Notre Dame 101: Trick or treat?

THE COSTUMES WILL be on. The candy is there for the taking. It's up to Paul Wulff and the Cougs to see if they can conjure up the ghosts of football past and steal a victory from a team aching to overlook them. The No. 25 ranked Fighting Irish are used to teams gunning for them but it will be difficult for them not to treat the Cougs like an extra bye week after the brutal schedule they've faced.

Notre Dame and Washington State also come out on opposite ends of the spectrum in an overrated/underrated category. Longtime college football site stassen.com offers a section where they've compared preseason rankings since 1989 to the final AP poll.

Over the last 20 years, Washington State is the most underrated team in all of college football. Notre Dame is the second most overrated team in college football, behind Michigan. You can find the complete list here. http://preseason.stassen.com/over-under/all-teams.html

Cougars (1-6) vs The Fighting Irish (5-2)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
4:30 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
The Alamo Dome (65,000)

TELEVISION:
NBC

RADIO:
The Cougar Sports Radio Network covers much of the West. Click here for listings.

THE LINE:
Notre Dame by 27.5

LAST MEETING:
Notre Dame overcame a 16 point halftime deficit to defeat the Cougs in South Bend in 2003.

THE SERIES:
ND leads 1-0

CF.C PREDICTION:
Cougars 84, Irish 2

THE IRISH ON OFFENSE

Players to Know
Jimmy Clausen, QB: After struggling his first two seasons, Clausen this year is one of the nation's most accurate passers, completing 65 percent of his passes and 8.91 yards per pass attempt. He is on pace to throw for over 3500 yards and 28 touchdowns this season.
Golden Tate, WR: A lethal offensive weapon, Tate has 847 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns through seven games. He is a converted running back, which gives him great run-after-catch skills. At 5-11 he isn't the biggest target, but he has speed and moves to spare.

Overview
Clausen leads a pro-style passing offense. The Irish average 305 passing yards per game and rank No. 8 nationally in passing efficiency. The diminutive Armando Allen has been a solid workhorse back for the Irish, keeping defenses honest. They have four seniors starting on an enormous offensive line, averaging 6-6, 315 pounds.

Strategy
Clausen and the offense will likely try to tear WSU to shreds through the air. Injuries have hampered the Irish receiving corps though so the Cougars should feel welcome to focus plenty of coverage on Tate. Clausen bears most of the responsibility of making the offense go, so WSU needs to mix in lots of confusing blitzes to put as much pressure on him as possible.

THE IRISH ON DEFENSE

Players to Know
Kyle McCarthy, S: The senior leads the Irish with 59 tackles and 5 interceptions of the season.

Overview
Notre Dame runs a fairly basic 4-3 defense. They have a tremendous defensive line and strong linebacker corps, which the Irish are counting on to completely shut down the Cougars' running game. Notre Dame has been much more susceptible to the pass, ranking No. 117 in passing yards allowed and No. 88 in pass efficiency defense. .

Strategy
The Cougs, it would seem, might look to throw freshman QB Jeff Tuel in a gun fight against one of the nation's most talked about QB's, hoping he gets the better of the matchup. Notre Dame's defense is far from impregnable, but they pose a tough task for the Cougs. For WSU to win they have to find creative ways to take some of the pressure off Tuel. Some trickery to mix things up, better execution and move the chains consistently in the first half would all be beneficial. That, and get aggressive on defense and special teams to set up better field position for the offense.

THE IRISH ON SPECIAL TEAMS
The Irish have had a weak punting game this year and are examining their options. Tate lends his skills to the return game. Kicker Nick Tauch has been money inside of 50 yards.

FINAL THOUGHTS
The Cougs should have a true mental and emotional advantage in this game. Traveling to San Antonio to play a program like Notre Dame on national TV doesn't happen every day. The Cougs can approach this game with the knowledge that it can wipe away much of the losses that have come before it. And a good start, elusive all season long, is critical.

Alternatively, the Irish are at a huge emotional disadvantage. They have faced arch rivals on consecutive weekends and are in the middle of brutal schedule, in which the last seven games have been decided by seven points or less. The temptation to treat WSU as a breather will be tremendous.

The reality remains that on paper, all the talking heads are saying this week that WSU has no statistical reason to expect victory over Notre Dame. But with all the weird intangibles surrounding a Halloween night game on an unfamiliar field, could Notre Dame be the team playing out of character?


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