Normally I try to break down the offense and defense versus the opponent as we all know, but for the last five games the Irish have played it's come down to two things—want-to and execution.
Four out of the last five games haven't been pretty for the Irish. I wouldn't say Notre Dame hasn't wanted to win the game, but a lack of execution, focus and confidence really hurt them in those four losses. The same problems could creep up tonight in Honolulu if they don't show up prepared to play.
For example, we really have no idea how well Notre Dame could've played against USC in their last game. On their third offensive play, senior wide receiver David Grimes did a poor job of selling a stop-and-go route, and sophomore quarterback Jimmy Clausen did a terrible job selling his pump-fake on the route. The end result was an interception , which quickly put the Irish offense in panic mode.
However, freshmen Robert Blanton got the ball right back for the Irish offense on a great defensive interception and the Irish were back in business. After an 8-yard run from Armando Allen on second down, the Irish were sitting with a critical third-and-two at the 50-yard line. James Aldridge got crushed by a horde of Trojans and the Irish punted the ball away.
And that has been the way it's been for the Irish all season. The Irish offense sputters out of the gate, the defense holds for awhile, and then the floodgates open if the offense can't get on track at some point in the first half.
The exact same thing will happen in this game if the Irish don't play well to start. Notre Dame is clearly the more talented team, but one cannot let another team hang around in games like these as their confidence will continue to build and build. Hawaii is certainly good enough to beat Notre Dame, especially if the Irish play poorly—which they've done too many times recently.
I see this game going one of three ways. Either the Irish blow out Hawaii by getting on top early and executing well and Notre Dame's superior talent takes over, or it's another nail-biter with it coming down to the wire and either team can win.
I hate to say this, but I'm just not confident the Irish will "want it more" if it comes down to a nail-biter at the end. I really hate saying that, but I just don't see a hungry Irish team at this point. Maybe they'll surprise me.
Mike Frank Prediction
Having said all of that, I'm still picking the Irish. Why? I just can't believe that Notre Dame will lose this game. There's too much riding on this game for the coaching staff, and I'm hopeful the team will respond. The return of Michael Floyd, Armando Allen, Brian Smith and a healthy ankle for Eric Olsen should push the Irish over the top on this game.
Notre Dame: 21 Hawaii: 17
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