Scouting Report

Notre Dame travels to Seattle, Washington, to engage the Huskies of the University of Washington. Notre Dame has never lost to Washington and will be seeking its seventh win in seven games with the Huskies. The Irish first played the Huskies sixty years ago in 1948. The last meeting, the famed Pass Right game for Montana Mazurkiewicz, was a Notre Dame victory in Seattle by a score of 35-17.

This will be the second game that the Irish play against former head coach Ty Willingham. Since going to Washington Willingham has a record of 11-31 at helm of the Huskies. Conversely, during the same four years, Notre Dame's Charlie Weis has been 26-17. This year the Huskies are 0-6, matching their longest losing streak under Willingham. The Husky head coach, with a career record of 76-82-1, is 3-3 against Notre Dame. Weis is 1-0 against Washington, hence 1-0 against Willingham. Oddly enough, in the three and a half years that Willingham has been in Washington and Weis has been at Notre Dame, Weis has won seven games against Pac ten teams while Willingham has only won six games in the Pac Ten. Washington is the only Football Bowl Subdivision team without a win.

The game will offer the 4-2 Irish their third opportunity for a road victory, a goal that has escaped them so far in 2008. A win, and a win on the road, is the goal of the staff and the team. That would be the official and unofficial policy of Notre Dame's coaches and players in the press and in media sound bites.

On the other hand, countless Irish fans across the country have a little more on their minds than a road victory. Many Irish fans want the Notre Dame team to be their instrument of revenge. Many want Willingham to suffer an embarrassing loss and be terminated at game's end by Washington.

I've lived through the coaching regimes of Frank Kuharich, Gerry Faust, Bob Davie, and Ty Willingham. To the best of my recollection no coach at Notre Dame has ever been so vilified by the fan base as one Lionel Tyrone Willingham. All the coaches above were vilified for poor records at Notre Dame to various degrees, but in Willingham's case there's more hostility than I remember compared to the other three coaches above.

No coach is unsuccessful without reasons and Willingham exhibited many reasons why he should have been let go. It's hard to say which aspect of Willingham's reign fueled the fires of rage among the fan base more than others. The staff Willingham brought to South Bend, the losses, the blowout losses, the downturn in recruiting, questionable personnel decisions, poor clock management, and the art of talking and not saying anything are some of the things that cause many an Irish backer to revel in Schadenfreude when Willingham's name comes up for discussion. I'll have more on this aspect of the game later in the piece.

Washington's Offense:

The Huskies lost their most notable player, quarterback Jake Locker, against Stanford, three games ago. Locker, the all around athlete type of quarterback, broke his thumb throwing a block on a reverse against Stanford. Twelve pins and a plate were placed in that thumb. The Husky offensive coordinator, Tim Lappano, is quoted as saying one doctor said, "It was one of the worst thumbs he has ever seen as far as how the bone was fractured." Redshirt freshman Ronnie Fouch has taken Locker's place.

The Huskies use multiple formations that include the I formation, off set I, one back, shotgun, and the spread formation. In multiple receiver sets the Huskies spread the field with three four and five receiver sets. They use the triangle tight, and even used the diamond wide. The triangle, or what I call the triangle, is three receivers who form a triangle if their positions were connected by dots. This is a popular alignment today and usually is a tight set to the formation. The diamond is four receivers whose positions would form a diamond if the dots were connected. It is usually a wide set, and lends itself to a quick screen to the trail receiver which Washington has done.

Washington averages 103 yards per game rushing with a 3.0 yards per carry average. The Husky's passing attack averages 216 yards per contest and an average of 12.4 yards per completion. The Huskies enter the game with the Irish averaging 17.7 points per game against defenses that ranked 67th, 10th, 42nd, 73rd, 29th, and 56th. The Husky offense converts 50% of its third downs and in the Red Zone Washington has scored in12 of 17 opportunities with 9 rushing touchdowns, 1 touchdown pass, and 1 field goal.

The Washington offensive line is huge with no one under 300 pounds and one lineman stressing the scales at 368 pounds. The right guard, Ryan Tolar, starts due to the injury of senior Casey Bulyca. Center Juan Garcia is the mainstay of the Husky line, and he's pretty well banged up, but he's a gamer. The Husky offensive line, as a group, and I know backs may have something to do with this stat, have allowed an average of 2.5 sacks per game. They are not a fast offensive line.

The Husky rushing game had been the province of Locker and true freshman tailback David Freeman. Locker's gone, but Freeman may return from injury and he's another of those short, but fast, running backs that's often hard to find behind his offensive line. He has breakaway speed and is adept in hitting up inside and bouncing it outside for big gains. While Freeman was injured the rushing load had fallen to true freshman Terrance Dailey, a Sam McGuffie type tailback with a little more size. Dailey also has the speed, which he showed on a 59 yard touchdown run against Oregon State. Another one of Dailey's big threats, as well as Freeman's, is going out for a pass in the flats and turning it up into a go route as he blows by the defenders. Both backs need to be watched for this route. The short yardage specialists are Paul Homer at fullback and Luke Kravitz at tailback. Neither brings a great deal of speed to the equation.

