Army (+8) at Notre Dame
Pick: Notre Dame
The Irish preview gets its own post this week.
Here are some of the things I’ll be watching for in this game:
1.) What will the defensive game plan look like?
We’ve already gone over how horrible the game plan was against Navy, so what kind of changes are we going to see this weekend against another triple option team?
Diaco can’t possibly stick Cwynar at nose tackle and have no one within three yards on either side of him on the defensive line and expect to stop the option. We did that against Navy and it couldn’t have been any easier for the Middies to run the ball up the middle.
What’s worse is that the defensive ends in that game seemed to just stand up and say, "Hey, Navy offensive linemen! Block me and let me do nothing on this play but stand in my tracks and eventually go after someone who doesn’t have the ball!"
We also talked about on OFD that in a 3-4 alignment the defensive ends "traditionally" crash down on the fullback. Every. Single. Play.
The Irish did not do that and no one has explained why since the debacle against Navy.
And to be honest, even if Notre Dame lines up in a 3-4 scheme in the exact same way it did against Navy (i.e. with the nose tackle all alone in the middle with the ends way out wide), and the defensive ends actually do crash in on the fullback, I’m still not confident that the Irish will have an effective defense.
I’m not a football coach, but don’t you have to put four down linemen against this option attack? At the very least, put OLB Darius Fleming down with a hand on the ground and have him attack the fullback, while allowing Ethan Johnson to clog up the middle as a defensive tackle.
Either way, it’s going to be very important that Notre Dame plays well defensively and that means coming out with a much better game plan than what was offered against Navy.
2.) How aggressive will Kelly let Rees be?
I think the coaching staff will stress the running game against Army in a similar way that they did against Utah, but I’m keeping an eye out on how aggressive Kelly will let his young freshman quarterback be.
That’s because even with a young and inexperienced kid back there, in this kind of high-percentage throwing spread offense, it should be very easy to pass for 250 yards against Army.
It’s pretty obvious that Rees has the smarts to make the quick throws under 10 yards, but will he be able to go deep when a guy isn’t so obviously wide open? Will he be able to throw the ball deep whenever there isn’t only two simple reads to make (as there were on both Kamara touchdowns last week)?
These are the kinds of things I’d like to see from Rees. He’s been doing well so far, but there have been a couple instances where if he just went through his reads for one more second, or did it a little faster, or turned his head and looked…he would have found a wide open receiver.
3.) What’s the atmosphere going to be like?
I don’t think it’s any secret that this needs to be an entertaining game and that more importantly Notre Dame needs to win. A lot of the future "barnstorming" games will likely depend upon how successful this one will be.
It would be nice if the game wasn’t on NBC, because that automatically means lower ratings and bad play-by-play. And you can bet the producers at NBC will pump out as much black and white footage of the rivalry’s past as they can, even to the detriment to the present-day game.
Hopefully the game will be a sellout and the fans in attendance enjoy themselves. Everything is in place for this to be a special moment in recent college football history, and let’s hope it gives the "barnstorming" tour a shot in the arm after a very dull beginning last year in San Antonio.
Does Army Have a Chance?
Of course the Black Knights have a chance to win, but I think it’s unlikely Notre Dame coughs up a game like this.
There are certainly plenty of aspects to worry about: the triple option, having a let-down after the Utah game, looking ahead to USC, being distracted by New York City and the adoration the players will be given.
Yet, I think this team turned a small corner last weekend and it will be enough to take care of business against the men from West Point. Even if the Irish can play average defense (in contrast to the awful defense they played against Navy), this should be a relatively comfortable 10-15 point win.
The keys to the game will be to not turn the ball over and keep the ball out of Army’s offenses’ hands, which means staying patient with the Irish running game.
In this respect, Crist’s injury may be a blessing in disguise because it has forced Brian Kelly to rely on the running game more often and start developing Cierre Wood as the next big-time halfback at Notre Dame.
If Wood rushes for 100 yards (a legit possibility), and if Gray and Hughes chip in another 40 or 50 yards, Notre Dame will win easily.
It’s probably a good idea to not follow in the footsteps of Hawaii and Rutgers, who combined for a total of nine rushing yards in close victories over Army. Notre Dame should stay balanced and keep the ball on the ground, especially if it is successful early on.
In the end, I see a victory that will be somewhat comforting, but not entirely satisfying. I can imagine Army taking a first quarter lead and fans everywhere starting to panic, but I think Notre Dame will nurse a small halftime lead and pull away late in this one.
Notre Dame 31