Nevada vs. Notre Dame: Game Preview, Prediction and Players to Watch
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish will attempt to record their first victory of 2016 when the Nevada Wolf Pack come to South Bend on Saturday, Sept. 10.
Despite a six-touchdown performance from DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame (0-1) dropped its season opener at Texas in disappointing fashion. The Irish forced two overtime periods but lost, 50-47.
Nevada (1-0) also needed extra time, edging Cal Poly, 30-27. James Butler paced the Wolf Pack with 123 yards, while Tyler Stewart tossed a pair of touchdowns in the win.
The programs will meet for a 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff. According to Odds Shark, Notre Dame is a 28-point favorite.
Nevada Keys to Victory
Control the Clock
Nevada's offensive philosophy revolves around the rushing attack, which is either really good or really bad for Saturday.
On one hand, the Pack could establish Butler and slowly bleed the clock. While their number of possessions would drop, a shortened game gives an underdog a better chance to escape with a win.
But if Notre Dame forces Nevada into short drives and counters quickly—especially early—it might be a blowout before halftime.
Get Offense on the Field
Grabbing a turnover is undoubtedly optimal, but the Wolf Pack must take advantage of the normal way to get their offense back on the field. Winning on third down is imperative.
During regulation against Texas, the Irish averaged 4.7 points per drive where they converted on just one third down. Otherwise, Notre Dame mustered one touchdown on seven meaningful possessions when the offense didn't face the situation.
In other words, once Kizer and Co. start moving downfield, Nevada might not have an answer.
Notre Dame Keys to Victory
Considering the spread, Notre Dame can afford a couple of mistakes. That's not to suggest the Irish have a license to continually mess up and still expect to win.
Now, zero turnovers isn't a perfect metric of success. As a case in point, Notre Dame never ceded a possession at Texas. However, the Wolf Pack offense isn't comparable to the Longhorns' attack.
As long as the Irish protect the football and end scoring opportunities with touchdowns instead of field goals, they'll win comfortably.
Assert Themselves Defensively
One awful performance can merely be one awful performance. "I just think we're jumping the gun," head coach Brian Kelly said, per Nick Ironside of 247Sports. "If we're 10 games into this and we're giving up 50 points a game, I'll have to answer your questions."
The sky is not falling, but the Irish absolutely need to improve on defense. Yes, youth is a factor, but Notre Dame preached all summer how knowledge of the system would overcome a lack of experience.
Put simply: Go prove it. Nevada offers that chance.
Nevada Players to Watch
Tyler Stewart, Quarterback
Butler should approach or eclipse the 100-yard mark. For Nevada to have a legitimate chance at springing the upset, though, Tyler Stewart needs to put together a mistake-free outing.
Ideally the duo will lead a steady ground game, because Stewart isn't a high-volume passer. The Pack are 0-4 when he attempts at least 29 passes but 9-2 in his other 11 starts.
Stewart's efficiency and running ability are key factors to watch.
Alex Bertrando, Linebacker
Following the 2015 season, the Wolf Pack lost their top four linebackers. Alex Bertrando went from a reserve to team captain.
Last week, the senior notched a team-high 10 tackles. After the game, he said Cal Poly "came after us," per Joe Santoro of the Record-Courier. "They just kind of wear you down."
Since Notre Dame is likely to rely on the rushing attack, Bertrando must be ready for another physically exhausting game—especially as the leader of Nevada's defense.
Notre Dame Players to Watch
Tarean Folston and Josh Adams, Running Backs
As long as Kelly stops playing musical chairs at quarterback and sticks with Kizer, the focus on Notre Dame's offense can turn elsewhere. Tarean Folston and Josh Adams are primed for big days.
They're already on Nevada's mind, too. Chris Murray of the Reno Gazette-Journal noted that Wolf Pack head coach Brian Polian said Folston and Adams are "both really good players."
Cal Poly racked up 383 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 71 attempts. Folston and Adams should find plenty of running lanes behind an imposing offensive line.
Isaac Rochell, Defensive End
Texas spent a good portion of the night worrying about Isaac Rochell. The senior defensive lineman is trouble for Nevada.
Rochell recorded nine total tackles with 2.5 for loss and added a quarterback hurry, catching the attention of Matt Miller, Bleacher Report's NFL draft analyst. "Powerful 3-4 DE potential," Miller tweeted.
Don't be surprised if Rochell is a fixture in the backfield.
What They're Saying
Jeremy Macauley, a senior offensive lineman and longtime starter, knows the Wolf Pack are facing a sizable challenge in South Bend.
"They're bigger, faster," Macauley said, according to the school's Twitter account. "Football is football, though. We have to raise our standard of performance, but we're ready for the challenge."
Although the Irish allowed 517 yards of total offense to Texas, Kelly wasn't quick to blame the defense for the loss.
"We'll critically evaluate, and I think everybody needs to tap the brakes and relax," Kelly said, per Scott DeCamp of MLive. "So this narrative about, you know, 'It's all the defense's fault' is, you know, just Monday morning quarterbacking."
Kizer is almost certain to use both Kizer and Malik Zaire, but the former should start and build a healthy lead before exiting.
Notre Dame will score quickly, earning a 10-3 lead after one quarter. Kizer will account for two touchdowns during the second frame while Nevada struggles to keep pace and trails 24-10 at halftime.
Once the Irish pull ahead, 34-10, Zaire will take over and tack on a final touchdown. The Pack will manage a late score, but Notre Dame will cruise to a comfortable victory in South Bend.
Heading into a pivotal home game on Sept. 17 against Michigan State, the Irish will hold a 1-1 record.
Prediction: Notre Dame 41, Nevada 17
All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from CFBStats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.