Finally. It's as simple as that for not only Notre Dame but college football fans in general. This Thursday offers an appetizer to opening weekend with Saturday being the full course meal. The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame start their campaign with a 3:30 EDT kickoff against the University of Nevada in South Bend.
It is the first meeting between the two schools, for those unfamiliar Nevada had an electric 2008 where they went to their fourth straight bowl game with an appearance in last season's Humanitarian Bowl against Maryland.
To know the Wolfpack, you must know their quarterback, Colin Kaepernick who alone was responsbile for supplying the Wolfpack with just under 4000 total yards a year ago, 11oo of those yards came on the ground. Kaepernick is the first of several mobile quarterbacks the Irish will face in 2009 but he also could very easily be the best of the mobile ones. Also helping in the running game will be Luke Lippincott who missed all of 2008 with a leg injury, he did however put up 1420 rushing yards in 2007 to lead the Wolfpack.
Kaepernick and Lippincott will line up together in the pistol formation which allows the quarterback to receive the snap quicker than in the regular shotgun set. As a result the defense must react quicker to things and because of the proximity to the line of scrimmage often times play action and counters set themselves up in this formation.
Throwing the ball Kaepernick put up 2849 yards a year ago while tossing 22 touchdowns to only 7 interceptions. Some good news for the Irish comes with the fact that Kaepernick's two favorite targets from a year ago have graduated leaving the Wolfpack with many questions in the passing game, don't expect Nevada to try much of passing until they are absolutely forced to.
I expect to see the Irish come out playing their base 3-4 defense with the defensive backs in straight man-to-man coverage until they are proven incapable of doing so. The talent differential in the passing game both ways tilt to the Irish, expect Corwin Brown and John Tenuta to do everything they can to get Nevada to have to pass the football. Man defense with an extra man sneaking in towards the line of scrimmage is an excellent way to do just that.
Defensively the Wolfpack have their issues, especially in defending against the pass where they had the worst pass defense in college football last season, allowing 311 yards through the air per contest. If you are wondering, Central Michigan had the second worst pass defense statistically as they allowed 287 yards a game, a whopping 24 yards less than the Wolfpack. Nevada wasn't bad against the pass last year, they were downright awful.
You know what that means...Jimmy Clausen, find your targets and get ready to feast, right? The last time Clausen was seen in actual game action he was busy carving a WAC defense and having a career afternoon in the Hawaii Bowl. That should be the case again here but I am not sure how much the Irish will want to have to use the aerial attack in the Nevada game.
Don't get me wrong, Notre Dame has more talent than Nevada and will be able to score at will through the air. I do feel that Charlie Weis and company will be interested in trying to establish a running game early on. Imagine what Clausen and Co. would be able to do if a running game is established and Nevada begins to even hint at slowing it down, the Irish will then attack over top.
I fully expect Notre Dame to come out running and see what they have going on in the running game. Will the Irish be able to run the ball down the throats of Nevada? We shall see in time but keep this in the back of your mind for the time being, Notre Dame's starting offensive line checks in averaging 6'4" and 316 pounds per starter. Nevada's defensive front? 6'3" and 261 pounds is your average. Don't think for a minute that Charlie Weis won't try and exploit this differential.
As I stated before, the more the Irish run the ball well the more Nevada will try and play men up in the box. Well, that's when Jimmy will take over as his targets in Golden Tate, Michael Floyd, Duval Kamara, and Kyle Rudolph should be far too much for the Wolfpack to handle.
Nevada will move the ball early on before the Irish figure out how to properly defend against the Pack. In this game I like the scoreboard to be lit up a lot and the Irish offense to really shine, something we failed to see a year ago in the season opener against San Diego State.
My prediction: Notre Dame 41 Nevada 21 with Armando Allen getting the game ball.
Other DSR Staffers Picks:
Mark: ND 41 Nevada 20 (This wasn't discussed between the two of us, great minds just happen to think very much alike)
Steven: ND 28 Nevada 14
Brian: ND 41 Nevada 20 (See comments after Mark's prediction...)
Reminder, if you are interested in getting in our Domer Sports Report message board pick 'em go ahead and head to our message board and sign up for an account if you haven't already. Simply post a prediction in the proper thread during each week and we will track how close everyone is throughout the course of the season. Who knows, the winner just may get something pretty cool at the end of the year!
GO IRISH, BEAT WOLFPACK
-Hoping to be there on Saturday...
Nick Shepkowski is an avid Notre Dame football fan who lives and works in the heart of Big Ten country as he holds a job at the Big Ten Network in Chicago. He also is a radio producer at 670 The Score in Chicago. Random Notre Dame fanhood fact: First ND game attended was in 2000 against Stanford which was also Irish legend Matt LoVecchio's first start at QB for the Domers.