Well, I think we adequately covered the Florida International game. Roundtable Wednesday was fun. But now it's time to start focusing on our next opponent, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. In this post we'll look at the Irish offense.
In the lead up to their game with Georgia Tech, Charlie Weis decided not to inform the media who was going to start out under center for his team. Demetrius Jones got the start and wasn't able to move the offense. Georgia Tech focused on taking away the running game which proved to be an effective strategy as Jones only had three passing attempts with one completion in nearly two quarters. Just before the half Weis inserted Evan Sharpley to try to spark the offense. He did so at the start of the second half as he led the Irish on their only scoring drive. But Georgia Tech fancied the blitz against the pocket passer and dropped him for a loss seven times. Still he had an impressive stat line completing 10-of-13 for 92 yards.
But the real story is true freshman Jimmy Clausen who Weis announced will start against the Nittany Lions this Saturday. Weis inserted him for the last two series of the game last week. Though he didn't score, he wasn't terrible. Against the Georgia Tech reserve defense he completed 4-of-6 passes for 34 yards. He's a pocket passer with a laser for an arm. There's no doubt he's got a lot of talent, but he sat out much of preseason practice after having arm surgery in the spring.
I really don't know what to expect from Clausen. He may come out and light up the scoreboard like Colt McCoy last year. Or he may implode. Given the fact that he's making his first start in his second collegiate game against one of the nation's best defenses on the road at night in front of 110,000 screaming people I tend to lean toward the latter. With our nasty linebackers and our skin tight secondary I can't see him having much success.
Compounding Jimmah's problems is the porous offensive line that gave up nine sacks and couldn't even get one rushing yard against the Yellow Jackets. Last year Georgia Tech had the #20 ranked rushing defense in the nation. Penn State was ranked #7. Granted the Lions are without Tim Shaw, Jim Shaw, Ed Johnson, and Jay Alford this year, but Maurice Evans, Josh Gains, Phil Taylor, Chris Baker, and Jared Odrick all saw considerable playing time and helped contribute to that defense. And they will be on the field on Saturday along with Ollie Ogbu, Jerome Hayes, and Aaron Maybin. If the Irish manage to get 100 yards rushing then Charlie Weis will be well on his way to Catholic Sainthood because he's a miracle worker.
I must admit I don't know much about the Irish wide receivers. But I know this: George West is 5'8" and David Grimes is 5'10". Robbie Parris and Duval Kamara scare me more as they have the physical frame that makes them more difficult to cover. But one thing is for sure, none of these guys are yet on a level of Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight. But John Carlson is still John Carlson. Nittany Lion fans will remember images of Paul Posluszny hopelessly chasing him all over the field as he racked up six catches and 96 yards. You can bet he's going to get a lot more attention this year most likely from a speedy linebacker like Sean Lee or Navorro Bowman.
But I look for Notre Dame to come out trying to establish the running game like they did against the Yellow Jackets. To do this they will turn to a committee of running backs. We all know Travis Thomas, the running back turned starting linebacker turned back to running back that ran a 40 yard fake punt against us last year late in the game when the Irish were up by several scores. Not that we're bitter or anything. We'll see Thomas get a few carries as the power running back. But Charlie is going to try to hit a few home runs in this game, and for that he's going to turn to freshman Armando Allen. Allen has the most big play potential on this offense. Keeping him under wraps will be essential.
Charlie knows his defense isn't going to shut many people out. He's got a new quarterback and an inexperienced offense. He isn't going to take a lot of chances. He's going to want to take care of the ball and shorten the game. This is why I look for the Irish to come out playing conservative and establish the run. Look for Penn State to counter this with the base 4-3 defense. I don't think you'll see safeties cheating up unless Notre Dame has some unlikely success.
As the game wears on I look for Notre Dame to gradually move away from running the ball. Either they will get frustrated with trying to run or they'll be playing from behind. When they start to open up their offense I'm looking for Tom Bradley to unleash the new zone blitzing packages they learned during their trip to LSU in the offseason.
The bottom line is from what I saw in their game against Tech, Notre Dame has a lot of issues on offense. The offensive line could not open running lanes or protect the quarterback. The running backs couldn't get room to run and the wide receivers didn't look impressive. A fluke turnover or two could set up the Irish offense in a position to get some easy scores, but barring any of that I can't see any scenario in which this offense scores more than 10 points against the Nittany Lion defense.