Locker's replacement at quarterback, Ronnie Fouch, may or may not fit the running quarterback mode, but he is backed up by a walk-on and his running has been, and should be, limited. Fouch, although viewed by Domer fans as "the backup," posses a higher passing efficiency rating than Locker. The redshirt freshman has completed 50 of 93 passes for 51 %. He has four interceptions, but two are of the Hail Mary type passes at half's end. Fouch has tossed 3 touchdowns and had a couple dropped as well. Fouch, in only his second start, is coming off a career high in yardage against Oregon State where he passed for 276 yards. Irish fans should consider that the Beavers only gave up 227 yards to USC's Mark Sanchez while stifling the Trojan running game as well. Fouch has gotten much better since the Stanford game and will pose Notre Dame with some problems.

The tight end, senior Michael Gottlieb, can get downfield, as evidenced by a 17 yard average per reception, but he's also good at finding the open spot in the underneath zones and has good hands. He's had knee injury problems since playing BYU, but he did play in the Oregon State game. Sophomore Kavario Middleton is a capable replacement, but if I were a Husky fan I'd want to see more Gottlieb when he's healthy. Both are creditable blockers.

The wide receivers are young, with junior D'Andre Goodman being the "experienced greybeard" among the four who play the most. Goodman is a greybeard based on his six receptions last year. His fellow receivers are freshmen Devin Aguilar and Jermaine Kearse. Goodman checks in with 32 receptions, a 14 yard average per reception and averages 75 total receiving yards a game. Aguilar has 16 receptions, averages 13 yards per reception, and averages 36 yards per game. Kearse has 14 receptions, averages 15 per reception, and averages 34 yards a game. Some one else to watch is Jordan Polk, a wide receiver who has yet to catch a pass, but he has run for 33 yards on five reverses from a direct handoff from the quarterback or from a true reverse pitch. Each of these wide receivers has the potential to get deep on any corner. The main threats on the deep ball are Goodman, Aguilar, and Freeman who has been seen to shift from tailback and line up at wide receiver.

It's been said that freshman wide receiver Cody Bruns, may play. Bruns has no college receptions according to Washington's statistics, but he's already burned a year of eligibility in some fashion. He's a highly touted player who ended his high school career as second all time in high school receptions, yardage, and was third all time in touchdowns.

Washington Defense:

Washington's major problem defensively are the big plays that they've given up, both by the run and by the pass. A lot of this is contributed by having two freshmen in the secondary, but a lot of it is bad tackling too.

Last year Willingham fired long time assistant coach, defensive coordinator Kent Baer, and hired Ed Donatelli. In Baer's final year as defensive coordinator the Husky defense allowed 446 yards per game and 31.6 points per game. Donatelli, with NFL experience as a defensive coordinator, would make the defense better. Right? Well, yes and no. Currently the Huskies are allowing 483 yards per contest and yielding an average of 40.7 points a game. It was worse going into the Stanford game where they were giving up 520 yards per game and 42.3 points per game, so they are improving. Washington has three sacks on the year.

The Huskies employ an even front most of the time. The star of that 4-3 front is Daniel Te'o-Nesheim. Number 66, Te'o-Nesheim, is the defensive end who usually aligns on the opponent's tight end. He has also been seen to move down inside to defensive tackle on passing downs. He's small, but quick. His rarely used, but effective, inside move leaves offensive tackles lunging at empty air. He tackles well and reminds one of a Treavor Laws type for his hustle in pursuit. He also has Washington's only three sacks for the season and is the team's fourth leading tackler.

The linebacking corps is led by outside linebacker Mason Foster who leads the team in total tackles, assisted tackles, solo tackles, and tackles for losses. He has one interception, is second on the team in passes broken up, and as a run defender takes good angles to the ball carrier. Donald Butler and Trenton Tuiasosopo have shared the Mike linebacker spot, but more and more the three linebackers on the field have been Butler, Tuiasosopo, and Foster leaving outside linebacker, Joshua Gage, on the outside looking in.

The Husky secondary does not approach what Jimmy Clausen faced against North Carolina. The Tar Heels came into the Irish game leading the nation with 12 interceptions. Washington has two interceptions and only one by a defensive back, cornerback Quinton Richardson. While garnering no interceptions strong safety Nate Williams and cornerback Mesphin Forrester are second and third in tackles for the Huskies. Vonzell McDowell, Jr. is the usual nickleback, something Notre Dame will see a lot of because of the Irish offense.

Washington Special Teams:

The Husky's Jared Ballman does it all for Washington. He punts, kicks off, and attempts field goals that are longer than forty yards.

Ballman's 32 punts have averaged 39 yards per punt, with a longest punt of 64 yards, five punts over 50 yards, ten punts have been fair caught, and five punts were inside the 20 yard line. Washington's punt coverage, on the year, is allowing a staggering 17 yards per return with a long of 51 yards and one of 48 yards for a touchdown.

