Two WAC teams are looking for the same thing. A BCS berth.
Boise State is pretty much there, seeing as Oregon was their big test of the season. From here on out all they have to do is show up and play reasonably well to ensure they stay ranked high enough and—most likely—go undefeated. But there is another team that is trying to break into the picture as well, and their test starts tomorrow at 3:30 p.m. EST.
Nevada still has much to prove. With their rival knocking off Oregon the Wolfpack will be hungrier than ever tomorrow to upset the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and make their own case to world.
Unfortunately, Notre Dame isn't Oregon.
Oregon had to replace almost their entire offensive line. Notre Dame brings back one of the most experienced offensive lines in college football. We need dig no further. Whether Notre Dame is overrated or not has yet to be seen, but Oregon certainly was with a new coach and new offensive line.
Tomorrow will answer a host of questions, but before kickoff, I'll take this opportunity to spell out how each team can win in a short and sweet piece.
I'll do the visitors first. What Follows are my "Sack Keys" or the keys for each team to win this match up.
- Run the football
When you have Vai Taua and Luke Lippincott and Kaepernick all able to run, you have to run. I know you wanted to improve your passing, but take some advice and watch the Michigan State-Notre Dame game last season. Notre Dame wanted to improve their rushing.
It didn't work. You'll be going against a seasoned group of veteran DBs who are fighting to keep their starting jobs and who have been trying to cover Micheal Floyd, and Golden Tate all offseason. Not to mention Shaquelle Evans, John Goodman, and Deion Walker. Or Kyle Rudolph. Get the picture? Run the ball.
- Protect Kaepernick
Maryland showed something to the world that we had not seen before: a flustered and less durable Kaepernick. After he got hit a few times he was erratic, over-throwing receivers and not picking the best holes to run through when he failed to spot the open man.
Tenuta=blitz. That's the way he plays the game. Saturday he will finally be calling all the defensive plays for the first time since his addition to the staff. He is going to try and get Kaepernick on the ground. If Nevada's offensive line has one of those days that they often had last season, ND will be getting lots of tackles-for-loss and sacks. This will also force him to throw off-balance without setting up, which usually leads to picks.
Nevada, you can't afford to keep letting Notre Dame's offense on the field. You don't have the defensive guys to rotate in to keep them fresh and you will lose in the fourth quarter if your defense stays on the field.
- Sack Jimmy Clausen
If you are going to give your team any shot at all, you cannot allow Notre Dame to neutralize your sack-artist defensive ends. You're outweighed by Notre Dame's offensive line and they have a chip on their shoulders. You have to find a way to get a few sacks in this game, or at least try to rattle Jimmy. A calm and collected Jimmy Clausen is a Jimmy Clausen that ends up going 22-26 for 401 yards and 5 TDs. Coincidentally, your WAC counterpart, Hawaii, failed to consistently put pressure on him.
- Stop the run
Whether you're good at it because teams just threw all the time or you really are that good at stopping the run, you can't let that change tomorrow. If Notre Dame can run on you with any success, you might as well pack it up.
Your defense isn't equipped to deal with two threats at once. You can stop the run and make them pass on you, or you can try to take out the passing game and take your chances with the run. If you let them run AND pass, there is no way you can win this game.
- Cover the WRs
I know this is going to be a tall order for any team this season as ND has a stable of talent catching the ball, but you will have to limit the big plays in the passing game. Too many 30-yard catches means you'll be in for a long and dismal game.
Don't try man-to-man. Every team that tried man coverage last season got burned for some long ones. Tate and Floyd cannot be single-covered: bottom line. Let James Micheal-Johnson plug up the middle and roll your safeties over to protect the long ball. If you don't, Weis will throw all day if he has to.
Now that I've gone over the Sack Keys for Nevada, I'll do the same for Notre Dame. (Did you expect anything else?)
Notre Dame: Offense
- Don't Drop the Ball
You cannot afford to have turnovers in this game. You are more athletically gifted and have greater depth on your roster, but turnovers are the great equalizer. If you turn the ball over, you let Nevada on the field and their offense can make you regret that.
- Run the Ball
Your offensive line outweighs the Nevada defensive line by size of the prototypical corn-fed Midwestern lineman. You need to go out and hit them in the mouth before they get settled. Make them worry about both the run and the pass, and they will remain confused.
It will help that you will be running from more formations this season, rather than the eight used all season last year. This means you'll be using some formations that Nevada hasn't seen before. Couple that with running and you have a very confused defense.
- Neutralize their Defensive Ends
Kevin Basped and Dontay Moch cannot be allowed to run amok. Sam Young and Paul Duncan outweigh them both by almost 60 lbs., but the question is going to be if they have the speed to keep them at bay. If the ends get to Jimmy more than a few times, you will have a long day. It will look like 2007 all over again.
Notre Dame: Defense
- Slow The Run
I say slow because I don't think it feasible that any team is going to be able to outright shut-down the Nevada run game. There is too much talent and experience to completely neutralize.
What you can do is slow them down and make them grind out every yard. If they have to go one yard at a time, they are more likely to try and throw if you can get them down early.
Force them to play to your strength. Nevada hasn't won a game where they were not allowed to pull off big runs. If they are limited, Nevada's offense is as well. Kaepernick isn't going from 54 percent passing efficiency to 74 percent in one offseason. No matter how much Nevada fans want him to be, he is not Pat White.
- Get Grass Stains on Kaepernick
Kerry Neal and Kapron Lewis-Moore should have the best game of all DL this game, with Ian Williams as a close third in tackles. If that is true, then Colin is getting big-time pressure—which he can't deal with very well.
You actually have to get to him, though. Not almost. You have to hit him. KLM will be strapped with the job of containing Kaepernick, Taua, and Luke on that side, a tall order for the red-shirt sophomore. He has to make sure that, more often than not, he brings the ball carrier to the ground. Kerry Neal needs to use his speed and strength to get to Colin often. At a solid 250, he weighs enough to give several of Nevada's linemen problems and is still explosive enough to beat them to the edge and make the play.
- Create Turnovers
You have to get the ball from the hands of Nevada's ball carrier and onto the ground. Nevada doesn't have the skill players to win through the air alone. If you create turnovers and get some takeaways—maybe a pick-6—you will be putting Nevada into a tough spot. Turnovers will deflate them and make it even more difficult than it will already be for them to score through the air.
Notre Dame has the horses, Nevada has the desire. This is a game of improvement. Who improved the most over the offseason? If that team is Notre Dame, then this will be a blow-out. If that team was Nevada, then they will run all over Notre Dame. They may not win by a huge score, but they will win by taking the clock and running it right down Notre Dame's throat.
The test begins tomorrow. We will see which team is ready for the big time.
Final Score Prediction: Notre Dame 38, Nevada 21