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Irish Blogger Gathering: Utah Packs a Punch

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This week's round of questioning is brought to us by none other than Clashmore Mike. Head over there to see the responses from the collective Notre Dame blogosphere.

1. Notre Dame is currently 4-5 with three games left in the season. First, are you surprised by the wins and losses so far? And second, given how the Irish have played, what is a realistic expectation for the remainder of the season?

How can anyone not be surprised at the wins and losses? I have no expectations for the next three games. We could win or lose all three games or somewhere in-between. The biggest anchor to Irish success is fan expectation. Until the Irish approach each game considering the opponent as equal, we risk continuing on this emotional roller-coaster. Just ask Longhorns or Gator fans.

2. A little report card in the spirit of the bye week. What player or position unit has been the biggest surprise of the year and what player/position unit has been the biggest disappointment?

Kudos to David Ruffer. Finally, the Irish have a legitimate kicker that can put points on the board. Ian Williams, before he was injured, has been the biggest surprise, anchoring the 3-4 as an inside force.

The biggest disappointment has been the passing game whether due to injuries, chemistry, or not getting the hang of Kelly's offense.

3. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco caught plenty of flack after the debacle against Navy, and rightly so. But his unit bounced back with arguably their best performance of the year against a prolific Tulsa offense. So which version is the real Diaco? Is it the one that had no answer for Navy? Or is it the one that had his troops prepared against Tulsa (and most other Irish opponents)?

I think Diaco will have the defense prepared for Utah. They will have had time to review film and to watch the TCU game. A well-rested Irish defense will also see the return of Carlo Calabrese Navy's offense is unique. Utah's offense is something the Irish defense should know well with a few wrinkles.

4. Off the heels of a near miss against Air Force, Utah was undressed by TCU in their first "real" test of the season. Are the Utes pretenders and does Notre Dame have a shot at winning Saturday? What will be the key matchup next week in South Bend?

The key matchup will be the Utes rushing offense vs the Irish rushing defense. Utah relies on its running game to set up third and short situations and to set up its passing game. Against Air Force, Utah ran 49 times and passed 23 times, but needed a fumble by the Falcons in OT to kick a winning field goal. TCU ran up the score early, stuffed Utah's rushing attack (17 rushes, 3.0 yds/carry) and sat back. Wynn went 16-35 (45% with 2 Interceptions). Seven of the nine games Utah has played have been against teams ranked 94th to 120th in rushing defense. TCU and Pittsburgh have the 7th and 8th ranked run defenses, respectively.

Notre Dame's rushing defense has faced six of the top 39 rushing offenses in the country and will face three more in Utah (36th), Army (8th) and USC (23rd).

Six of nine Utah opponents are ranked 61st to 96th in passing defense. The other three - Pittsburgh (45th, 3 pt win Utah), Air Force (7th, 5 pt win for Utah) and TCU (1st, 40 point loss for Utah) - have been the Utes three toughest games. Against Wyoming's 72nd ranked passing defense, Wynn threw 2 TDs, 3 Ints. Overall, his statistics are similar to Pitt's Tino Sunseri, another sophomore. Wynn likes to throw high percentage short and medium distance passes. Stuff the run, pressure Wynn and jump on the shorter passing game.

Another matchup to watch is Utah's punt and kickoff returns with Shaky Smithson against the Irish special teams.

Besides, this is a home game and Senior Day. Go Irish!

What are your thoughts?