Fighting Irish Preview

TIVO is queued up. The pounds of hot dogs, gut busting hamburgers, greasy chips, and other multi-colored goodies are ready to go. And you and your family are covered in orange. Yep, the bowl game is just a few hours away and there is not a better time then to figure out what kind of opponent the Beavers will be facing on the field this evening.

OUTLOOK
Beaver fans can relate to Irish fans when it comes to the 2004 season.  Oregon State played five ranked teams this year losing all of the battles.  The Irish didn't fare much better as they also played five ranked teams going 2-3.  With each school playing one of the toughest schedules (according to the NCAA OSU played the fifth toughest schedule, Notre Dame the seventh) in the nation it is not a surprise that each is just one game above .500.

The Irish will be looking to snap multiple losing streaks as they attempt to halt the two game regular season skid and the six game post season draught.  Despite losing five games and playing one of the more difficult schedules in the nation, the Irish were competitive in most of their games as they participated in seven games decided by eight points or less.  Of the five losses, three came by a total of seven points (by 3 at BYU, by 1 to Boston College, and by 3 to Pittsburgh).

Of the Irish's six victories two came over ranked teams as they knocked of No. 8 Michigan in September and defeated Tennessee in November.  As a result the Irish are just one of two teams in the nation to have recorded multiple victories over opponents ranked in the nation's top 10 at game time.  The only blowouts Notre Dame was on the receiving end of was when they lost 41-16 to Purdue at home and when they lost 41-10 on the road at USC.

Notre Dame will be making its 26 postseason appearance with a 13-12 post season record.  The Irish are 3-2 record in postseason play in December and have only played on December 28 once in their history, a 27-9 loss to LSU in the 1997 Independence Bowl.

The offense has been putting put big numbers through the air as sophomore Brady Quinn has passed for 2,372 yards, good for third on ND's single season list.  The team's average of 218.2 yards per game via the pass also ranks high in the golden record books as they come in at third.  Similar to the Beaver offense, the Irish offense has been effective in the redzone coming away with 22 touchdowns in 33 trips this season.

The running game has also been chugging along averaging 150.8 yards and 3.4 yards per carry.  Eight times the Irish have topped the century mark, but that does not guarantee a victory as the Irish ran for over 100 yards in three of their losses.

Taking care of the ball has not been a problem this year as they have not lost a fumble in five straight games which comes out to 20 quarters and 151 rushing attempts.  During that time period the Irish have only fumbled twice, recovering both miscues.

Defensively Notre Dame is one of the better teams in the nation at stopping the run as they yield just 94.4 yards per game, good for ninth in the nation.  Stopping the run has become a tradition at ND the past three seasons as they have held 22 of 36 opponents to less than 100 yards rushing, including eight this year.  Irish opponents are averaging a measly 2.7 yards per carry this year.

Just three of the 11 opponents crested the rushing century mark against ND while none of the 11 opponents reached their rushing average for the season.   The Irish defense has also been solid at preventing the big running plays as none of their opponents produced a running play that went for 25 or more yards.  They also gave up just five touchdowns on the ground this season.

It is a different story through the air as the corners have struggled staying with receivers.  On average the Irish secondary gives up 274 yards through the air.  They have grabbed just nine interceptions and have given up 19 touchdowns via the pass.

 

QUARTERBACKS
Sophomore Brady Quinn owns almost all of Notre Dame's sophomore passing marks as he eclipsed more than 200 yards passing in six games this season. (Derek Anderson passed for over 300 yards five times this year)

Quinn's best performance of the season came against Purdue as he completed 26 of 46 passes for 432 yards and one touchdown.  It was a career-best performance and is the highest individual passing yardage total in Notre Dame Stadium history.

He spreads the ball around nicely as he has completed a pass to 20 different receivers.  On the season he completed 174 of 324 (53.7%) passes for 2,372 yards, 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions for a pass efficiency rating of 124.92.

 

RUNNING BACKS
Freshman Darius Walker has been a rock carrying the ball this season despite rushing for just 74.3 yards per game.  He has big play ability as he ran for over 115 yards and two touchdowns against Michigan earning him The Sporting News National Player of the Week honor.

The quick and shifty player has a round about connection to some of the ND players from the 2001 Fiesta Bowl as he became the first ND freshman since Matt LoVecchio to score two touchdowns in a game.  Walker needs just 14 more yards to grab the top spot on ND's top freshman rushers in school history.

On the season he has 743 yards on 172 attempts (4.4 ypc) for six touchdowns.  His longest run of the season  was a 40 yard jaunt.

