Eight months have passed since the Irish left the field in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with a victory in the Hawaii Bowl. Now, spring ball has ended, the long summer months have passed and it is time for another season of Notre Dame Football.
Invading South Bend for the first time is the University of Nevada Wolf Pack, a team bursting at the seams with offensive talent. Will the Irish be able to slow down the Pistol offense and keep Nevada at bay?
Conversely, will Nevada be able to shut down the vaunted Irish aerial attack? Will Notre Dame find its running game and play up to its potential starting in this season opener?
Let’s go inside the huddle and take a look at the action inside Notre Dame Stadium.
Well, Tom Hammond and Pat Hayden are back for another year broadcasting Irish football on NBC. I cannot say I’m too excited about this goofy duo doing play-by-play once again for Notre Dame.
James Aldridge and freshman Theo Riddick are back for the opening kickoff. Weis has said he wants Aldridge back there because of his veteran presence. That may be a good move but don’t expect Aldridge to be much of a threat bringing the ball up the field.
The Irish come out with three straight passing plays, including a broken on a fake reverse, followed up by several solid running plays.
Following a swing pass to Allen nets negative four yards, Weis dials up a Wildcat formation with Allen taking the snap. This was a bit of a surprise to see as many believed we might see John Goodman in this type of formation.
After an Irish timeout on the first drive (another frustrating staple of the Weis era), Clausen connects with tight end Kyle Rudolph for a touchdown on third and sixteen. This was a nice pass by Clausen but Rudolph was covered even if he had a good six inches on the Nevada defender. It might have been picked off if the Irish were playing USC.
On Nevada’s first drive they are proving they can run the ball effectively. The Irish are blitzing heavily and over pursuing Wolf Pack running backs, something that was a major concern of mine.
Now two big plays swing the momentum in favor of the Irish defense: A big sack by linebacker Brian Smith followed by a missed field goal by Nevada.
After a two yard rush by Allen, Clausen goes deep to Tate on a play that was called out of bounds. After a review the call was overturned and the Irish move 36 yards. This looked like a good call as Tate seemed to have control of the ball with a foot inbounds.
Clausen continues to look sharp as the first quarter comes to an end. To start off the second stanza, Clausen fires a laser beam to Michael Floyd for a 26 yard touchdown. The Irish offense is starting to heat up.
Nevada seems a bit shell shocked and is abandoning the run already. Kaepernick is sacked again by Brian Smith and follows that up with two quarterback scrambles that cannot net his team a first down.
Notre Dame’s third offensive series begins with a powerful nine yard run by James Aldridge followed up by a spectacular 70 yard screen pass to Floyd for another touchdown. Clausen is looking as if he hasn’t missed a beat from his Hawaii Bowl performance.
The Wolf Pack come back after the kickoff with an absurd delay of game call on first down. Clearly, Nevada is rattled and not comfortable with their offensive attack. Kaepernick throws two more incompletions and Nevada is forced to punt again.
Another new created by Weis as Irish backup quarterback Dayne Crist completes his first pass to Rudolph but the Irish drive stalls after a reverse and pitch to Allen leave them at fourth and ten.
Nevada returns to their running game and is moving the ball down the field as the Irish defenders are blitzing their way out of position. It looks as if Nevada may be mounting a comeback but the Wolf Pack are left with a fourth and inches.
Should they kick the field goal? Coach Ault decides to go for it but Nevada is stuffed in the backfield and the ball is turned over on downs. Veteran linebacker Toryan Smith blew up the play and the Irish defense is gaining more and more confidence.
At this point, this game is going as good as one could expect for Notre Dame. The offense is balanced, Clausen is throwing accurately, and the running game is making progress. On the other side of the ball, the Irish defense is looking strong and not allowing Nevada any points.
On the next drive Notre Dame simply imposes its will on Nevada. Allen runs for 11 yards and also takes a screen pass for another 24 yards. Sophomore Jonas Gray runs for 19 yards down to the one yard line that was very close to being a touchdown.
Allen finishes the drive off with a stretch run to the right for a touchdown. It’s hard to believe that’s only Allen’s fourth rushing score as a Golden Domer. I guarantee he puts another ten in the end zone this season.
Notre Dame continues to blitz heavily and is forcing Nevada to play out of its comfort level. However, Kaepernick is able to complete a couple long passes as well as escape sacks and run for yards as the Wolf Pack are threatening to score once again.
