Notre Dame Football: 5 Offenses That Will Give the Irish Trouble in 2012
Notre Dame's defense has shown steady improvement since a rough final three years under Charlie Weis. The Irish allowed 26 points per game in Weis' final season in 2009, but have trimmed that number to just over 20 in Brian Kelly's first two seasons.
Despite the statistical improvement, the team wasn't immune to significant lapses last season, including allowing 28 points in the fourth quarter in a loss to Michigan. The Irish defense held its own against USC's Matt Barkley and Stanford's Andrew Luck, but was unable to get critical stops to keep the team in the game.
The talent level is inching closer and closer to that of the nation's elite teams, but with five starters gone plus Freshman All-American Aaron Lynch, Notre Dame finds itself with a number of concerns on the defensive side of the ball this season.
Those concerns, however, aren't limited to just within its own locker room. They also come from the opposing offenses, most notably the five we are about to dissect.
Notre Dame has allowed just 28 points in the first three quarters against Michigan the past two seasons. However, they've allowed 35 points in the fourth quarter and have lost leads in the final 30 seconds of both games. The villain for Irish fans has been and will once again be quarterback Denard Robinson.
The dynamic dual-threat Robinson is a big play waiting to happen, despite his inconsistencies in the passing game. His underthrown passes gave the Irish cornerbacks fits last season, as they rely on one-on-one coverage in coordinator Bob Diaco's system.
Left tackle Taylor Lewan is one of the best there is, and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint is the Wolverines' best runner since Mike Hart left after the 2007 season. This isn't an offense that will rattle off long drive after long drive, but there's a chance for a touchdown (for either team) on every snap of the ball.
The Cougars return to the Notre Dame schedule for the first time in seven seasons. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall has one of his strongest teams yet, led by mobile southpaw Riley Nelson at quarterback and budding star Cody Hoffman at wide receiver.
Nelson will present challenges for the Irish defense due to his speed and ability to throw on the run. He'll have three starters back in front of him, including 28-game starter Braden Brown protecting his blind side.
BYU can play power football too, having topped 200 yards on the ground five times last season. Nelson's a wily veteran now at age 24, and should rise to the challenge of playing in Notre Dame Stadium.
The Sooners attack has been one of the most potent in college football over the past decade, transitioning almost seamlessly from Jason White to Paul Thompson to Sam Bradford and now to Landry Jones, who has an outside chance at breaking the NCAA record for career passing yards this season.
Oklahoma loses the NCAA career reception leader, Ryan Broyles, but adds in dynamic freshman Trey Metoyer who failed to qualify academically last season. Its offensive line has taken multiple hits already during fall camp, losing right guard Tyler Evans to a knee injury and center Ben Habern to retirement (neck).
Despite not being heavily involved with the defense, Brian Kelly is familiar with the OU offense, as his 2008 Cincinnati team was on the wrong end of a 52-26 thrashing by eventual Heisman Trophy winner Bradford and the Sooners. A young secondary must grow up quickly if it expects to contain the Oklahoma attack.
New head coach Paul Chryst's offense is about as subtle as a punch in the mouth. The former Wisconsin offensive coordinator will bring back the smash-mouth, blue-collar style of football to which football fans in the Steel City have become so accustomed.
Pitt expects to have running back Ray Graham fully healthy for the start of the season after Graham tore his ACL last October. Quarterback Tino Sunseri is a much better fit for Chryst's pro-style attack than former coach Todd Graham's spread system.
A strong corp of receivers and tight end Hubie Graham solidify a strong offense for the Panthers. They won't try and trick defenses very often, but they'll test Notre Dame physically from start to finish. Even worse for the Irish is that the game comes on the heels of a brutal three-game stretch against Stanford, BYU and Oklahoma.
It doesn't take a genius to figure this one out, so we'll make this one short and sweet.
The best quarterback in the country? USC's Matt Barkley. The best pair of running backs in the country? USC's Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal. The best wide receiver duo in the country? USC's Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.