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Game Preview: Notre Dame vs. Nevada

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One Foot Down previews Notre Dame’s home opener against the Nevada Wolf Pack.

NCAA Football: Cal. Poly - SLO at Nevada Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

Well folks, the first game definitely didn’t go as we all hoped. The defense was putrid, the two QB system wasn’t unstoppable, and the Texas Longhorns fans were way too nice and welcoming for me to get in a fight with anyone.

But worst of all, the Fighting Irish lost and now sit at 0-1 and ranked 18th in the AP Poll as they head into their home opener against Nevada, a heavy underdog fresh off of a 3-point overtime win over Cal Poly.

So how will this game shake out? Let’s take a look.

Notre Dame Offense vs. Nevada Defense

Well, it’s been made official - DeShone Kizer will be the starting QB going forward for the Notre Dame offense.

So what does that mean for the Fighting Irish’s game against the Wolf Pack of Nevada on Saturday? Most likely, a world of pain.

DeShone Kizer led every single scoring drive for Notre Dame against Texas, going 15/24 for 215 yards and 5 touchdowns while also rushing for 77 yards on 13 carries, adding a TD on the ground as well. He changed the way the offense played every time he trotted out there, and eventually made it impossible for Brian Kelly to remove him in favor of Zaire as the game came down to the wire and the Irish needed to keep scoring.

Kizer will enjoy another big day against Nevada, especially if senior captain WR Torii Hunter Jr. passes concussion protocol and plays alongside impressive sophomores Equanimeous St. Brown and CJ Sanders, who combined for 8 receptions, 130 yards, and 3 touchdowns last Sunday.

With an overhauled defensive front and ND’s offensive line’s ability to protect the QB, Kizer stands to have plenty of time to find his young receivers. However, he will have to put up with the Wolf Pack secondary, who may be one of the team’s biggest strengths with strong returning talent in Asauni Rufus (105 tackles, 1 INT as a true freshman last season) and Dameon Baber (6 INTs in 2015, as a true freshman who played in just 8 games) pairing up at the safety spots. At cornerback Nevada has junior Kendall Johnson (47 tackles in 2015) and redshirt freshman E.J. Muhammad at the corner spots adding more talent and youth to the unit.

NCAA Football: Nevada at Fresno State Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t expect Notre Dame to struggle too much throwing the ball against Nevada considering how they did against Texas’ secondary, but that secondary, especially Dameon Baber as a talented, ball-hawking safety, needs to be accounted for at all times by Kizer as he surveys the field.

On the ground, expect Notre Dame’s offensive line to look much improved, as they will have had another week to get it right (it also doesn’t help to be playing Nevada and their brand new defensive front). Tarean Folston and Josh Adams should run pretty much at will against the Wolf Pack, although guys like Salesa Faraimo at nose tackle will do their best to clog up the middle and corral the Irish ball carriers before they can get into the secondary and make people miss.

NCAA Football: Nevada at Wyoming Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Nevada Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense

Nevada’s offense begins and ends with running back James Butler, a junior who ran for 123 yards and 2 TDs against Cal Poly last week (and 1,345 yards and 10 TDs in 2015). Butler is small, quick, and incredibly fast in the open field - a definitely home run threat, as you can see.

Also, I included this other video in an article on Wednesday about Nevada, but figure you could use it again on this lovely Friday:

The Notre Dame defensive front struggled mightily against the Texas rushing offense, and that’s putting it lightly. Plenty of missed tackles and poor reads led to D’Onta Foreman and Tyrone Swoopes running all over the Irish when it mattered most. Thus, this does not bode well for stopping Butler, who can be as slippery and elusive as anyone out there. The play of Nyles Morgan will be huge in terms of being a sure-tackler and aggressor during this one, but he will need his teammates to wrap up better than they did against Texas’ big-bodied ball carriers. He and the other linebackers especially need to do a good job of wrapping Butler up before he does any serious damage and gets into the secondary with plenty of green space ahead of him.

Through the air, Nevada QB Tyler Stewart comes in as a solid, game-manager kind of QB. He won’t blow anyone away (2015 numbers of 2,139 yards, 57.1% completion, 15 TD, and 7 INT), but Stewart has the ability to manage the game, get the ball to Butler whenever he can, and maybe even make a couple throws to keep the Irish secondary on their toes.

That Irish secondary will likely have to spread their focus across various receivers, as the Wolf Pack really spread it around last week with 9 different receivers recording a catch. Jerico Richardson is the one to watch, as the senior has had two solid years in 2015 and 2014, amassing 131 career catches, 1,470 career yards, and 9 career touchdowns. His speed and ability to get behind the Irish safeties could be crucial to Nevada making enough big plays to stay in the game.

Notre Dame’s starting cornerbacks are strong with senior Cole Luke and sophomore Shaun Crawford, but the depth behind them is either young, injured, or has proven already how easily they get burnt on deep balls. Crawford is a great guy to watch, though, as he has been billed as a playmaker and immediately showed it against Texas with an interception and a return of a blocked extra point for a two point conversion.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Texas Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

These two shouldn’t have much trouble matching up with the best Nevada receivers and blanketing them as much as possible (although Richardson is definitely still dangerous).

The Irish safety situation is another story but also the same. The starters are true freshman Devin Studstill and junior Drue Tranquill, but between the frosh mistakes Studstill is bound to make and Tranquill’s lack of speed, the back end of Brian VanGorder’s defense looks destined to give up at least a few big plays this season.

To sum this all up, James Butler’s effectiveness and production will determine how far this Wolf Pack offense can go in its quest for a major road upset at Notre Dame Stadium. If Tyler Stewart can connect with receivers like Richardson, it could really spread out the defense and enable Butler to find plenty of green space as the game goes on.

My Personal Prediction

As promising as some of the talent is at Nevada, I don’t think Notre Dame struggles too much in securing a victory. They might allow the Wolf Pack to stick around for a half or so, but overall Notre Dame’s physicality in the trenches and ultra-talented offense should carry them to a nice, safe, slight-blowout victory on Saturday.

So, looking in my Brian Polian crystal ball, I predict...

NCAA Football: Arizona Bowl-Nevada vs Colorado State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Prediction: Notre Dame 47, Nevada 27

Go Irish, Beat Wolf Pack!