HAWAII STARTERS/KEY PLAYERS
QB Greg Alexander, 6'3, 230, Junior
RB David Farmer, 6'1, 245, Senior
RB Daniel Libre, 5'8, 185, Senior
RB Kealoha Pilares, 5'11, 190, Sophomore
WR Malcolm Lane, 6'1, 180, Junior
WR Greg Sales, 6'2, 200, Sophomore
WR Aaron Bain, 5'8, 190, Senior
WR Michael Washington, 5'9, 170, Senior
LT Aaron Kia, 6'5, 290, Junior
LG Keith AhShoon, 6'1, 315, Senior
Laupepa Letuli, 6'4, 320, Junior
C John Estes, 6'2, 295, Junior
RG Lafu Tuioti-Mariner, 6'0, 300, Senior
RT Keoni Steinhoff, 6'3, 295, Senior
DE David Veikune, 6'3, 265, Senior
DT Keala Watson, 6'3, 320, Senior
DT Joshua Leonard, 6'3, 305, Senior
DE John Fonoti, 6'2, 255, Junior
LB Adam Leonard, 6'0, 235, Senior
LB Solomon Eliminian, 6'0, 225, Senior
LB Brashton Satele, 6'1, 255, Junior
SS Keao Monteilh, 5'11, 200, Senior
Erik Robinson, 5'11, 200, Senior
FS Ryan Mouton, 5'10, 175, Senior
Desmond Thomas, 6'2, 170, Senior
CB Jameel Dowling, 6'3, 200, Senior
CB Calvin Roberts, 5'11, 175, Senior
OVERALL ANALYSIS: The Irish players must be prepared to play hard. Hawaii is an aggressive, physical, and nasty team. They will hit the Irish players hard, often, at times late, and won't quit. The Irish players can't allow the Hawaii toughness and the crowd to affect them. They must come out early and set the tempo for the game. If they get hit they have to hit back even harder. If they play without emotion against Hawaii they won't win. If they play hard, play fast, play physical, and play with emotion they'll have a chance to win this football game.
OFFENSE: 5 KEYS TO THE GAME:
1. TURNOVERS – This is pretty self evident and a true sentiment in every game, but it holds especially true in this game. The Irish psyche is pretty fragile, especially Jimmy Clausen's. Early turnovers could really send the offense into a bad direction. The Irish especially need to be smart in their own territory and not give Hawaii a short field.
2. RUN THE FOOTBALL – One of the common themes in Hawaii's losses the last three years is that they get run on. This season they were able to overcome two dominant performances by opponents (Fresno State and Nevada), but it's still an important aspect of a potential Notre Dame victory. If the Irish are able to come out and dominate Hawaii on the ground that's great, but if not they at least need to be effective and efficient in the run game to keep Hawaii honest. The WR's must block well, the coaches need to be creative with how they use motions, shifts, and their formations, they need to attack the strong side and the weak side, they need to get downhill quickly (but still mix up outside runs), and a few gimmicks (reverses, quick hand offs, direct snaps) would be nice to see.
3. PROTECT THE EDGE – David Veikune is a very good pass rusher and could create serious problems for the Irish. If Hawaii is forced to blitz Notre Dame to create pressure that could bode well for the Irish offense. It will give the receivers opportunities in one-on-one situations and that is a matchup I like. At that point it's up to the Irish receivers to win. But if the Rainbows are able to create pressure with their front four it will be a very long day for the Irish offense. Screens (to backs and receivers), well designed quick throws, and moving the pocket will certainly help, but it really comes down to the tackles being able to handle the rush.
4. CREATIVE PASS GAME – The Irish need to design a good pass game. They don't need to run a ton of plays, but using formations, motions, and shifts to create good matchups is imperative. The Irish are more talented across the board from a skill perspective, but as we've seen the last few games they are not able to consistently win with just being better talent. The coaches have to put the players in position to be successful. I'll discuss specifics later in the article, but when those situations arise Clausen has to make the reads/throws and the receivers need to make the plays. Finding ways to get Kyle Rudolph isolated on their backers and safeties could be huge for the Irish. Hawaii has two small safeties and three short linebackers, Rudolph should be able to use his height (6'6") and athletic ability to be a big player in this game.
5. MOVE THE CHAINS – In the first six games of the regular season the Irish offense converted 39.5% of their 3rd down opportunities. That's not a great number, but it's solid. The Irish were 4-2 during that time. During the final six games of the regular season the Irish converted 28.7% of their 3rd down opportunities. They were 4-2 during that time. I am not saying third down conversions is the only reason the Irish struggled, but it is a significant reason. The Irish need to be effective on 1st and 2nd down to get them in manageable 3rd down situations. On 3rd down its imperative that Clausen make quick decisions, GOOD decisions, and make accurate and on-time throws. The receivers need to run good routes and work hard to get open. This is one area where the aforementioned creativity in the pass game should pay huge dividends. If the Irish move the chains consistently they'll score points, if they don't they won't score points, at least not on offense.