With little time left in the half Nevada is forced to take a shot at the end zone but the pass is intercepted by Irish cornerback Robert Blanton as the clock hits zero. Nevada just can’t seem to buy a break today.
After the first half it is surprising how effective the Irish offense has been, but it is even more amazing how well the Irish defense has looked. They have given up a few big plays on the ground and through the air but absolutely refuse to let Nevada sniff the end zone.
Coming out of halftime the Irish kickoff coverage once again stops Nevada for a minimal gain. Has there been a better coverage unit in the nation over the last year than Notre Dame? Nevada utilizes their strong running game once again as the Irish continue to over-commit with their aggressive blitzing.
However, the Irish stuff the run on first down and force an incompletion on third down ending Nevada’s promising drive. But, after a tremendous punt the Wolf Pack pin the Irish on their one yard line.
Once again the Irish respond with three strong runs by Armando Allen who appears seconds away from breaking a long touchdown. On first and ten, Clausen throws a slightly under thrown deep ball to Floyd who comes down with it, shakes off the defender, and scampers unmolested for an 88 yard touchdown. Game over.
By the way, is there any doubt that Michael Floyd is one of the best receivers in the country? He’s got great size, great hands, runs smooth routes and has shown top notch speed thus far. Floyd is truly a scary talent.
It’s quite amazing that Notre Dame has kept the potent Wolf Pack offense off the scoreboard, but Nevada isn’t giving up yet. Another long pass on first down and Kaepernick has his team moving again.
Unfortunately, Nevada cannot sustain any consistent momentum and Kaepernick ends up being picked off by Irish safety Kyle McCarthy. The nightmare continues for one of the nation’s best offenses in 2008.
On the next series, Gray gets stuffed for a loss of a yard followed by a three yard rush by Aldridge who injures his shoulder on the play. That ends the day for Aldridge who was playing well in his new limited role.
A pass to Gray out of the backfield comes up short of the first down leaving a fourth and three. And for the 1,242 time in the Charlie Weis era, Notre Dame will be going for it on fourth down. This time, Clausen is unable to connect with Tate and the Irish turn the ball over on downs.
Nevada takes advantage of the excellent field position and follows up two strong running plays with an eight yard completion into Irish territory. However, the receiver was drilled into the ground by corner Gary Gray in the hardest hit of the game so far.
Notre Dame continues its incessant blitzing and over pursuing as Nevada moves the ball down to the five yard line on a 24 yard swing pass. After a timeout, Kaepernick runs an option to his left and pitches the ball, but it is mishandled and dropped by the Wolf Pack running back.
Kapron Lewis-Moore, playing in his first game for Notre Dame, recovers the fumble. It’s just been that kind of day for Nevada who are not used to being shutout in the first quarter let alone an entire game.
In the last series for Clausen, the Irish get a couple long runs from Allen and Gray, along with another long completion to Golden Tate. However, the drive stalls and the Irish are forced to punt.
Nevada takes over the ball and freshman sensation Manti Te’o officially makes his introduction to everyone around the country. After chasing down Kaepernick on an earlier drive, Te’o lays another big hit on the Nevada running back Taua on first down.
On third down, Te’o lands another huge hit on a broken screen play, dishing out another vicious tackle to the helpless Wolf Pack running back. That’s only a handful of plays for Te’o and three memorable hits.
That’s a pretty nice start to a college career for Te’o who looks like he’s playing at another speed than everyone else. It will be difficult for Weis to keep him off the field for long stretches of time this season.
After a Nevada punt, Crist completed a pass to Deion Walker for fifteen yards and the Irish run the ball for the next five plays, giving all the carries to freshman Theo Riddick. Notre Dame has officially put the game on cruise and is milking the clock to preserve the victory.
The Wolf Pack force a punt but once again are unable to mount any offensive attack as their backup quarterback has come into play. On the ensuing punt, sophomore John Goodman shows some nice awareness and almost takes it to the house before being brought down by a defender.
On Notre Dame’s tenth drive of the game, they are content to hand the ball off to junior tailback Robert Hughes who is seeing his first action of the game after being suspended for the first half. Hughes carries the ball six times before the game clock runs out and the Fighting Irish cap off their first shutout in eight years with a 35-0 dismantling of Nevada.
Be sure to check back for my Outside the Irish Huddle recap of today’s game as I look at the positives and negatives to take away as Notre Dame now prepares to invade Ann Arbor next weekend.