Notre Dame Football Preview: Washington State

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Notre Dame Football Preview: Washington State
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Washington State Run Offense vs. Notre Dame Run Defense

No. 34 Logwone Mitz is listed as Washington State's new starting running back. That's a bit of a surprise, considering his 2.9 yards per carry average is a step back from the 3.3 YPC of the guy he replaced, No. 31 Dwight Tardy.

But the 229-pound Mitz, 204-pound Tardy, and 197-pound No. 32 Carl Winston each bring something different to the table, so look for a mix of all three backs. Mitz is averaging five carries and 16 yards per game, Tardy eight for 26.6, and Winston seven for 34.7.

Washington State does not employ a fullback, and quarterback No. 10 Jeff Tuel, does not run much unless it's backwards (the Cougars are giving up five sacks per game). However, a handful of Washington State receivers have recorded carries with varying success, so that is something to look out for.

Notre Dame's run defense is still a work in progress, giving up 127 yards per game. Safeties Kyle McCarthy and Harrison Smith lead the team in tackles, but linebackers Brian Smith and Manti Te'o are quickly gaining on them. Te'o has been especially impressive, leading the team in tackles ever since he was inserted into the starting lineup.

Also gaining on the leaders is defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore, who's quietly putting together a solid season with 28 tackles, five for a loss.


Notre Dame Run Offense vs. Washington State Run Defense

Armando Allen continues to pace the Irish run game, averaging 17 carries and 85.7 yards per game. Robert Hughes has been solid in his own right, averaging 4.5 yards per carry and matching Allen's team lead with three rushing touchdowns.

If all goes well for the Irish Jonas Gray and Theo Riddick will be fighting for carries late in the game. As a sign of the vast improvement in the offensive line, Gray and fullback James Aldridge are the only Irish runners averaging less than four yards per carry this year. Of course, it won't take much for Gray to reach that mark, as he's already at 3.8 YPC.

Washington State's run defense is, bluntly, awful. Per game, the team is giving up 215.4 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Per carry, they're giving up 5.8 yards. It's hard to get the ball back when an opponent can pick up first downs in just two rushing attempts.

Predictably, the leading tacklers on this team are its safeties, No. 21 Chima Nwachukwu (55) and No. 26 Xavier Hicks. Unfortunately for the Cougars, linebacker No. 46 Louis Bland—who is third on the team with 42 tackles and tied for first with 4.0 tackles for a loss—is not on the depth chart after suffering a knee injury.


Washington State Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense

Freshman Jeff Tuel has been a pleasant surpise for the Cougars. In four games, he's completed 61.4 percent of his passes with an efficiency rating of 132.7. He's averaging 165.5 yards per game with four touchdowns to three interceptions. On the average day, Tuel will attempt 22 passes and complete 13 or 14 of them.

Washington State runs a base 1 RB/1 TE/3 WR set, so it's no surprise that Jeff Tuel's top four targets this year have been receivers. No. 84 Jared Karstetter. No. 1 Gino Simone, No. 2 Daniel Blackledge, and No. 12 Jeffrey Solomon are each averaging multiple catches per game. Karstetter is leading the way with 48.1 yards per game and three touchdown catches.

Like many teams trying to find an identity with their passing game, Washington State has a slew of players averaging one catch per game. Notable are running back Dwight Tardy, tight end No. 14 Tony Thompson, and receiver No. 80 Johnny Forzani,  who has a 99-yard touchdown to his credit this year.

Notre Dame needed to make some changes to its secondary, and last week it did. This week they become official on the depth chart. Kyle McCarthy, leading the team with five interceptions, moves from strong safety to free safety. Sergio Brown moves from nickelback to strong safety. Jamoris Slaughter, who struggled to break into the rotation at corner, will split time with Brown at safety, like the two did against Boston College.

Meanwhile, Harrison Smith is now the "OR" starter at SAM linebacker behind Darius Fleming. To me, that means he'll continue the role he played against BC as a hybrid linebacker/nickelback on passing downs.