HOW TO ATTACK HAWAII
RUN GAME: The Irish can't be one dimensional if they want to beat Hawaii. I'm not saying that the Irish have to rush for 200 yards to beat Hawaii, but their run game must be effective enough to keep Hawaii honest. In a perfect world scenario the Irish are able to rip off a lot of runs early, move the ball on the ground, and force Hawaii to get an extra defender in the box. This will open up the chances to make plays downfield with the wide receivers. If they aren't successful early they can't abandon the run game, they simply need to adjust and find ways to run the ball.
The Irish should be able to get movement against Hawaii's front seven. The two linebackers are talented (Leonard and Elimimian) and will make plays. The tackles are big but not overly athletic. If the Irish line can get movement on the tackles they'll be able to get up to the linebackers and engulf them. The perimeter run can be effective as Hawaii's ends aren't very big (265 and 255) and aren't great run defenders. They are solid, but they can be attacked. The key for Notre Dame here is to be creative how they attack the edge. They can't simply run the outside zone all day. The linebackers for Hawaii are good enough to make plays if they can just open up and run. This is where a reverse or two, some wrinkles in the blocking scheme (crack down with the WR/TE and get the OL to the perimeter), and a mis-direction or two would be crucial.
The inside run game is where the Irish will make or break against Hawaii. Hawaii can be ran on and ran on downhill. The Irish have the size and ability up front to run right at Hawaii. Their two best linebackers are good athletes but aren't very bid (225 and 235) and if the Irish are able to get up to them they'll be able to block them. James Aldridge could be set up for a big game if the line fires off hard. The coaches need to be smart in how they design their run game. They can't simply line up in their base offense and just go right at Hawaii. That will give them some success, but in order to really attack Hawaii with the downhill run game the Irish need to use various formations, motions, and shifts to create mismatches up front. If they do this I believe they can run on Hawaii.
PASS GAME: The Irish need to get into a nice rhythm early on with their pass offense. Some well designed quick throws can help with that, as can some well designed screens. If they catch Hawaii in their Cover 3 and Cover 1 looks hitches and quick outs will be effective. Slants should also be effective if ran properly. If Hawaii is bailing early it is imperative that Clausen go to his checkdowns. I don't care if the backs catch 10 balls in the first half, that's a positive. Either Hawaii will be forced to adjust or the Irish will just pick them apart and move the chains up and down the field. Getting Rudolph involved over the middle will help this as well.
There will be opportunities for the Irish to attack Hawaii over the middle of the field as well. I'd like to see some high-low throws over the middle be utilized. Out of their base formation the Irish will have a chance to high-low Hawaii for solid gains or a potential big play. Notre Dame is a heavy run team out of their base formation. On an early down I'd like to see Notre Dame motion their flanker down in a blocking position on the wing. At the snap I'd like to see Rudolph take off vertically and run a deep in route. The flanker then runs a crossing route underneath of Rudolph. The split end will then run a deep post route. If the free safety jumps Rudolph the split end will be in a one-on-one situation deep which could be the big play. Otherwise Clausen needs to read the linebackers for the high-low. If they jump Rudolph either the crossing route by the flanker or the checkdowns will be wide open. If they jump the crossing route the in route by Rudolph will be open. The wrinkle off this could be to have Rudolph run the post route and have the split end run a deep in or dig route. The read is exactly the same for Clausen, the players running the routes changes. Easy adjustment. This is one example.
The Irish should also be able to attack the deep zones against Hawaii. Against the Cover 1 and Cover 3 looks the seems and deep comebacks will be open. Using motions to get some stack looks would give the receivers a cushion to get vertical and cause confusion. What also would be good is to run off the slot receivers and if they safety and cornerbacks bail to take those routes away bring the outside receivers (split end and flanker) on deep in routes to attack those zones. Against the Cover 2 looks the smash-fan concept would be effective. The outside receiver runs a hitch or smash route at 6 yards. The inside receiver runs a post-corner or flag route. This is an outside high-low concept that could be effective. I'd like to see Notre Dame run this out of their drop back game and not the play-action look.
Hawaii at times will leave the flats uncovered. Notre Dame needs to use their tight ends and backs to attack this zone for easy 5-6 yard gains and potentially bigger gains. They also need to use their receivers to attack this look with hitches and quick outs, as discussed earlier. If Hawaii is aggressive with their blitz game running screens to the receivers, backs, and tight ends also could open up huge plays.
