Notre Dame Football: Schedule Will Help Irish Bounce Back After Michigan Loss
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have already lost their bid to repeat last year's feat of going undefeated during the regular season after a 41-30 loss at Michigan on Saturday evening.
Although Brian Kelly's bunch is undoubtedly set for a substantial slide in the next release of college football rankings, there is plenty of hope for Notre Dame to get back on track in 2013.
Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner boasted a combination of throwing and running ability that the Irish simply hadn't faced in 2012—and won't for the remainder of the current campaign.
Gardner made the formidable Notre Dame defense pay in a big way in the Big House, throwing for four touchdowns and running for another to lead Michigan's victorious effort.
After USC's stunning home loss to Washington State, the Trojans aren't going to be featured in the Top 25 in the next polls. Thus, the only ranked opponents remaining on the Irish's schedule are Associated Press No. 16 Oklahoma and AP No. 5 Stanford in the season finale.
Other than Stanford, which team is the biggest threat to beat the Irish this season?
The Sooners don't have a surefire starting quarterback and looked largely uninspiring in an ugly 16-7 victory over West Virginia. That was a team that lost its three most skilled offensive players to the 2013 NFL draft: quarterback Geno Smith, and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.
Just a year ago, the Mountaineers had a horrendous defense, but continued horrid play by OSU's Trevor Knight at quarterback made the unit look respectable.
It's a really weak slate for the Irish, who can get back on track at Purdue next week in the battle for the Shillelagh Trophy. The Boilermakers barely beat Indiana State 20-14 at home on Saturday and dropped the opener 42-7 to Cincinnati.
For the Irish to regain their swagger, they have to get pressure on the opposing quarterback and run the ball more effectively.
Considering at least two surefire NFL prospects sit on the defensive line in nose tackle Louis Nix III and defensive end Stephon Tuitt—who got the key pick-six off Gardner on Saturday—that shouldn't be a problem against lesser competition.
As for the running game, it wasn't bad against the Wolverines, as the Irish finished with 19 carries and 91 yards.
The problem was that it turned into a shootout, and Michigan possessed the ball approximately eight minutes longer. With the way this Notre Dame team is built, it can't become an aerial arms race with opponents while having Tommy Rees at quarterback.
Rees is a stellar player with solid accuracy, experience and poise in the pocket. However, for Notre Dame to be successful, it won't be Rees' doing.
A steady diet of running backs Amir Carlisle and George Atkinson III can get the Irish back into the BCS discussion and ensure a successful season. The lack of firepower on opposing offenses will allow the Irish to grind out games the old-fashioned way—running the ball and playing stellar defense.
It may not always be pretty, but Notre Dame has all the pieces in place to recover from a disappointing 1-1 start and have a very respectable season.
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