With Washington State using at least three receivers, the Irish will have to counter with that nickel look quite a bit. Hopefully, Notre Dame will continue what it did last week and sub in a talented corner for Harrison Smith when needed.

Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. Washington State Pass Defense

Jimmy Clausen. Jimmy Clausen. Jimmy Clausen.

Clausen continues to impress, even if his average has dipped just below 300 yards per game. On a typical Saturday, Clausen will complete 21 of 33 passes (65.2 percent) for 292.9 yards and at least two touchdowns.

Clausen's favorite target by far is Golden Tate. Tate has not only kept his quarterback in the Heisman race, he's also starting to garner some attention for himself. Golden is averaging seven catches, 121 yards and a touchdown per game.

Coming in a distant second is Kyle Rudolph, whose production has taken a hit in October for a number of reasons. Rudolph is still averaging 41 yards and at least three catches per game. Robby Parris, Duval Kamara, and Armando Allen are each averaging at least two catches per game.

Notre Dame's receiving corps have really shown its depth, even with Rudolph's struggles, the injuries to Parris and Michael Floyd and the lingering effects of Shaq Evans's injuries. John Goodman has begun to establish himself as a reliable option on the outside, and Roby Toma has played his way into the mix at slot receiver.

Washington State's pass defense looks downright respectable compared to its run defense. The Cougars are giving up 284.1 yards per game in the air and have surrendered 13 passing touchdowns in seven games.

The Cougars have struggled to get to the quarterback, recording only seven sacks in as many contests. Ends No. 89 Travis Long and No. 96 Casey Hamlett lead the way with two apiece. WSU has had some success in the interception game, recording eight picks. Backup WILL linebacker No. 13 Myron Beck has two interceptions, including one that he ran back for a 67-yard touchdown.

Special Teams

Washington State kicker No. 18 Nico Grasu has struggled this year, converting only six of his 10 field goal attempts. He did convert on a 44-yarder against Stanford, though. For the Irish, Nick Tausch has now made 12 straight after missing the first attempt of his career.

No. 8 Reid Forrest punts for the Cougars. Forrest is a dark horse for team MVP, as he's averaging 43.8 yards per punt with a long of 65. Eight of his 49 punts have gone for 50 yards or more. Washington State's punt coverage team is giving up 12.2 yards per return. Ben Turk has struggled as Notre Dame's punter, and he's now listed as the "OR" option with Eric Maust on the depth chart. Turk is averaging just 35.7 yards per kick, compared to 39.8 for Maust. On top of that, it doesn't help that the Irish punt coverage team is giving up 17.7 yards per return.

Dwight Tardy and Carl Winston are the WSU kick returners. Tardy is averaging 18.6 yards per return with a long of 38. Winston is averaging 14.8 yards per return with a long of 24. David Ruffer has been impressive as the Irish kickoff specialist. He's averaging 62.2 yards per kick. But Notre Dame's kickoff team is surrendering 20.5 yards per return, giving opponents an average start on the 28.

Theo Riddick has become the primary kick returner for Notre Dame. He's averaging 23.8 yards per return with a long of 38. Nico Grasu also kicks off for the Cougars. He's averaging 59.6 yards per kick with three touchbacks in 12 tries. But Grasu's effort is somewhat wasted by a WSU kick coverage team giving up 26.9 yards per return. From that, Washington State opponents are getting an average start on the 35 yard line.

Jeffrey Solomon returns punts for Washington State. He's averaging a mere 6.4 yards per return with a long of 21. Golden Tate is Notre Dame's punt returner. He's now averaging 7.8 yards per return, with a long of 23.

Notre Dame Players to Watch

Jonas Gray, Theo Riddick, Sergio Brown, Harrison Smith, Ben Turk, Golden Tate

Prediction

Notre Dame 40, Washington State 15

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