The secondary for Hawaii isn't that good. Their cornerbacks are decent cover guys but don't have the speed to run with Tate, Floyd, and Kamara. Their safeties are small and don't cover well, and this is key for the Irish. If the Irish coaches are able to come up with ways to get their players in favorable matchups against the safeties they could exploit this weakness. If Hawaii is forced to get their linebackers involved in covering the slots, tight ends, and backs that will open up the running game.
KEY PLAYER: Kyle Rudolph – Rudolph could be one of the big keys to the game, if not the biggest. All three of the safeties for Hawaii are short. Their starters are 5'10" and 5'11", their third safety (who started most of the season) is also 5'11". Their starting linebackers are 6'0", 6'0", and 6'1". Rudolph not only is half a foot taller than each of those players he's also very athletic. If the Irish coaches can find ways to scheme up for Rudolph to get him in position to get one-on-one and also find ways to get him in the seams against these smaller players he could have a huge game. This will also open up plays for the wide receivers.
DEFENSE: 5 KEYS TO THE GAME:
1. PRESSURE THE QUARTERBACK – If Dan Alexander is able to sit in the pocket, buy time, and find open receivers Hawaii will pick Notre Dame apart. If the Irish are able to get CONSISTENT pressure on Alexander than Notre Dame has a chance to slow down Hawaii's offense. The Rainbows were a much better offense that last half of the season and are playing relatively well right now. Teams like Hawaii depend on timing routes, smart decisions by the quarterback, and rhythm. Georgia showed last year disrupting that rhythm and putting pressure on the quarterback destroys this offense. The Irish can't rely on blitzing every down to create that kind of pressure. The front four is going to have to do some of it on their own. The tackles or Hawaii aren't that athletic so Kerry Neal, Darius Fleming, and Justin Brown are going to be big keys for the Irish. The defensive coaches also need to be smart about how they design blitzes. If they bring 6 or 7 guys and play soft behind it all game Hawaii will pick them apart. They need to force Hawaii to throw over their heads. Mixing up the coverages behind the blitzes is huge, as is being smart with their blitzes. Coming up with ways to just bring 5 or 6 while creating pressure will be huge for the defense. Sacks are a big key in this game. They are nice, but the real key is just consistently hitting and knocking down the quarterback.
2. FORCE TURNOVERS - One could look at the 21 interceptions the Rainbows threw and assume that the Irish will be able to force Hawaii into a lot of turnovers. Looks can be deceiving in this regard. The starting quarterback for the bowl game, Dan Alexander, has a 12 TD to 4 INT ratio. The backups threw 17 of those interceptions. The Irish need to find ways to force Alexander into some of those mistakes. The above mentioned pressure and coverage packages will be the key. There will be opportunities to make plays in the pass game, when that happens it is imperative the defenders make the plays and come down with the interceptions and loose balls.
3. BE DISCIPLINED AND PATIENT IN COVERAGE – The Irish coaches need to design coverages to throw off Hawaii's pass offense and it is key for the Irish defenders to be disciplined and patient in their coverages. If they are told to cover a particular zone they need to play it, if they are coached to cover at a certain depth they need to play at that depth. If they start getting careless or try to "make a play" by leaving their zone they will get picked apart and burned by big plays. Teams like Hawaii can be frustrating for a defense and get them out of their game, the Irish defenders can't allow that to happen.
4. PREVENT BIG PLAYS – A big play might happen against Hawaii and that is okay. But the Irish can't give up too many and if they do give up a big play they need to do the best they can to keep Hawaii out of the end zone. Hawaii's red zone touchdown ratio was not good this season and the Irish need to keep that going and when Hawaii gets in the red zone force them into kicks and out of the end zone. If the special teams is able to put Hawaii deep in their own territory the Irish can't give up big plays and allow them to flip the field. Field position will be a huge factor in this game.
5. 3RD DOWN DEFENSE – Keep Hawaii out of sync is key, as discussed before, is a key to this game. Part of that is being effective on 3rd down. If the Irish can hold Hawaii below their yearly conversion rate they'll have a chance to keep them down. The lower it is the better it is for the defense. Three and outs are never good for offenses, that is especially true of rhythm offenses like Hawaii.
HOW TO ATTACK HAWAII
RUN GAME: The center for Hawaii is really good. The DT's for Notre Dame will have their hands full with him, but they can beat him. The guards are massive and are very physical. But they don't move well and the Irish need to use this to their advantage. Notre Dame doesn't have great size inside but they do have a quickness advantage. Pat Kuntz, Ian Williams, and Ethan Johnson all have a significant quickness advantage over Hawaii's guards and centers. If they are able to use this to their advantage they'll shut down Hawaii's run game. Penetration will be key against both the run and the pass, but it would could really be effective against the run. Hawaii doesn't run well and Notre Dame needs to force Hawaii to be one dimensional. I feel the DL will play well against Hawaii.
