Who And What To Watch

Your weekly pre-game points of interest as Notre Dame entertains Army in San Antonio’s AlamoDome.

1 – Turnovers to Tell the Tale: Could the Irish lose if they turn it over twice? That seems to be the line of demarcation as Kelly & Co. are 9-7 in his tenure when committing exactly two turnovers vs. a robust 20-3 when limited to one.

Can Army win if Notre Dame’s defense can force a pair? No chance.

Army’s four losses this season have included the following turnover totals: 2, 3, 7, 2 (14 total). Conversely in their four victories vs. FBS foes (not including FCS program Lafayette) the Black Knights committed just two in total.

2 – Familiarity: As noted last week, Navy had scored on its opening drive vs. Notre Dame’s defense in 2013, 2014, and 2015. They turned the trick again last Saturday courtesy a nine-play, 73-yard drive that kept the Irish defense off balance throughout (only one snap was limited to as many as three yards).

Lost in defeat is the reality that the Irish defense began to play much better in the second stanza. 

“I think it was just settling in a little bit,” said linebacker James Onwualu of the defense’s 12 second stanza Stuffs (in contrast to just five in the first). “We had a couple of guys that hadn’t played against (the triple-option) yet.”

Look for the Irish defense to turn back Army on its opening drive and force at least three punts over the course of the contest.

3 – Pick to Click: After a two-game slump that yielded just one catch vs. North Carolina State and Stanford, Irish freshman receiver Kevin Stepherson has enjoyed a resurgence, combining for six receptions and 126 yards against Miami and Navy.

Stepherson’s stat line would look even better against the Mid’s if not for an airmailed post route from his quarterback that should have instead resulted in a 58-yard second quarter touchdown.

Look for deceivingly fast Stepherson to continue his ascent and add a catch-and-run score vs. the Army secondary.

4 – Rankings vs. Reality: Army enters today’s contest ranked sixth nationally in Total Defense – 18th against the pass and 24th vs. the rush. But the best offense the Black Knights have faced to date is the run-heavy Air Force Falcons (43rd overall).

Notre Dame is mired in an offense slump, at least in comparison to its red-hot start on that side of scrimmage. But the DeShone Kizer-led attack will stress Army’s bend-but-don’t break attack, first through the air, and, it is to be hoped, via the rush as well.

5 – Fourth Down: Army’s offense is based on winning fourth down, and they’ve done just that on 15 of 26 true fourth-down chances this season. The Black Knights are lights-out in fourth-and-short situations, converting 9 of 12 when needed two yards or less.

Four-down territory for Army begins after crossing its own 40-yard line, with 12 of its 26 attempts occurring prior to reaching the foes’ 40.

Look for Notre Dame’s defense to turn back the Black Knights once, if not twice in their so-called “Green Zone” (40-yard line to 40-yardline) and for Kizer and the Irish passing game to hit pay dirt shortly thereafter.

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