The Notre Dame football season kickoffs this Saturday, September 1st against the Navy Midshipmen in Dublin, Ireland. In many ways, this will be an interesting season for the Brian Kelly-led Irish. Many questions float around the team like a haze of grey Irish fog: How well can quarterback Everett Golson play? Will the Irish offense be productive with the 2-game suspension of running back Cierre Wood? Will incumbent starter Tommy Rees retain his spot once he returns after his suspension? Can the Irish, as a team, plow well enough through a brutal schedule to become bowl eligible? If not, will Brian Kelly be forced out after only three years (remember, it happened to Ty Willingham)?
There is a lot of uncertainty, even for a program that has been on uncertain grounds for the better part of two decades now. The jury is still out on Kelly, and it should be. We’ve covered the issues regarding the tough schedule in my 2012 Notre Dame season preview post (see it here http://wp.me/prUUN-L9O), but if he can come out of this with a winning record, the Irish eyes should still be smiling on him come 2013.
On to the game analysis.
3 Things to Watch
1. Everett Golson – A sophomore who has yet to see any real game action, Golson was named the starter for the Navy game due to Tommy Rees’ suspension following an off-season arrest. To maintain that position, Golson is really going to have to show something, or the keys get handed back to Rees. By all accounts, Golson is a dual threat quarterback, the likes of which the Irish haven’t seen in a long time, if ever. This is a perfect game for Golson to show off that unique skill set. Navy returns eight starters on defense, but that defense ranked no better than 67th in any defensive yardage category last season, including a 92nd ranked rush defense.
2. No Cierre Wood – You know who else should be licking their chops in anticipation for this game? Back-up running backs Theo Riddick and George Atkinson III, both of whom should see touches on Saturday. Riddick – who has been listed at wide receiver on the depth chart – returns to his original position, but has totaled only 54 carries for 252 yards and no touchdowns. Atkinson, a sophomore, only carried the ball 9 times last year, but managed to score twice. With Golson’s running abilities and the split carries likely between Riddick and Atkinson, I would expect to see a lot of option plays, which would be sort of ironic against Navy. I think their quarterback threw the ball twice all of last season (an over-exaggeration, I know – but not by much).
3. The Cornerbacks – OK, let’s be honest here. The corners are not going to see a lot of action in pass defense this game. But with Lo Wood’s season ending injury and the revelation that freshman corner KeiVarae Russell will start, this is still an area of concern. The main thing Irish fans will want to see against Navy is whether or not the corners are able to recognize and react correctly to the various option runs that the Midshipmen will throw at them, and then play well against the occasional pass. We’re not going to learn a lot this game about how well the defense can play against the pass, but any time your corners – especially young ones – can show they not only can read a run, but tackle properly, it’s a huge plus.
My 5 Predictions
1. Golson will impress, but not enough – It’s not that I doubt the kid can play. I’m sure we are going to see some things that dazzle us. But he’ll also make some mistakes, and the fact that the Irish aren’t exactly playing Alabama will somewhat tarnish any spectacular things Golson is able to do. I fully expect the reins to be handed back over to Tommy Rees (who, by the way, I’m not a big fan of).
2. The Irish will run for 250+ yards – The combination of running backs and Golson should make this an attainable feat (impressive against any team) against a porous Navy defense.
3. Manti Te’o will make an early case for the Butkus Award – We all know that Te’o is a tough mother with first round-talent. He’s been named to multiple pre-season awards lists and pre-season All-American lists. This game will start him on the path to making those dreams realities.
4. Navy will throw a touchdown – With as much running as Navy is apt to do, you have to think they’ll call a few play-action passes. Add that in combination with a starting freshman cornerback, and the Navy quarterback should toss a rare scoring pass.
5. Final Score – On paper, Notre Dame is really a far superior team, even with the roster issues they are experiencing right now. I expect Navy to put up a decent fight, but the final score of the game won’t be indicative to how much better Notre Dame really is. Notre Dame wins, 38-20.
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