Utah at Notre Dame- Game Preview

The Utes make their first ever visit to South Bend for a meeting with the disappointing Irish...

Facts and Factors

No. 14/15 Utah (8-1, 5-1 MWC) plays Notre Dame (4-5) in Notre Dame, Ind., on Nov. 13. Kickoff is 2:30 p.m. ET (12:30 p.m. MT) in Notre Dame Stadium. The game will be televised by NBC. Radio is ESPN700 AM (espn700sports.com).

After climbing as high as No. 5 in the BCS Standings and No. 6 in the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches' polls on Oct. 31, Utah is No. 14 in this week's BCS Standings and No. 15 in the A.P. and coaches' polls after its loss to No. 3 TCU. Utah's best national ranking came in 2008, when it finished the season ranked No. 2 after crushing Alabama 31-17 in the Sugar Bowl to finish the season 13-0.

8-1 Utah needs one win to secure its fourth-consecutive nine-win season in Kyle Whittingham's six-year tenure as head coach. The Utes went 9-4 in 2007, 13-0 in 2008 and 10-3 in 2009.

Utah's Nov. 13 clash with Notre Dame marks the latest date the Utes have played a non-conference opponent since they beat Utah State on Nov. 12, 1988. Their last November game against a non-conference opponent played outside the state of Utah was on Nov. 19, 1977, a 38-29 loss at Florida. Utah is 2-4-1 in non-conference games played on Nov. 13 (most recently to USU in 1971).

Utah and Notre Dame have never played each other in football. Utah is 1-3 all-time against Independents, with a win against Navy in the 2007 Poinsettia Bowl and three road losses to Army (most recent in 1967).

Notre Dame, which is coming off a bye week, is 55-11-1 in games when the opponent is making its first visit to Notre Dame Stadium. Utah is the 68th different team to play in Notre Dame Stadium since its opening in 1930.

Eight first-time visitors have come away from Notre Dame with a victory: USC (1931), Texas (1934), Iowa (1940), Missouri (1972), Clemson (1979), Florida State (1981), Connecticut (2009) and Tulsa (2010).

The Utes will depart for South Bend, Ind., at 7:30 a.m. Friday. After landing at 12:30 p.m. ET, the Utes will eat, meet and have a walk through at Notre Dame Stadium before busing to Michigan City, Ind., where they will spend the night … Last week's 47-7 loss to TCU halted Utah's home win streak at 21 games (tied for the second-longest home win streak in school history) … The standing-room crowd of 46,522 for the game against TCU was the second-largest home crowd in Utah history. Rice-Eccles Stadium seats 45,017. Utah's attendance average of 45,496 is also the second-best in school history, behind 2008's average crowd of 45,585. Utah's final home game against BYU on Nov. 27 is sold out.

INSIDE THE HUDDLE

Sixteen different players have scored touchdowns for Utah … Expected to miss this week's game with injuries are Brad Clifford (shoulder, missed San Jose State, CSU, AFA, TCU), Junior Tui'one (calf, missed TCU) and Wykie Freeman (leg, missed TCU) … Utah has won nine MWC Player of the Week citations to date: DeVonte Christopher (offense, Sept. 6), Brian Blechen (defense, Sept. 6, Oct. 31); Shaky Smithson (special teams, Sept. 13, Sept. 20, Oct. 11), Lamar Chapman (defense, Sept. 20) and Jordan Wynn (offense, Oct. 11, Oct. 25) … Six true freshmen have played: Blechen, Freeman, Mike Honeycutt, Joe Kruger, Westlee Tonga and Michael Walker.

When Utah Has the Ball

RUN RUN RUN!!! Notre Dame hasn't proved they can stop the run yet this year giving up almost 165 yards per game and Utah needs to get back to establishing the run after last week's debacle against TCU. Asiata and Wide will likely carry the ball 35+ times on the day trying to wear down the Notre Dame defense.

Notre Dame counters with arguably the most talented linebacker in the country in Manti Te'o. The sophomore is an absolute beast at 6'2" and 245 pounds and plays with a lot of intensity. He'll be a big part of whether or not the Irish can slow down the Utah running duo of Matt Asiata and Eddie Wide.

Getting that running game going is going to be key to opening things up for Jordan Wynn and the passing game. The easier thigns are for Wynn, the better, as he needs his confidence rebuilt in a hurry. Expect a gameplan very similar to what the Utes did against Colorado State, following the Iowa State game in which Wynn threw three interceptions. Lots of running should setup the short passes to Jereme Brooks early and often while Wynn and the receivers try to get back onto the same page and into a groove. Brooks getting open in the flat or over the middle for 8-10 yards has been the Utes' bread and butter all year. With Notre Dame using a 3-4 defense, this may be somewhat difficult as evidenced by Utah's struggles in the passing game against an Air Force team that ran the same base defense, but is imperative in getting Wynn a few short, easy throws to build his confidence. Between Brooks and DeVonte Christopher, someone needs to step up to make sure they can get open to help Wynn for this game and beyond. If he struggles this week, watch out for Wynn going forward. He may lose all confidence and have trouble getting back on track.

