Opportunities abound for ND defense

In a cruel twist of fate, the struggling offenses of Wake Forest and BC have faced a bevy of strong defenses. ND should beef up their national rankings down the stretch.

Some of the lowliest offensive attacks in the country await Notre Dame over the final five regular-season games of 2015, which is what the Irish need to improve upon their No. 39 scoring defense (22.6 ppg.) and No. 49 total defense (370.3).

More importantly, it’s an opportunity to build greater consistency and avoid some of the scoring binges by recent opponents as they continue their quest for a playoff spot.

The College Football Playoff Selection Committee will reveal its first rankings of the 2015 season on Nov. 3. Notre Dame’s next four opponents present a golden opportunity for the Irish defense.

Temple (7-0): No. 51 scoring offense (32.3 ppg.), No. 109 total offense (345.9 ypg.)
While the Owls’ defense has come a long way in the third year of the Matt Rhule regime, the offense remains in catch-up mode, although Temple has done some damage against some really bad defenses to show a marked improvement (32.3 ppg.) with several more significant challenges (Notre Dame, South Florida, Memphis and Connecticut) ahead.

Six of the first seven defenses the Owls have faced this season currently are No. 85 or lower in scoring allowed per game, including UMass (No. 120), Tulane (No. 115) and Charlotte (No. 105).

Jahad Thomas has provided a spark in the ground game, but the passing game lags behind and should have great difficulty moving the football consistently against the Irish, which has played well a good portion of the time while going through periods of inconsistency. This should not be one of the teams that sustains offensive success against the Irish.

Pittsburgh (6-1): No. 82 scoring offense (27.1 ppg.), No. 94 total offense (357.7 ypg.)
The Panthers have faced one really good defense (Iowa), a bunch of middle-of-the-road defenses (Akron, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Syracuse) and a bad one that Notre Dame ultimately exposed as well (Virginia).

Pittsburgh settled on Nathan Peterman over Chad Voytik at quarterback, and although the numbers are relatively modest – he’s yet to throw for more than 222 yards in a game or attempt 30 passes – he’s protected the football well (nine TD passes, three interceptions), including a 6-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio in the last three games.

It’s not the same rushing attack without injured running back James Conner. The Panthers are just trying to control the clock, keep the score down and win a close, low-scoring game, which they’ve done by claiming four in a row by a total of 17 points.

If the Irish can score 27-to-31 points, it should be enough for a victory. It might not take that many, although Notre Dame has lost two of its last three there, including a frustrating 28-21 loss in 2013. This has been a tough environment for Notre Dame, in victory as well as defeat.

Wake Forest (3-5): No. 105 total offense (349.1 ypg.), No. 119 scoring offense (18.6 ppg.)
Considering how offensively-challenged the Demon Deacons are, it’s almost unfair that they’ve had to play the last four defenses they’ve come up against. Wake Forest faced middle-of-the-road defenses Syracuse and Army in September, followed by high-scoring (but defensive poor) Indiana.

Since then, the Demon Deacons have faced No. 2 total defense/No. 3 scoring defense Boston College, No. 3 total defense/No. 11t scoring defense North Carolina State, No. 11t scoring defense Florida State, and No. 16 scoring defense North Carolina.

North Carolina and North Carolina State combined to beat Wake by 54 points, and it took a shutout by the Demon Deacons against Boston College to get a 3-0 victory.

There’s little reason to envision Wake Forest exceeding 21 points against the Irish. They’re just not very well-equipped, especially in Notre Dame Stadium in November where/when the Irish should be nailing victories down.

Boston College (3-5): No. 115 scoring offense (19.4 ppg.), No. 126 total offense (282.9 ypg.)
The Eagles have lost their last four games and have scored just 38 points with not much encouraging news coming up. Virginia Tech, North Carolina State, Notre Dame and Syracuse are the remaining four games, all with mid level-to-good defenses against an offense that simply can’t catch a break…or gain many yards, for that matter.

In the 17-14 loss to Louisville this past weekend, the Eagles had 79 yards total offense and minus-14 yards rushing with seven sacks and 14 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

None of the three quarterbacks who have tried to replace multi-faceted Tyler Murphy – Troy Flutie, Darius Wade or Jeff Smith – have faired well. Wade is out for the year with a broken ankle and, and Flutie and Smith are freshmen who have completed just 50 percent of their passes.

The offensive line featured five new starters when the season opened, and as much as head coach Steve Addazio loves to pound the rock in the ground game, the Eagles are averaging a tick under four yards per carry and less than 180 yards per game.

In a cruel twist of fate, none of Boston College’s last six opponents rank worse than No. 47 in the country in total defense. The competition against this anemic unit is simply overwhelming.

Playing against Boston College’s physical defense is no day at the beach. Yet it probably only would take about 17-21 points to assure a victory over the Eagles in Fenway Park.

Stanford (6-1): No. 23 scoring offense (37.4 ppg.), No. 32 total offense (454.7 ppg.)
The best defense the Cardinal has played against this year came in the opener against Northwestern, which is 17th in the country in yardage allowed. Everyone else has had a mediocre-to-poor defense, which is a byproduct of being in the high-octane Pac 12.

Jim Harbaugh has been gone since the end of the 2010 season and the Cardinal appear headed for their fourth double-digit-victory season in the last five. Head coach David Shaw hasn’t gotten the respect he deserves for maintaining a very good, well-balanced team on both sides of the ball. His teams have been great before and may be again.

Quarterback Kevin Hogan doesn’t get much respect either with his long throwing motion and modest passing figures. But he’s won 30 games as a starter, providing enough winning qualities on a team that generally is stout on defense and a thrashing machine on the ground.

Christian McCaffrey has emerged as an unlikely Heisman Trophy candidate with rushing figures comparable to those of Notre Dame’s C.J. Prosise. The Stanford offensive line remains littered with names of players the Irish pursued on the recruiting trail, and there they are at No. 18 in rushing offense. The defense is not where it’s been due to some notable defensive attrition, but they’re scoring more to compensate.

Although Temple’s Jahad Thomas is capable of rushing for 100 yards on any given Saturday and Pittsburgh’s offense will ball-control an opponent into a challenging game, Stanford’s offense is the only real formidable one still left on Notre Dame’s slate. Boston College will present its problems on the other side of the ball.


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