Senior Ryan Grant splits playing time with Walker in the backfield as he has rushed 113 times for 512 yards and five touchdowns.  Grant has been slowed by injuries but is a perfect compliment to Walker as he prefers to knock people over.  He possesses a great amount of lower body strength and consistently moves the pile forward.

 

OFFENSIVE LINE
The offensive line has a good balance of youth and experience with two sophomores, a junior and two seniors. Right guard Dan Stevenson and Mark LeVoir anchor the right side of the line with a combined 44 starts.

Sophomore Ryan Harris, a Freshman All-American in 2003, and junior Bob Morton handle the left side while the aggressive sophomore John Sullivan handles the snapping duties. 

Each player has started every game this season.  As a unit they have yielded 19 sacks, but have not give up a sack in four games this year (Michigan, Navy, Stanford, Washington).

 

WIDE RECEIVERS
Junior Rheman McKnight is Quinn's favorite receiver as he has a team leading 38 catches for 520 yards and two touchdowns.  McKnight is one of the faster players on the team and has game breaking ability, but has little chance to show it due to the offense Notre Dame runs.

Junior Maurice Stavall is nightmare for defensive coordinators as he stands at 6'5", but is just third on the team in receptions with 21 catches for 313 yards and one touchdown.  Despite the talented juniors, a senior is the Irish's big play receiver.

Matt Shelton has just 19 catches, but six have gone for touchdowns and 11 have gone for 25 yards or more.

 

TIGHT END
Junior Anthony Fasano is Quinn's second favorite target as he has grabbed 26 passes for 354 yards and two touchdowns.  Fasano is talented with solid hands and blocking skills.

 

DEFENSIVE LINE
Senior Justin Tuck is Notre Dame's career quarterback sack leader with 24.5 stops.  He requires a double team and is equally adept at defending the run or pass.  Despite the added attention this year,  he leads the team in sacks and tackles with six and 14 respectively .  Tuck also has a defensive line high 47 tackles.

Due to Tuck's presence most of the offensive plays are directed towards senior Greg Pauly, junior Derek Landri, and senior Kyle Budinscak.  Pauly has 36 tackles, 4.5 for loss, and one sack.  Landri has 39 tackles, seven for loss, and four pass breakups while Budinscak has added 21 tackles, 4.5 for loss, and three sacks.

 

LINEBACKERS
Senior Mike Goosly is the heart and soul of the linebacking crew as he has a team high 94 tackles.  With six stops in the Insight Bowl he will become the 38th players in Notre Dame history to record 100 tackles in a season.

Four times this year he has grabbed double digit stops with his career best 14 coming against Tennessee.  He also added a sack and an interception for a touchdown against the Volunteers.

Fellow senior Brandon Hoyte brings the punch to the middle of the field as he is known for dishing out the big hits.  Hoyte is second on the team in tackles with 71 and has forced three fumbles this year.  His best game of the season came against Navy where he wrapped up a Midshipman 16 times.

Senior Derek Curry handles the outside linebacking duties where he has 61 stops, eight for loss, 4.5 sacks and a co-team high two picks.

 

SECONDARY
The cornerbacks have been picked on all season long and it will be no different in the Insight Bowl as Derek Anderson and company try to pick apart the 114th ranked passing defense.  The secondary has given up over 300 yards three times this year and has only held their competition to under 200 yards twice.

Seniors Dwight Ellick and Preston Jackson man the corners and neither stands over six feet tall.  Ellick has 40 tackles while Jackson has turned in 37.  Jackson leads the team in pass breakups with six  Sophomore Freddie Parish IV may get some playing time if Jackson is having a difficult time covering the OSU receivers.

Despite the secondary woes, safeties Quentin Burrell and Tom Zbikowski have been reliable.  They rank third and fourth on the team in tackles with 70 and 63 respectively.  Zbikowski is just a sophomore, but is smart and reacts to the ball well.  Anderson will definitely have to keep his eyes on him.

 

KICKER/PUNTER
Senior D.J. Fitzpatrick handles both kicking and punting duties for the Irish.  He’s been very consistent this year, connecting on 31 of 32 extra points and 11 of 15 field goals. He’s averaging 42.4 yards per punt with a long of 67 and is a big reason why the Irish rank eighth nationally in net punting.

Carlyle Holiday handle punt returns with an 11.0 average, good for 39 in the nation.  Chase Anastasio and Justin Hoskins return kicks with a 18 and 17 yard average. 


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