Notre Dame's defense has been pretty good at getting to the quarterback on the year, ranking 20th in the nation with almost 3 sacks per game. They've seen on tape how the Utes and Jordan Wynn struggled against TCU when he was under pressure and will look to put that same kind of pressure on this week. Defensive end Ethan Johnson and linebacker Darius Fleming each have five and a half sacks on the year. Keeping those two away from Wynn is going to be a big key for the Utes.
Advantage: Utah

When Notre Dame Has the Ball

Notre Dame has been decimated by injuries on the offensive side of the ball losing their starting tight end, running back, second best receiver, and the premier tight end in the country.

True freshman quarterback Tommy Rees takes over for Dayne Crist and was up and down in his first start against Tulsa with four touchdowns and three interceptions. The Utes are going to pressure the youngster a lot, trying to force him into mistakes.

Rees has one of the top receivers in the country in Michael Floyd, and is going to throw his way often. Floyd is your typical NFL receiver with great size, athleticism, good speed, and tremendous route running skills. He'll be matched up against the Utes' All American cornerback candidate Brandon Burton in a great battle. With Lamar Chapman blitzing often from the slot, Utah should be able to make Rees get rid of the ball quickly and negate the deep pass.

The Utes struggled against Andy Dalton and the receivers for TCU last week. Rees isn't Dalton, but he's a gunslinger who is always trying to make plays. If he gets into any kind of a rhythm with the home crowd behind him, Utah could have trouble slowing him down.

In the running game, Notre Dame will be without leading rusher Armando Allen. Stepping into his place is freshman Cierre Wood, a highly touted back that has a great combination of size and speed. He made his first start against Tulsa and could be primed for a breakout game now that he has the first start jitters out of the way.

With J.J. Williams back, the Utes have more depth at linebacker than they've had all season. Slowing the Notre Dame running game shouldn't be much of a problem, but the unknown that is Cierre Wood could cause some trouble.

The offensive line of Notre Dame is somewhat inexperienced, but has two very good ones in Chris Stewart and Trevor Robinson. They don't open a lot of holes in the run game, but the line as a whole is above average when it comes to pass blocking. It'll be up to the Utah ends to get some kind of pressure on Rees, something they were unable to do last week with Dalton and TCU. Junior Tui'one won't be playing again this week with Tevita Finau taking his place in the rotation.
Advantage: Utah

Special Teams

Both teams posses tremendous kickers with only one missed field goal between the two on the season. Notre Dame's David Ruffer hasn't missed all year and might be the favorite for the Lou Groza Award at this point. The Utes get the edge in the punting game with Sean Sellwood still punting balls deep and pinning opponents inside the 20 often, while Notre Dame punter Ben Turk is averaging a lowly 38 yards per punt. Notre Dame doesn't have any big threats in the return game while Utah has two in Shaky Smithson and Reggie Dunn, two of the best return men in the country. The Irish do rank 14th in the country in kickoff return defense at only 19.2 yards per return.
Advantage: Utah

Coaching

Brian Kelly has been a huge disappointment in his first year in South Bend. From the 4-5 record to the death of a videographer at practice, Notre Dame has not been happy. Kelly is an offensive genius and has scored huge points wherever he's been. Notre Dame has scored this year, but the defense has been pretty bad. Until he can turn around that defense and make it more like a Big 10-esque defense, Notre Dame will struggle.

The Utah coaching staff was beaten in every faze of the game last week. They'lll rebound this week against a much less athletic and speedy Notre Dame team. Kyle Whittingham and his staff are some of the best in the business and won't have another poor performance.
Advantage: Utah

Intangibles

Utah is coming off of a demoralizing loss. They're not going to win the conference, go to a BCS game, or play for the national championship. What kind of motivation remains is yet to be seen.

Notre Dame was off last week and has had two weeks to prepare for the Utes. After watching TCU last week, they might have found some holes.

Injuries. Notre Dame had been decimated by injuries to three of their top four offensive players in running back Armando Allen, quarterback Dayne Crist, and tight end Kyle Rudolph. Utah has been pretty much injury free with their star players for most of the year outside of Jordan Wynn missing a few weeks early in the season.

Weather forecast calls for rain and temps around 60 degrees. You'd think the rain and the wet field would slow down Utah and help Notre Dame, but the Utes put in their best performance of the season in the rain a few weeks ago against BYU.

This is Notre Dame Stadium. The rest of the stadiums in the country combined (outside of maybe the Rose Bowl), might not have the history that this one place holds. It's perfect in every year. The Utah players might be in awe to start.
Advantage: Notre Dame

Prediction

The Utes are going to bounce back. They've got a team that is reeling and just lost at home to Tulsa. Notre Dame will score a few points, but they're undisciplined, and don't play much defense. If Notre Dame gets out quickly and scores first, doubt and worry might start creeping into the backs of the players' heads for Utah, wondering if it's going to be a repeat of last week. It won't be. Utah is too disciplined and talented to have a second straight poor game. They'll make the most of their appearance on NBC, roll up over 500 yards of offense and beat Notre Dame soundly with Jordan Wynn having a nice bounceback game with over 300 yards passing. Utah forces three Notre Dame turnovers, has another big second quarter, and plays solid, sound football picking up a nice win.
Utah 41 Notre Dame 20

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