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Head to head: Nevada at Notre Dame

| Friday, September 9, 2016

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The Irish got torched last week in a number of blown coverages, which may have been expected considering the amount of underclassmen Notre Dame played in its season opener. The Irish gave up 280 yards passing and allowed 10.4 yards per completion. Irish head coach Brian Kelly anounced that freshman Devin Studstill will start in the place of graduate student Avery Sebastian, adding another young face to the Irish secondary. Notre Dame also had no pass rush to speak of against the Longhorns and let freshman quarterback Shane Buechele settle into the game and he made the Irish pay.

Meanwhile, Nevada and senior quarterback Tyler Stewart threw for 189 yards  and two touchdowns against Cal Poly in the Wolf Pack’s opening game. Those aren’t particularly inspring numbers and Nevada is unabashadely a run-first team. If Nevada wins this game, it won’t be through the air, but when Nevada does pass, Notre Dame’s defense is suspect. Expectations will be low for Notre Dame’s pass defense until it proves otherwise.



Nevada’s running game is its bread and butter. Last week agaisnt Cal Poly, the Wolf Pack racked up 174 yards on the ground.Junior James Butler ecplised the career 2,000-yard mark last week and now has 2,100 yards to his name. Nevada also has an experienced offensive line with three seniors and a junior and while they won’t totally overpower Brian VanGorder’s front seven, they certainly won’t be fooled by anything he can throw at them.

For the Irish, moving on from Texas can’t come soon enough. Texas outrushed the Irish last week 237-205 and the Longhorns had four runners who had 30 yards or more on the ground. What was more troubling than the sheer yardage was Notre Dame’s inability to get off the field in short yardage situations. The Longhorns were 2-for-2 on fourth down conversions and, of course, Tyrone Swoopes’ six-yard goal line charge sealed the game for Charlie Strong’s team.

Overall though, the Irish have too much talent and too much anger to roll over.



Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s switch to a 3-3-5 against the Texas attack didn’t work particularly well, so a return to the standard four-man front should help his unit against Nevada. The Wolf Pack offer the only chance to fix any problems before No. 12 Michigan State comes to town next week; it will be interesting to see what other changes VanGorder makes Saturday.

While Nevada won’t present as many problems as Texas did, there is still plenty to worry about. Nevada’s offensive coordinator, Tim Cramsey, engineered an effective offense during his tenure at Montana State, averaging 38 points per game in his three years with the program. A senior quarterback and an experienced offensive line help Cramsey as the Wolf Pack offense transitions toward a spread system from a power-running attack. Simply put, however, Cramsey and the Wolf Pack will not see a team with the amount of talent Notre Dame has all season.



Senior Alex Boy is currently third in Nevada’s history, averaging 43.2 yards per punt — and he got off a monster 71-yard effort against Caly Poly last week. Senior kicker Brent Zuzo was 1-for-2 last week, with the made field goal coming from 25 yards out.

The Irish return game, meanwhile, seems to be on the verge of breaking out. Sophomore C.J. Sanders still lacks some explosiveness after returning from an injury and besides a blocked field goal, Notre Dame’s special teams play was solid against Texas.



It was a tale of two quaterbacks, or rather four quarterbacks, last week at Texas, with both the Irish and the Longhorns two playing players at the position. This week, that won’t be the case, with junior DeShone Kizer being named Notre Dame’s starter Wednesday. Kizer accounted for six touchdowns last week, five of which were through the air, including a perfectly-lofted ball for sophomore running back Josh Adams to put the Irish ahead in the fourth quarter. If Kizer can turn in a similar performance in the second week of the season, it should lead to another prolific day for the passing game.

Notre Dame has an experienced line, but did allow a few sacks to the Longhorns. The biggest blow to the Irish passing game, though was senior reciever Torii Hunter Jr.’s injury. Hunter is Notre Dame’s only experienced option and with him gone, the Irish will rely heavily on sophomore Equanimeous St. Brown to carry the load. If his breakout performance at Texas is repeated, the Irish should have all the production they need.

Nevada’s secondary was not heavily tested agasint Cal Poly last week as the Mustangs passed for only 62 yards, but rushed for 383. The Wolf Pack will have trouble with Notre Dame’s speed.



The Wolf Pack gave up 383 rushing yards to Cal Poly and now they have to take on a reloaded Irish rushing attack that inlcudes Tarean Folston, Josh Adams and Dexter Williams. Folston does not appear to have lost any ground after returing from his ACL injury, as the senior rushed for 88 yards and averaged just under five yards per carry against Texas. Kizer was also effective in the run game with 77 yards to his name and one 29-yard touchdown run.

The Irish line looked solid, if not spectacular against the Lonhorns. There were some big holes, but there were also a lot of plays that were blown up from the get-go. Though the Irish don’t run the option like Cal Poly, there should be plenty of holes to run through Saturday.



Nevada defensive coordinator Scott Boone now knows he will see Kizer at quarterback this week for the Irish. Boone has decreased the points per game allowed in both of his two years with the Wolf Pack, a feat only 24 other college programs have managed.

When Kizer was on the field for the Irish, Kelly looked like a genius at times, especially with a few well-timed screen passes and St. Brown making some big catches. There were plently of questionable calls however, including a run play while facing third-and-12 near the end of the game and the forced substitution of Zaire when it looked like Kizer had the momentum.

However, with a clear advantage in the running game, Kelly will look to run early and often against a suspect Nevada front seven.



Consistency was the biggest concern for Notre Dame’s special teams unit last year, and that inconsistency was on display again in the season opener at Texas, as junior punter Tyler Newsome shanked two punts and sophomore kicker Justin Yoon saw a field goal blocked.

But on the flip side, sophomore C.J. Sanders was productive in the return game, and Yoon’s ability to convert in a high-pressure overtime situation, especially after having an earlier attempt blocked, is a positive — as were his kickoffs, which were good all game. Nevada’s kick return unit, which only got one opportunity a week ago, might remain unknown for another seven days.


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About Alex Carson

Alex Carson graduated from Notre Dame in 2017 after majoring in Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics and living in O’Neill Hall. Hailing from the Indianapolis area, but born in Youngstown, Ohio, Carson is a Cleveland sports fan convinced that he’s already lived the “best day of his life.” At The Observer, Carson was first a Sports Writer, then served as an Associate Sports Editor (2015/16) and an Assistant Managing Editor (2016/17), before finishing his tenure as a Senior Sports Writer. A man of strong convictions, he ardently believes that Carly Rae Jepsen's 2015 release E•MO•TION is the greatest album of his generation, and wakes up early on Saturday mornings to listen, or occasionally watch, his favorite least-favorite sports team, Aston Villa. When he isn’t writing, Carson spends his time counting down the days to the next running of the Indianapolis 500 and reminding people that the Victory March starts with the lyric, “Rally sons of Notre Dame,” not “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame.”

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