That leaves the linebackers as the big key against the run. The Irish backers need to read well, react fast, and WRAP UP!!! They must tackle well and prevent Hawaii from ripping off big runs. They will be the real key to forcing Hawaii to become a one-dimensional offense. When they blitz they can't over-run the running backs. They will have chances to make tackles for losses and when they get them they must execute. Stopping the run will put Hawaii in more long yardage situations and this plays into the hands of the Irish defense.
PASS GAME: The first key for the Irish, as discussed previously, is putting pressure on the quarterback. The Irish front four has a quickness advantage over the Hawaii offensive line. They must take advantage of this. Kerry Neal and Darius Fleming are huge keys. The Irish front four has to create some pressure on their own. The Irish can't depend on blitzing every down against Hawaii. That's a very dangerous proposition. The quarterbacks for Hawaii will hold onto the football so the DL must work hard. They will get chances for late sacks and late knock downs (not penalty late, but late in the play hits) and have to take advantage. If they aren't getting pressure they must do a good job of finding the quarterback and getting their hands up for batted down balls.
From a coverage standpoint the Irish can run with Hawaii, in fact they are faster than Hawaii. But there will be times that they will be forced to cover awhile and the DB's must keep working and stick with the Hawaii receivers. The coaches also have to do a good job of mixing up their coverages. They can't be predictable in how they play Hawaii. If they blitz a lot they have to mix up how they play. They will need to play aggressive at times, give some cushion at times, and mix up the pre-snap looks that they play these coverages out of. They can't be predictable but they also can't giveaway what they do. One more coverage key for Notre Dame is not putting Sergio Brown in bad positions. He's not very good as a cover guy and could be the one weakness that Hawaii attempts to exploit.
The Irish also need to take advantage of the couple of bad throws that the Hawaii quarterbacks will undoubtedly make. They must force these throws into turnovers. We can't see dropped interceptions on deep balls like we saw late in the season from the Irish safeties. Hawaii also will run a lot of crossing routes, a lot of high-low schemes, wheel routes/double moves, and will work hard to find openings in the Irish zones. The Irish defenders must be disciplined in their coverages. When the Irish go to man looks it is imperative that the defenders get physical with the Hawaii receivers and throw them off their routes and throw off the timing of the throws.
Discipline will be a huge key for the Irish against Hawaii. They have to play smart and seriously take the "one play at a time" attitude against Hawaii. One mental mistake, blitz mistake, or coverage mistake against Hawaii could result in a huge mistake. They can't allow that to happen. But if it does happen they can't overcompensate, they need to forget it, move on, and continue to be disciplined. The Irish have the talent to shut Hawaii down, but they have to play a physical game, a disciplined game, and they have to play fast.
SPECIAL TEAMS: 5 KEYS TO THE GAME:
1. COVER, COVER, COVER – The Irish have one of the nation's best coverage units. That has to carry over into this game. In some of the games Hawaii was outplayed but special teams plays allowed them to make enough plays to win. Against Fresno State the Rainbows were dominated by the Bulldogs offense, but a 90 yard kick return for a TD allowed them to get going early and hang on for a 32-29 victory. Against Nevada with the score tied 17-17 Hawaii used a 45 yard return to set up a TD to go up 24-17. Up 31-24 in the 4th quarter the Rainbows used a 47 yard kick return to flip the field. Hawaii didn't score but punted and pinned Nevada at the 1 yard line. The Irish have to cover well and keep Malcolm Lane from ripping off any big returns.
2. PROTECT – The Irish have not been good at protecting the punter this season. They can't allow any blocked kicks this game. That kind of momentum shift could really whip that Hawaii crowd into a frenzy. Keeping the crowd out of the game is huge for the Irish. Eric Maust needs to be quick getting his kicks off as well.
3. BLOCK A KICK – At the same time blocking a kick could be the kind of momentum shift the Irish need to not only keep the crowd quiet but also win the game. In a close game a big special teams play like this could be a winner, if it happens early in the game and the Irish capitalize with a TD it could get them going and they could route Hawaii.
4. FIELD POSITION – This is a big key to the game. If Notre Dame can work with a short field thanks to the return game, pressure on Hawaii's punter, or turnovers they should be able to score a lot of points against the Rainbows. If they are forced to go 75+ all day their odds to score a lot of points decreases significantly. The same is true for the coverage units and punt game. If the Irish can force Hawaii to consistently drive 70+ yards their chances of holding Hawaii down on the scoreboard increases. If Hawaii consistently can work on short fields they'll be able to score a bunch of points.
5. RETURN GAME – The Irish return game hasn't been very creative this season. In fact the return game hasn't been very creative under Coach Weis, especially their kick return game. This would be a game to come up with a couple of wrinkles to try to spring a big return. If the Irish are able to break a big return or two it would not only be a huge mental boost but also would go a long way towards giving the Irish offense the short fields they need to score points and win the game.
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