The summer brought the Notre Dame Nation more drama, questions, and storylines than a presidential primary season. It’s finally time to analyze opening day at Notre Dame Stadium against the Nevada Wolfpack from both possible extremes before we settle into the final prognostication.
WHY NEVADA SLIPS BY NOTRE DAME
Travis Thomas at BYU, the four-point win over Georgia Tech, The Attack of Tenuta, and the San Diego State squeaker.
Notre Dame fans know each of those opening-game memories all to well. This first-game sickness may mutate into an epidemic by Saturday afternoon on Sept. 5.
Nevada brings arguably the finest college playmaker to stand (three yards) behind center of any school west of the Rocky Mountains. Colin Kaepernick doesn’t sling like Sam Bradford, bulldoze like Tim Tebow, or sprint like Juice Williams, but he’s a hybrid of all three. An offensive weapon of that ability can wreak havoc on a young, hyper, hard-charging Notre Dame defense that may have too much to prove and too much adrenaline pumping on opening day at Notre Dame Stadium.
What’s the nightmare scenario? The vision of a smart, experienced Nevada offense allowing the teed-up ND blitz package to over-pursue as Vai Taua, Luke Lippincott elude the young Irish defensive interior.
Nightmare scenario, Part II? After the Wolfpack gouge the ND line for 150-plus yards by halftime the Irish make adjustments in the second half only to watch Kaepernick turn in a passing performance that reminds us why he threw for over 2,800 yards last year and why he’s an All-WAC First Team preseason pick this year.
Finally, the Chris Ault factor. The Hall of Famer began coaching in Reno before roulette wheels were legalized. He’s won 198 games in 24 years and knows better than anyone that his 2008 defense was terrible. The Humanitarian Bowl loss to Maryland—a game in which Darius Heyward-Bey made the case for his $18 million NFL contract—should have refocused the Wolfpack defense.
The Nevada defense is adequate and the offense wins them a track meet, 49-45.
WHY NOTRE DAME DESTROYS NEVADA
The good news is that Coach Ault's run defense allowed just 88.6 yards per game in 2008, good for sixth in the nation. The bad news is that EVERYBODY lived by the mantra, "Why run when you can fly?" when they played Nevada.
Opponents soared to 311.6 yards per game in the air last year, and nobody has to remind Jimmy Clausen of that. It’s safe to assume the captain hasn’t taken the time to learn the names of the Nevada DBs, because he knows he’ll be seeing them across the backs of their jerseys as they attempt to chase down Michael Floyd, Golden Tate, and Armando Allen all day long.
Adding to the Wolfpack neutering will be two names from years gone by. The first, James Aldridge, will overpower the over-matched Nevada defensive line with and without the ball. The new ND fullback will run enough to open up the flats for the quick screens and swing passes Charlie Weis loves so dearly. He'll also blow up enough linebackers to help the veteran Irish line create a 200-yard rushing day for Allen, Hughes, and a few new names like Gray, Riddick, and Wood.
The second reprise will come in the form of Mike Ragone. The Weis wiseguy from Exit 4 on the Jersey turnpike is back. Once a highly touted pass-catching tight end recruit, he’s battled back from knee injuries to compliment Kyle Rudolph, the 2008 First Team All-American.
So pick your poison, Coach Ault. Stack the box and Jimmy goes up-top to preseason hype machine Golden Tate and star-in-the-making sophomore Michael Floyd. Double Tate or Floyd, and Rudolph along with Ragone will out-athlete the Nevada linebackers. Back off into a soft zone and the diverse talents of the Irish run-game will have the breakout performance that so many have waited so long for.
The Notre Dame offense will look like a video game until Coach Weis calls off the dogs late in the second half. Everybody gets their numbers and we finally see what all that talent looks like on gameday.
Notre Dame gets a scare early. The young ND defensive engines will start quick only to find out Kaepernick and the gang are legit D-I talents. But after Coach Tenuta channels his inner Lombardi and tears some tail, Brian Smith, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Kerry Neal, and Ethan Johnson will settle in and go to work.
The second half will tell the story. The Irish should score on at least 75 percent of their possessions after halftime adjustments. The uber-talented linebacker corps of Smith, Smith, Filer, Teo, and (yes) Smith should set up shop in the Wolfpack backfield. And the proverbial roof should come off Notre Dame Stadium.
Irish win big, 41-17, and everyone can start thinking about The Big House.