen today, just one of the many reasons Irish fans are unlikely to learn much from their team in the season opener.

The 2012 Mid's aren't close to the polished, talented, and fine-tuned Irish killers of 2009-10. They're likely improved from last year's lot that Tommy Rees, Michael Floyd, and Jonas Gray dropped 56 on, including 42 in the first half in a late-October thrashing.

A safe assumption for the 2012 Irish is that the edition you see today will bear little resemblance to the squad Kelly trots out post-Bye (Game Five) or at season's end.

For the first time since 2007, Irish fans aren't sure what to expect from their offense entering the opener. (Don't worry, it won't resemble the train wreck of '07). But I have a few ideas:

Position of Strength

In 2011, Stanford rode Andrew Luck, and stout run defense, and the nation's best and deepest quartet of tight ends to a BCS berth. There's no Luck on these Irish, but the rush defense should again be a team strength and for about the 35th time in the last 40 seasons, Notre Dame will again be able to trust its tight ends, this time as the offense's definitive strength.

Tyler Eifert will line up tight, detached in the slot, and at both wide receiver positions. His backups, Ben Koyack and Troy Niklas, will take the field with him; usually one, sometimes both. Koyack's more pass-catcher than hole-puncher; Niklas more hammer than, well, anything, because at 6'7" 260 pounds of no fat, the former linebacker was brought to the offensive side of scrimmage for one purpose: to augment the rushing attack.

Look for Notre Dame's "12 package" (two tight ends) to be the predominate personnel grouping for an offense that will attack with multiple, varied sets.

Four Down

Since the aforementioned Mid's of 2010 ran roughshod over defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's unit (a 35-17 mercy killing in which Navy eventually decided to stop scoring), Notre Dame's defense has handled its business vs. option foes.

It began a month after that October '10 loss to Navy with a 27-3 handling of bowl-bound Army, the nation's No. 2 rush defense. Cornerback Robert Blanton moved to outside linebacker to lend perimeter speed, Notre Dame shifted to a four-down defensive line to help plug the interior and occupy opposing linemen, and the defensive back seven did the rest, stringing out perimeter pitches, hammering the fullback, and making life miserable for option triggermen, from Army's Trent Steelman (14 carries/24 yards) to Air Force's Tim Jefferson (27 rushing yards), to Navy's Trey Miller (19 carries/55 yards) last fall.

A four-down front likely awaits Navy today. Look for Prince Shembo and Kapron Lewis-Moore at defensive end with Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt inside (Tuitt will bounce back out to DE as well). Despite a cracked bone on his hand, junior nose guard Kona Schwenke will provide interior relief with Chase Hounshell, a sophomore that had his best game last season vs. Air Force, as another main backup along the line.

Normal Will linebacker Dan Fox should occupy the boundary side as one of two linebackers flanking middle man Manti Te'o, while safety Jamoris Slaughter reprises his 2011 role as the field outside linebacker, one first occupied by Blanton vs. Army in 2010.

Midshipmen quarterback Trey Miller purportedly passes better than his predecessors, which means a pair of new starters on the corner and a pair of safeties, senior Zeke Motta and either Matthias Farley or Chris Salvi, will patrol the back end.

If the secondary keeps everything in front of them, Notre Dame will roll, because the Irish front seven will handle its business vs. Navy's rushing attack. If the Midshipmen gain between 190 and 225 rushing yards (normally a crippling number against a defense), the final margin will be in excess of two touchdowns in favor of the Irish.

Prediction: Notre Dame 34 Navy 16

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