The University of Notre Dame (0-0) vs. The U.S. Naval Academy (0-0)
Aviva Stadium – Dublin, Ireland – 9:00 am EST on CBS
First Things – Thank you to that which is almighty for bringing this offseason of bad news piled high on worse news to an exhausting close. I'm looking forward to joining Allen Pinkett and millions of other Irish fans in front of my couch to lie about drinking cocktails while I actually spend Saturday's wee hours nervously tweeting about the games goings-ons and trying not to break things. Maybe we can be content that we're able to put the spring and summer of 2012 in the books and stop talking about practice, suspensions, girlfriends, Rick Reilly, "other" shit, and go out and play that "toughest schedule in the country".
In Week 1 Navy is unlikely to provide a proper test for our young quarterback, his inexperienced wide receivers, the right side of our offensive line, or two converted offensive players starting at cornerback. Let's be honest that anything less than a 21 point win will leave fans and coaches alike uneasy heading into a jet-lagged Purdue game. Navy limped out of South Bend in 2011 with a 2-6 record en route to a disappointing 5-7 season. Former Navy QB Ricky Dobbs is now two years removed from beating ND thrice and FB Alexander Teich will no longer carry Irish defenders on gashing fullback dives. Navy is a team is out for a new identity and they won't find it this Saturday unless plenty of terrible, no good, very bad things befall their competition. Doesn't mean the proud Midshipmen won't try. They ALWAYS try.
5 Things to Watch (not named Everett Golson)
1. Jarrett Grace & Ben Councell Debut – While Aaron Lynch, Stephon Tuitt & Ishaq Williams found the field as true freshmen, massive classmates Councell & Grace preserved a year on the sidelines and will be unveiled this weekend. Both will likely play prominent roles if the Irish are successful in stopping Navy's ground attack. Councell is slated to start at the Dog OLB and could play nearly 100% of the snaps in the base 3-4. Grace is interestingly listed as the back-up at both ILB positions and one starter is injured – Dan Fox. With Carlo Calabrese somewhere in South Bend with Tommy Rees, Cierre Wood & Justin Utopo instead of in Ireland, Grace could find himself thrust into an integral role alongside Manti Te'o at a position that must excel to stop the option. With 99% of camp coverage devoted to the QB race and other position battles, these two have truly flown under the radar heading into their first action. It's time to see some of that Werewolf.
2. Irish Cornerbacks Shedding Blocks – If you're reading this you already know that the CB position has been a major area of coverage across all outlets. Much of the reporting has referenced their match-ups against the rest of the schedule and its elite passers and catchers. Our own Blog Davie dissected how coverages might further protect them on against Navy. Saturday we'll still need to find out how good they are near the line of scrimmage. Count me among the fans attempting to decipher if Diaco went with freshman KeiVarae Russell at corner because of his ability near the line for Week 1 or if he is the the future against more conventional passing attacks as well. Expect 4-5 corners to get snaps and the rotation there to be fluid for a few more weeks.
3. GAIII & The Riddick Showcased – Cierre Wood tallied 251 yards rushing in games against Navy & Purdue in 2011 and the Irish pounded out 9 (NINE!) touchdowns on the ground in those contests. With Wood out there are snaps to be had, highlights to be made and end zones to be reached. Count me among the Irish faithful ready to see Atkinson grab some of Wood's abandoned headlines.
2. Outside WRs: Enough Balls To Go Around? – There are plenty of names lined up for snaps. Too many. Too many for a role in a new offense that won't be force-fed the ball like Michael Floyd. A big question all off-season has been "Who will break out on the outside?" With the clear #1 WR being Tight End Tyler Eifert and plenty of plays designed for the talented backfield, slot WRs and TEs I don't know if one can. If there's a rotation of any kind, and all signs say there is, it'd be surprising to see a "big game" much less a big season out of any of them.
1. Healthier, Faster, Stronger Manti Te'o – When talking with eTruth's Rachel Terlap this week she pointed to the physical changes made by Te'o since last season as possibly being Saturday's biggest storyline. Manti toughed out much of 2011 on a gimpy ankle and looked the part. #5 struggled in pass coverage and took a slight step back in many's opinion as a playmaker compared to his sophomore campaign. If Te'o is all that Terlap, whose part of the media taking in practice, has claimed then an already iconic Domer may be in for the special season he came back to campus for. Giddy up!
Predicting The Game & What We'll See
Notre Dame is going to win this game and it should be clearly over in the 3rd quarter. There will still be nerves for all because it's naive to think Golson will come out leading touchdown drive after touchdown drive in his first start against a defense with 8 months of prep. Notre Dame is likely to control the clock in this game by running the football and with Navy doing the same I don't know if they can match last season's 56 points. Golson will move the offense, fantastically at times, and unlike Tommy Rees leave us wanting more.
NAVY – I've been roundly shouted down for comments and my game primer post this week How Navy Might Attack Notre Dame. Simple question – if you had 8 months to prepare for this Notre Dame defense but didn't want to drop back and pass all game, what would YOU do? Run it at the large, experienced heart of the defense and Manti Te'o or design plays to get outside the edge quickly and see what the newbies at OLB and CB have going for them? I don't know how they could spend that kind of time for their most publicized game against their best 2012 opponent just running triple option at the Irish's strength. Call me crazy but I stand by it – fewer wishbone formations and option plays than is "normal" for Navy. Dont mix my statements up. They'll run option and won't be passing 50 times. It's just going to be different and it should be.
Notre Dame – Keeping it simple this week is probably the way to go. The Irish will take advantage of the line of scrimmage domination and wear out the Navy defense. I'm also predicting a slightly lower score as it'd be a great disservice to the program to not get plenty of the two deep into the game for their first tastes of action. Hendrix will play along with the back-ups nearly everywhere and they'll hopefully be in the rotation early. Notre Dame hasn't opened up with two non power programs in over a decade. It's a luxury on a schedule that turns nasty pretty quick so here's to seeing everyone on the field in Dublin.
Notre Dame is up at the half 21-7 behind 150 yards rushing between GAIII, Riddick & Davonte Neal. Eifert and Riddick both pace the receiving corps. Jamoris Slaughter is all over the field and Navy won't have an answer for Slaughter and Te'o who seem to be in on every single tackle. Louis Nix is constantly in the backfield disrupting nearly every play when he's on the field. The Irish open the 2nd half with another score and the game is out of hand with back-ups on the field for the entire 4th.
Vegas: Notre Dame (-15.5) Over/Under: 54.5
Herring Bone Says Take Notre Dame & The Under
Final Score: Notre Dame 35-14
Follow me on Twitter @ManCaveQB and listen to my Irish podcasts at our feed or on iTunes. My solo podcast, The Man Cave Quarterback, features former ND quarterback Matt Mulvey breaking down the QB play in his "Red Army Review" and I'll be joined by former Irish players and current CFB writers and bloggers. Maybe even Subway Domer himself will stop by. This week's podcast featured former Sports Illustrated writer John Walters (@jdubs88) & Huffington Post columnist Jordan Schultz (@Shultz_Report)