Notre Dame Opponent Watch Week 4: Three New Lessons

Marc HalstedCorrespondent ISeptember 28, 2009

PALO ALTO, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Chris Polk #1 of the Washington Huskies runs against Thomas Keiser #94 of the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium on September 26, 2009 in Palo Alto, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Week 4 taught us even more about future Irish opponents. In our weekly edition of "Opponent Watch" we look at keys to upcoming match-ups with Washington, Washington State, and Stanford.

They Might Be Giants

In 1996 They Might Be Giants released the song “James K. Polk” and made the eleventh president of the United States far more famous with Generation X then he had ever been during the 19th century.

In 2009 the Washington Huskies released Chris “K” Polk and made the redshirt freshman tailback far more famous with College Football Nation than he had ever been with the good people of Seattle.

After 100 hard-earned all-purpose yards against USC, Polk emerged the modern-day playmaker for Coach Steve Sarkisian’s upstart Huskies. That emergence continued Saturday against the Stanford Cardinal when the Washington offense targeted Polk for their first 15 running plays, eight of their first 16 total plays, and 13 of their overall first half offensive plays.

Far more glaring are the stats of Johri Fogerson. The sophomore tailback ran twice for four yards and made up the only two carries not handed to Chris Polk.

In other words, Chris Polk IS the Washington running game. If the Irish can hold the 5’10, 200-pounder from Redlands, California in check like they did with Ralph Boldin of Purdue, ND could easily keep the Washington offense under control.

Yes, Sark has mentored Jake Locker but the big and talented QB took a significant step backward against Stanford. Locker finished 16 for 31 for 191 yards and a pair of interceptions against a Cardinal defense that lacked big name star power or lofty recruitment status.

Defensively, U-Dub gave up 200-yards to Toby Gerhart and an eye-popping 332 total rushing yards on 50 carries to the Cardinal. Gerhart is a monster but 332 is an unhealthy total for Coach Sarkisian to be living with this week as he prepares for a Notre Dame run-game that’s brought talent, speed, and diversity to the table over the first four weeks.

If the Irish stack the box to contain Polk, limit the damage from Locker and his inferior receiving corps, and find the Husky defensive line as porous on the field as they appear on paper, they might just come out looking like giants.

Luck Be Not A Passer

I’m sure Andrew Luck is a great kid. You need a lot of personal and academic qualities to get into Stanford. Apparently a down-field throwing arm is not one of those necessary requirements.

Luck finished a feeble 7 for 14 for just 103 yards against a Washington team that gave up 349 yards through the air against Idaho. Yes, the Huskies held down the USC and LSU passing attacks but they each started young and unproven quarterbacks.

Some may argue that the success of the Stanford running backs did as much to limit Luck as anything else, but he struggled to locate receivers and failed to get down-field with any regularity. In fact, Luck only twice went beyond the fifteen-yard mark with pass attempts in the first half when the game was very much in question.

This game will come down the Irish front four, the under-achieving group of Notre Dame linebackers, and the eighth or ninth player the put in the box to stop Gerhart. In other words, this will come to who’s tougher, Harrison, Brian, and Toryan Smith or all-everything man, Toby Gerhart.

A Scary Night

Washington State will be 1-6 when they hop on a plane and travel to San Antonio to play Notre Dame on Halloween night. 

WSU will have lost a frightening four-pack of games to hungry Pac-10 opponents who will trick and treat themselves to much-needed beatings of the less-than intimidating Cougars.

By the time October 31st arrives, Washington State will be lucky to have stayed at their current 53rd and 93rd CFB rankings in passing and rushing offense. Those numbers, built by games against SMU, Hawaii, and Stanford games to start the season, will not be duplicated against the likes of Oregon or California.

Notre Dame fans thought the Nevada game was a blowout. Memories of 35-0 will be nothing like the Nightmare the Cougars will have to deal with in the final hours of All Hallow’s Eve.

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