Matt Cashore / Irishillustrated.com

Trouble Spots, Part I

Our annual ranking of Notre Dame’s toughest game situations considers each foes’ talent level, coaching acumen, game situation, location, slot on the schedule for both, and more…

Our annual Trouble Spots series ranks each game situation for the Irish according to such variables as slot on the schedule, the game’s location, time of season, previous and ensuing foes for both squads, rivalry realities, coaching matchups, overall talent comparison, and of course, the omnipresent “trap” element presented by certain matchups.

Part 1 of 3 in our countdown begins below:

TROUBLE SPOT #12 – ARMY
Annual Shamrock Series Game, November 12 in San Antonio’s Alamo Dome. Kickoff time 2:30 CT.

  • Irish Game Situation: Follows Navy (usually not good) and precedes Senior Day – neither of those are generally beneficial, but this outing offers ideal timing for an Irish defense that will be fresh off its annual battle against the Midshipmen’s option attack.
  • Kelly in Shamrock Series: 6-0
  • Kelly W/L One Week Before Senior Day: 3-3
  • Cadets Game Situation: Host rival Air Force one week prior.
  • Cadets Talent Level: Near the bottom, and likely last among 2016 foes.
  • Cadets Coaching Situation: Head coach Jeff Monken and both of his coordinators enter their third season at the helm for the Black Knights.
  • Is It A Trap? Maybe a “2” on a scale of 1-5? The Shamrock Series always captures Notre Dame’s attention (must be the uni’s) and the Irish will be in option mode for the second straight week. There’s little to fear on paper…

TROUBLE SPOT #11 – SYRACUSE
October 1 at the New Meadowlands (kickoff time TBD).

  • Game Situation For the Irish: It’s the first game outside of South Bend in nearly a month and follows Duke while preceding a trip to North Carolina State.  
  • Kelly in Week 5: 4-2 with losses to Oklahoma and at Clemson last year.
  • Kelly W/L In Reg. Season Neutral Games: 9-1 including nine straight victories.
  • Game Situation For the Orange: Syracuse travels to Connecticut one-week prior. The best team the Orange will face before encountering the Irish is likely Louisville in Game #2.
  • Orange Talent Level: No better than 9th among Irish foes and there’s a substantial drop-off ahead of them.
  • Orange Coaching Situation: Ex-Baylor assistant (and former Bowling Green head coach) Dino Babers begins his first season at the helm and will bring an up-tempo offense to the equation.  
  • Is It A Trap? The neutral site situation – one in which Notre Dame is guaranteed a partisan crowd – mitigates any real trap scenario.

TROUBLE SPOT #10 – NAVY
November 5 in Jacksonville at EverBank Field.  Kickoff is set for 11:30 EDT. That’s right, your favorite Irish Illustrated beat writers can eat dinner at a reasonable hour with a day’s work behind them!

  • Game Situation For the Irish: Follows a home date with Miami and represents the first game outside of South Bend in nearly a month.
  • Kelly in November: 15-8 (after a 12-3 start at ND during the month)
  • Kelly’s Results vs. Navy: 5-1, with five straight wins. Notre Dame controlled last season’s contest for the final three quarters after trailing in the fourth quarter during both of the previous matchups against the Mid’s.
  • Game Situation For the Navy: Follows a trip to South Florida. Navy’s best foe prior to facing the Irish is likely Top 15 squad Houston on October 8.
  • Midshipmen Talent Level: Likely 11th perhaps 12th among Irish foes, but with Navy, the whole is generally greater than the sum of their parts.
  • Navy Coaching Situation: Ken Niumatalolo enters his ninth season in Annapolis. Offered the head post at BYU in the off-season, Niumatalolo surprised most when he opted to remain with the Mid’s.
  • Is It A Trap? Not anymore. Navy has Notre Dame’s undivided attention, nearly year-round.
  • Final Thought – Navy won 11 games last season but was gutted by graduation. New triggerman Tago Smith won’t adequately replace former triggerman Keenan Reynolds in Year 1, but he’s no slouch. Only two regulars from the 2015 starting offense return to aid Smith’s cause. 

TROUBLE SPOT #9 – NEVADA
September 10 in South Bend, Notre Dame’s home opener. Kickoff at the standard 3:30 (ET) slot on NBC.

  • Game Situation For the Irish: Short Rest and the ultimate “Sandwich Game” with Texas prior and Michigan State following.
  • Kelly in Week 2: 3-3 with each loss (and one win) occurring against Michigan.
  • Kelly W/L In Home Openers: 5-1
  • Game Situation For the Wolf Pack: Nevada hosts FCS foe Cal Poly in its opener one-week prior.
  • Wolf Pack Talent Level: Likely 10th among Irish foes but the Wolf Pack are a battle-tested bunch.
  • Wolf Pack Coaching Situation: Ex Irish assistant Brian Polian (2007-09) enters his fourth season in Reno, winning seven games in each of the last two seasons including two bowl victories. Polian inked Montana State head coach Tim Cramsey – whose offense boasted 37.6 ppg. in FCS play – to be his offensive coordinator
  • Is It A Trap? Absolutely. Short rest and a nearly guaranteed emotional letdown after the Sept. 4 prime time showcase game in Austin vs. the Longhorns rank as chief concerns. Conversely, the home opener should buoy the crowd and potentially the Irish when they take the turf. But it’s a tough week of practice nonetheless after a two-week lead up in terms of preparation for Texas. 
  • Final Thought: With the exception of the 31-0 party at the hands of Michigan in 2014, Notre Dame has curiously struggled under Kelly in Game #2, losing three times and winning in the final seconds of two others. On paper, this is a major mismatch, but mentally, this is a tall task for the Irish players while Nevada’s entire off-season will have led to this moment.

Part 2 will feature Trouble Spots #8 through #5 for the 2016 slate.


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