Our friends over at UHND are here this week to give us the lowdown on Notre Dame. Make sure to visit their site for great Notre Dame news and analysis.
Notre Dame Offense
Is Notre Dame's quarterback carousel finally over now that Everett Golson led the Irish back from a 14 point 4th quarter deficit last weekend? Who knows. Most Notre Dame fans are ready for it to be - especially after Tommy Rees failed the lead the Irish to any points during a third quarter that almost derailed Notre Dame's perfect season. Golson is still learning on the job, but his 4th quarter heroics most likely bought him some leeway with Brian Kelly and the Irish coaching staff so that they might not be as quick to give him the hook if he struggles again.
While Golson has had his moments where he has looked ready to turn the corner, he has also had those head scratching moments that come with starting a sophomore quarterback that didn't see the field as a freshman such as his 4th quarter interception in the endzone with 4 minutes remaining. At this point though, its time for Notre Dame to take the good with the bad and let Golson continue to develop. He has the tools to be a great player for the Irish and its time Kelly takes the training wheels off.
Helping Golson is a ground game that hasn't been slowed much in recent weeks. Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood, and George Atkinson all have 100+ yard performances this year and all are capable of having such performances each week since Notre Dame rotates backs frequently. Look for Riddick and Wood to be featured more in the first half with Atkinson, the speedster of the group, seeing more of his touches in the second half as the Boston College defense wears down some.
I expect Notre Dame to pass early in this one though to get Golson some work and build off of the developing chemistry he has going with sophomore Davaris Daniels, junior TJ Jones, and senior Robby Toma. Daniels has started to emerge as the #1 target for Golson and should see plenty of attention this week. Of course, there is also Tyler Efiert. Golson has been slower to develop a rapport with the All American tight end, but last week the two clicked early more than we've seen in recent weeks.
Notre Dame Defense
As the Notre Dame defense goes, so goes the Irish. All season long the Irish defense has led the way as Notre Dame has jumped out to a 9-0 start for the first time in almost 20 years. The Irish defense has kept the likes of Denard Robinson and Landry Jones in check along the way which is what made last week's uneven performance against a mediocre Pitt team all that much more surprising. Ray Graham is a very fine running back, but Notre Dame has faced other talented backs this year that haven't had nearly the success Graham did against them.
The strength of the Notre Dame defense lies within the front seven although last week the Irish were a little thin up front and it hurt their effectiveness. Louis Nix spent most of last week sick and as a result didn't start. Kona Schwenke started in his absence but got banged up early on forcing Nix into action. Nix was still very effective despite fighting off being sick although he wasn't as disruptive as he has been all season. When healthy, Nix is one of the best pure nose tackles in the country and is a major reason behind the success of the Notre Dame defense.
When Nix is at the top of his game, he does everything a nose tackle should do - eats up space, occupies blockers, forces double teams, and disrupts plays. The impact Nix has allowed Stephon Tuitt to rack up 10 sacks already this year and has helped put Manti Te'o in a position to have the kind of season that has him being mentioned as a Heisman candidate. That isn't to say that Nix is the reason for Te'os success, but rather Nix occupying blockers has allowed the Hawaiian native to roam free and make more plays this year as evidenced by his 5 interceptions.
Te'o isn't the only linebacker making an impact for Notre Dame this year though. In fact, the other Irish backers are the unsung heroes of the Irish defense this year. Danny Spond and Prince Shembo have been more than just sound at securing the edge of the Irish defense and Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese have held their own inside next to Te'o.
The surprise of the Irish defense, however, has come in the secondary where inexperience was supposed to doom Notre Dame. Bennett Jackson and Kei'Varae Russell have secured the cornerback spots for Notre Dame while Matthias Farley has filled in really well for Jamoris Slaughter after the 5th year senior was lost for the year. Zeke Motta, meanwhile, has elevated his game and is playing like one of the veteran leaders on the team. The secondary gave up a lot of yards to Landry Jones a few weeks ago, but they kept the Oklahoma receivers in front of them and displayed sound tackling. They forced Jones and the Sooner offense to dink and dunk their way down the field and as a result they kept them off of the scoreboard for the most part.
Notre Dame Special Teams
Place kicking has become an adventure for Notre Dame over the last few weeks. Kyle Brindza has missed either a crucial field goal or PAT in each of the last three weeks. Last week Brindza pushed a PAT wide left after Notre Dame had cut the Pitt lead to 8 in the 4th quarter eventually forcing Notre Dame to go for a two point conversion to the tie the game in the final minutes. Over the first six weeks of the season Brindza had showed a lot of promise so its possible he is just going through some growing pains. Still, right now place kicking is anything but a sure thing for the Irish.
Notre Dame has had some issues in the punting department as well. The Irish haven't been able to win the field position game for much of the season in part because of some consistency in the punting department.
Oh, and kick and punt returns? Forget about it. Notre Dame hasn't come close to breaking a return in either department all season long.
Notre Dame has the talent and depth on both sides of the ball to make this game get out of hand, but I have come to learn that you can expect Boston College to play their best game of the season when they face the Irish and after seeing BC take down the last two undefeated teams Notre Dame has taken into November, I am not counting my chickens before they are hatched this year as well.
That said, I do realize this isn't quite the same level of team we've seen the Irish take on in the past either. I don't think Notre Dame will lose this weekend, but at the same time, it wouldn't surprise me to see this one be a lot closer than the blowout most Notre Dame fans are expecting. I see this game being competitive through halftime before the Irish pull away in the second half.