If you listened to the broadcast of the Irish Eyes post-game show last Saturday you'll remember that I said the Irish would play much better this week. I still believe you'll see a much better team on Saturday than we saw last weekend. Will it be enough?
There are a lot of keys to this game, but I think one of the most important keys is for the Irish to get off to a fast start, both on offense and defense. The Irish defense delivered last week early, and hopefully the ND offense can do the same this week, as well as the defense.
While every Irish fan hopes Notre Dame takes the opening kickoff and marches down the field for seven points, I just think it's important for ND to show they can move the ball—get something positive going early to give the offense some confidence.
Everyone, including Weis, expects Penn State to blitz everyone and the mascot on Saturday, but I also think if they do, and the Irish O-line and backs can solve some of their problems from last Saturday, this might not be in Penn State's best interest.
Why? Because making quick decisions and the short game is what Jimmy Clausen is very, very good at. I think one of Jimmy's best attributes as a quarterback is the ability to stay calm. I think we saw that last Saturday, and I think you'll see it again this Saturday.
Granted, this is his first game, and he's starting in one of the most hostile environments in college football, at night, but I'm not sure how much that will affect Clausen. Where I really feel it will affect the team is communication, but I'm not sure how much it will affect Clausen. If he's constantly running for his life, it will obviously be a big plus for Penn State, but if the Irish can give him some protection I think he'll surprise a lot of people with how quickly he'll make decisions and get the ball out of his hands.
So the question is, can they protect him? After watching last Saturday's game, I think the answer would be no, but I'm also not sure Penn State has a dominant pass-rushing defense at this point. They, like the Irish, are very young up front, but they do have talent. If the ND O-line can give the freshman quarterback some time I think you'll see a much more efficient offense than last week. They won't set the world on fire, but I do think you'll see them move the ball and score some points on Saturday.
Remember, I said the wide receivers will be key in this game. I still believe that. I fully expect Penn State, which has an excellent secondary, to play a lot of press coverage against the ND wide outs and jump all the short routes. The Irish receivers will have to run crisp routes and get off the line of scrimmage if ND has any chance of winning this game. Watch this during the game.
Also, Clausen has to find Carlson early in the middle. If ND can get Carlson in the game early, Penn State is going to have a hard time blitzing up the middle if Carlson can make them pay early with a big play.
As much as I think the play of the offense will eventually predict the outcome in this game, the defense could also play a major role. Can they put pressure on Morelli? Have they solved their perimeter problems? Can they stop the run?
Penn State is not a great rushing team, although I think you'll see them try like heck to be on Saturday. They can afford to be patient with the run this week as Notre Dame won't likely be ahead much in this game. If they can get a solid running game going early, it will most likely spell doom for the Irish.
Morelli is Morelli. He'll make some great plays and he has a lot of talent,but I also think you can rattle him with some pressure. Unfortunately, that hasn't been something the Irish have done well for the past few years.
The Notre Dame defense isn't a dominating defense, but they did play pretty well when Justin Brown was in the game last week. I think you'll see Corwin Brown become even more aggressive this week and turn the Irish defense loose. What the Irish desperately need is an early turnover on defense. They have to get some positive momentum early in the game to keep the crowd out of the game.
Mike Frank Prediction:
Notre Dame is a lot like Penn State was at this time last year….a young, inexperienced but talented football team. Notre Dame dominated the game last year, but it wasn't as bad as the score would suggest. The Irish capitalized on some early Penn State mistakes, which quickly put the game out of reach. Notre Dame can't find themselves in a similar situation on Saturday or they'll likely suffer the same fate as Penn State did last year.
I believe the Irish will play much better this week on offense. They'll move the ball, score some points, and I think Jimmy Clausen will make Irish fans feel a lot more comfortable about the future of this team. He'll make some good decisions and plays on Saturday. He'll also likely make a few bad ones as all young quarterbacks do.
I also believe you'll see a better defense on Saturday (not by much), especially against the run. For ND to have any chance in this game they'll have to force some turnovers. So far this unit doesn't appear to be a big-play type of team.
I don't know about you, but I wasn't impressed with Notre Dame's special teams play last week. This could also play a major factor in Saturday's game.
I just can't see enough good things going right in Happy Valley on Saturday for the Irish to somehow steal a win.
Penn State: 31 Notre Dame: 21
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