After a season that could not finish soon enough and into a season that could not get here quickly enough, its finally time for the Irish to open 2008. They will do so on Saturday (3:30 EST, NBC) with a home game against the 0-1 San Diego State Aztecs. Although there is not a whole lot known about either squad coming in, the Irish find themselves to be 22 point favorites in Vegas.
The Aztecs will bring in a very inexperienced team, a very similar build up to what Notre Dame has but with less talent. Youth, which was much of the reason for the Irish's debacle in 2007, will be looked on for veteran leadership in 2008. Yes, veteran leadership will be expected out of the vast number of contributing freshman and sophomores from a year ago. The Irish are expected to start fifteen starters from a year ago with the bulk of them having still another year or two of eligibility after 2008.
San Diego State brings in a fairly young team as well, having only 14 starters back from a 4-8 ballclub a year ago. The Aztecs dropped their week one contest against Cal Poly, being the only Division 1 team to lose to a CFS team this past weekend. Let's look at both sides of the ball and see what should be expected.
The Aztecs will bring a spread offense that likes to throw the ball around the field to Notre Dame Stadium and Saturday. In a game where the Irish defense should be far superior to the offense of SDSU there are a few things that I look for to happen:
1) Obtain a pass rush.
Corwin Brown, and his 3-4 being helped out now by Jon Tenuta, seems to be a group that will blitz more than we have seen in years past. It is important that we are able to get to the quarterback on a regular basis this Saturday - we sure as hell aren't going to be able to get to the quarterbacks of the Michigan's, Michigan State's, and North Carolina's of the world.
2) Force Turnovers.
This goes hand in hand with getting to the quarterback, but with a pass happy team coming to town, we already know that Chuck Long's gang is not planning on trying to run the ball down Notre Dame's throats. The Irish have a defensive line that nearly weighs the same on average as the SDSU offensive line. The Irish weigh in on average only 23 pounds lighter than that of SDSU (305 lbs to 282).
3) No long drives.
This is a team, that, for lack of a better term, is awful. If the Irish are to win more than five or six games this year the defense will be called upon. There is nothing that makes you feel worse than when your defense is stomped all over on an eighty yard, 15 play scoring drive. I do not want to see anything like that this weekend.
The offense for Notre Dame in this game should be given an asterisk before any snaps are taken. Would you expect to see them show a whole lot for coming opponents in a game where they are just trying to survive and win? No, absolutely not. Notre Dame is far more talented in every aspect of the offensive game than SDSU is on the defensive side. With ND's line weighing nearly 40 pounds more than what's up front for the Aztecs, Notre Dame needs to be able to dominate up front.
There are however three things I would like to see Notre Dame's offense be able to do on Saturday that would make me feel better when looking ahead to the coming weeks.
1) Stay out of third and long.
Last year was a pain as you sat and watched Notre Dame not pick up yards on a regular basis on first and second down. You can have the most talented teams in the nation and if they are given consistent third-and-eights or worse, they won't succeed. 1st and 2nd down production is a must for this Irish team.
2) Dominate the line of scrimmage.
I am not going to say that a 100 yard rusher is a must, because the way carries could be split between (Robert) Hughes, (Armando) Allen, and (James) Aldridge, you can't anticipate that one will get enough carries to do so. However, with Hughes running for 100 yards in the final two games of 2007, it would be nice to see him crack that 100 yard mark. As a whole though, I would like to see the offensive line pushing guys back and making holes and the running game to seem unstoppable.
3) A big pass play for a score.
The longest pass for a touchdown last season was a brisk 26 yards a year ago. This kind of shows how bad the offense was as well. But, against a weaker defense I would really like to see Jimmy (Clausen) connect on a deep pass with one of his multiple receivers and show the Irish have at least a threat of the deep ball this year.
Finally, on special teams, Notre Dame can restore a bit of the success it had with these in the first two Charlie Weis seasons. I'm not asking for a return for a touchdown, but on kickoff returns, I would like to actually see blocking take place and for Notre Dame to show even a hint that they may be able to bring a kick back for a score this year. The kicking game is going to struggle for the Irish this year. For some reason I get the feeling that something will go wrong during an extra point and the Irish will miss one of those.
Mark Says: Notre Dame 38, San Diego State 10
Nick Says: Notre Dame 37, San Diego State 6
Joe Says: Notre Dame 27, San Diego State 17