The talk about expectations will come to an end tomorrow when the Irish take the field against Nevada at 3:30 EST tomorrow. This game should shed some light on whether the Irish have actually improved from last season, if they will be able to take the next step, and if all that young talent has finally developed. The answers will be provided on the Notre Dame Stadium turf and on the scoreboard.
The Wolf Pack should provide the Irish with a stiff challenge. Nevada has been to four straight bowl game and is expected to be Boise State's biggest threat for the WAC title. In 2008, their offense chewed up yardage like Roseanne Barr gobbles up potato chips, amassing over 500 yards per game.
The key component to the Wolf Pack's Pistol offense is quarterback Colin Kaepernick. He's a wildly effective player for head coach Chris Ault and gives defensive coordinators nightmares. The Irish won't have to stop Kaepernick in order to win the game, but they do have to limit his effectiveness. He's a decent passer, but he's most dangerous distributing the ball to running backs Vai Taua and Luke Lippincott, both 'backs boast 1,000-plus yard rushing seasons over the last two years, though Lippincott missed nearly all of last season due to a knee injury. If the Irish allow Nevada to rush for 200 yards it will be a long day for Notre Dame fans and it will be the beginning of a long season.
Defensively, Nevada is solid up front with two very good defensive ends, Kevin Basped and Dontay Moch. Their interior linemen are active, but undersized when compared to the Notre Dame line. The questions start to mount for the Wolf Pack once you get to the back seven. Notre Dame's strength is still going to be throwing the ball and the Achilles Heel for Nevada will once again be the defensive backfield. They're aggressive, play a lot of press coverage and will bring pressure from the corner. If the trend holds true watch for Michael Floyd and Golden Tate to make several big plays. If Nevada lays back in a cover-4, Kyle Rudolph, Duval Kamara and Robby Parris will do the damage underneath.
I've been waiting since the end of last season to see an improved Notre Dame rushing attack. While I do think they are capable of running the ball against Nevada, Charlie Weis likes to take what the defense gives him and attack the weakness of his opponent. I think we'll see Jimmy Clausen put the ball up early and often; and with both Floyd and Tate stretchig the defense, for Rudolph, Kamara and Parris do the work underneath. Once the defense is softened up, we'll see if the offensive line's made the progress we've all hoped for.
As mentioned above, Notre Dame will have to contain the Wolf Pack running game… do that and you control the Pistol offense. Over the past two years, Notre Dame hasn't had the players to achieve that, but this season I believe the defense is ready to take a step up. Maybe the most important ingredient is the depth and talent in Notre Dame's defensive backfield. The Irish defensive backs should be able to handle the Nevada receivers, thus freeing up the front seven to play the run aggressively. Look for big games from Brian Smith and Harrison Smith.
With the number of weapons the Irish have on offense, the Irish should be able to move the ball with consistency. I expect the Irish to have a couple scoring plays from over 40 yards. Nevada will move the ball on Notre Dame, but I think the Irish will be able to minimize the big plays, and ultimately hold the Wolf Pack to field goals.
Final Score: Notre Dame 48 – Nevada 23
Notre Dame Players of the Game:
Offense: Jimmy Clausen and Kyle Rudolph
Defense: Brian Smith