5 To Watch: Irish Offense

Irisheyes.com publisher Tim O'Malley offers Panthers fans five key Notre Dame players to watch when the Irish have the ball Saturday in South Bend.

1 -- RB #20 Cierre Wood: His classmate Theo Riddick leads the team in carries, rushing yards, and touchdowns, but Wood is the team's most dangerous runner. After consecutive seasons averaging 5.1 yards per carry (en route to 1,100 yards in 2011), Wood is at 6.5 per pop through six games of 2012, missing The Opening pair due to team-imposed suspension.

Wood hit Oklahoma for a 62-yard touchdown strike last week and has five career 100-yard games to his credit including two in 2012. Though not a threat in the passing game to date, Wood entered the season with 47 receptions and two scores. While Riddick brings a physical, north-south mentality that belies his 5'10" 200-pound frame, Wood is both a home run hitter and first down machine, regularly beating linebackers at the second level once sprung free from scrimmage.

Though he's endured three games since his return logging just 10 carries or fewer, there's no doubt that when Wood is at his best, the Irish are tough to stop offensively.

2 -- LG #66 Chris Watt: His roommate and fellow left-sider Zack Martin has been head coach Brian Kelly's top lineman since the latter stepped on campus in 2010, but Watt's physical approach this season has helped him close the gap for team honors. A true old school mauler in the running game, Panthers fans will appreciate watching Watt operate in the team's zone blocking scheme as he routinely hammers interior defenders through the whistle -- a key component of the 2012 rushing attack's penchant for the physical.

Watt's pass protection is a rung or two below his run-blocking prowess, but he's steadily improved at the former while becoming one of the better road-grading guards at the program over the last 15 years.

3 -- #16 DaVaris Daniels: Though junior T.J. Jones is the most polished receiver, its Daniels who could elevate his game the most over the next month. The 6'2" target ranks fourth on the squad in receptions and pass targets while leading all team qualifiers at 16.7 yards per catch.

An inconsistent blocker in this, his redshirt-freshman season, Daniels secured Oklahoma safety and All-America candidate Tony Jefferson in space to pave a path for Notre Dame's nail-in-the-coffin touchdown run last week in Norman -- a 15-yarder through the heart of the Sooners defense.

After dropping a pass two weeks ago vs. BYU that led to an interception (and later, a touchdown), Daniels bounce back with a competitive effort vs. the Sooners Saturday, securing two first down grabs of 16 and 22 yards, both against press man coverage.

4 -- #80 Tyler Eifert: The All-American target won't break his own single season program records for receiving yards and receptions by a tight end this season, but there's no doubt who Notre Dame's top offensive player is in 2012.

Vastly improved as a run blocker and pass protector, Eifert is the team's most targeted player, No. 2 overall receiver (four receptions fewer than Jones) and No. 2 chain-mover among the receiving corps.

Able to line up split wide, slotted, detached from scrimmage, in motion, or as an in-line tight end, Eifert is the most versatile weapon in Kelly's offense. His best game as a collegian was likely last season in Pittsburgh when he secured eight passes for 75 yards and the game-winning touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, puncturing the effort with a crucial two-point conversion that gave Notre Dame a 15-12 lead -- the game's final margin.

5 -- #5 Everett Golson: An interesting fact regarding the team's breakout performer last week: Golson has been replaced under center in every home game this season. Four home victories have each included Golson on the bench in favor of backup Tommy Rees, and six of Golson's seven turnovers lost this season have occurred in the House that Rockne Built.

Golson is a dual-threat triggerman, but in reality, a pass-first quarterback with quick feet, not a run-first player learning who happens to throw.

He has fine touch on deep balls and mid-range "pro" throws but could improve his accuracy on underneath routes.

The biggest question Saturday in South Bend is if Golson has arrived as a viable quarterback and leader, or if he'll continue to play spotty football amid standout performances. Quicker than fast, Golson's ability to run has enhanced the offense in October after a stagnant, somewhat predictable September.

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