Ballman's kickoffs have a total of seven touchbacks in twenty-three kickoffs. Against Oregon State he was consistently kicking inside the five or into the end zone. Why the Husky's ever pooch kick is beyond me. The Husky kickoff coverage team allows a middle of the pack 22 yards per return and has allowed no touchdowns.

Ballman's field goals have all been attempted between forty and fifty yards where he is two out of five with a long of 45 yards. The short field goals have been attempted by Ryan Perkins who is one of three from thirty-nine yards or less with a long of 35 yards. Perkins is 12 of 13 on extra points and Ballman is 1 for 1 on the point after.

Washington has only returned four punts all season averaging 5.5 yards per return. Of course, Washington has only forced the opposition into nineteen punts. Aquilar handles the punt returns and has potential to break one, but I doubt he has seen the likes of Bruton Aiello, and the rest of the Irish punt coverage team.

The Husky kickoff return is manned by several players, but most noticeable is previously mentioned wide receiver Polk who has an 18 yard per return average while the team averages 17 yards per return.

The Game

Every coach understands that the other team, no matter what their record is, has a chance to beat his team, no matter what his team's record is. And, as Notre Dame great Lou Holtz said, "The other team gives scholarships, too."

The 4-2 Irish squad vs the 0-6 Husky squad sounds like a mismatch on paper. However, there are, as I used to tell the Dean of Discipline while in high school, extenuating circumstances.

Willingham said in his press conference that he's moved on. I don't believe it. There's nothing that fires a coach up more than an opportunity to defeat a program that fired him. I can't say if the Husky players feel the need to back their coach with a maximum effort Saturday, nor can I can't say that they would talk like the Clemson player did after Tommy Bowden left Clemson. I will say that Willingham has to be more focused than he has been all season and that may rub off on his staff and team.

The Huskies are a young team, like the Irish, and like all young teams they are prone to errors of the mind and inexperience, but there is talent there though and a lot of their young kids have been tested in the crucible of live action. Also, Washington has nothing to lose in this game. They are not expected to win and that fact has spurred many a team to play beyond their ability. I'm not trying to be Lou and build Washington as a dangerous threat, but let's examine two of the Husky losses this year.

In Washington's loss to BYU I see over exuberant officiating costing the Huskies a chance for a win against BYU in overtime. Yes, BYU lost handily to TCU last week, but BYU did defeat New Mexico and New Mexico defeated San Diego State 70-7. What that means is argumentative, but it's at least food for thought if nothing else.

Washington had a seven point loss to Stanford when the Husky wide receivers consistently beat the Stanford corners deep. Their talent at wide receiver forced Stanford to drop the press coverage they started the game with and back off on their coverage, but the Husky wide receivers were still getting behind the Cardinal corners. If Locker or Fouch, thrown into the game after Locker's injury, had been accurate in half of their passes that game could have easily been a win for Washington. Conversely, the Irish only beat Stanford by a touchdown.

In short, there is talent in Seattle at the University of Washington, and now that Locker is out Washington's reliance on Locker's ability no longer holds back the development of other players on Washington's offense. Their receivers are talented, their quarterback is progressing, and together they are progressing with each game. I firmly believe that they are a better passing offense with Fouch than they were with Locker, and the running backs are more apt to showcase their considerable talents then they would were Locker in the backfield.

The Irish have yet to win a road game, may exhibit rust because of the off week, and may be taking the game for granted. That combination is a coach's nightmarish trifecta and the staff is under more pressure this game from fan expectations than any other I can remember during Weis's tenure. A flat Irish team and a fired up Husky team (as if anyone would not be fired up against the Irish) could make for an outcome too bitter to contemplate. A loss to Washington, with Willingham at the helm, could rival the feelings those of us, who've been around for a time, had when USC beat the Irish in 64. The stakes aren't as high as a national championship, but can you imagine the fan and media fallout should Notre Dame lose?

The Irish should definitely win if they show up ready to play. There are many reasons why this is so. Washington is not a good tackling team, especially in the secondary, leaving their feet too often and not driving through the man on a tackle. Husky safeties are out of the picture in pre-snap alignment more than any other duo I've seen all year. Underneath routes should be there all day long. The Huskies are weak on off tackle runs.

I see quite a lot that's interesting in the matchups of this game. Kyle Rudolph will be tested this week blocking Te'o-Nesheim. I can't wait to see how he does against number 66. The Notre Dame wide receivers will be the best unit the Washington secondary faces this season. That should be fun to watch. The Irish defensive front versus the size of the Husky offensive line will dictate whether the Huskies control the clock, as they are capable of doing. Notre Dame's linebackers versus the Husky tailbacks and on the blitz will be a big part of the game's flow. Finally, the Irish secondary, against an emerging Husky receiving corps could lead to some interesting matchups.

Prediction: Notre Dame 34 Washington 17


IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories