It’s Minutemen Week!

Sandwiched in between a dominant performance against Georgia Tech, and an early October showdown against Clemson, sits this home game against the University of Massachusetts Minutemen. Keep your excitement in check, please. OK, so it’s not exactly in any way shape or form a marquee match-up for the Irish, but it’s an important one, nonetheless. Yes, Notre Dame should win this game, but I think how they win will be, at some point down the road, just as important. Like it or not, and I don’t, necessarily, passing the ‘eye test’ in the College Football Playoff era, where some committee members have stated that the ‘eye test’ is more important to them than pesky statistics, is every bit as important as actually winning games when it comes to how teams will be ranked leading into the postseason. So what will it take for the Irish to pass the ‘eye test’ against a team like UMass? The Irish are currently favored by 28.5 points, and the Irish have shown over the last few seasons that they’re more than capable of putting up big points against lesser opponents, at times, at least, (Wake Forest & Navy in ’12, Air Force in ’13, and Rice & Michigan in ’14). But do the Irish need to cover the spread to pass the ‘smell test’? Absolutely not. Holding UMass to 14 points or less, while outscoring them by at least 21, which with this potent offense should not be an issue, should be more than enough to do the trick.

The Match-Up

3-0 Notre Dame enters this match-up ranked No. 6 in the AP Poll after their win against Georgia Tech. The University of Massachusetts, playing in the MAC, travels to South Bend looking for their first win of the season after losing to Colorado and Temple. UMass made the jump to the FBS in 2012, joining the MAC, and the move has not been kind to them, as the once fairly successful FCS school has struggled against the higher level of competition found in the FBS. UMass has amassed a 5-31 record in their first three seasons as an FBS school.

The History

This will be the first meeting between the Fighting Irish and the University of Massachusetts Minutemen.

Players to Watch

Fighting Irish

DeShone Kizer

With one full game under his belt, we now know a little bit more about Kizer’s ability to lead this team, and, overall, what we’ve seen from Kizer has been pretty encouraging. Save for one errant throw, a fade to the back corner of the end zone that Kizer overthrew, and that was intercepted, Kizer had a pretty solid game, going 21-30 for 242 yards and 1 TD; he added another 17 yards rushing on 5 carries. Against UMass, Coach Kelly should be able to open up the playbook a little more for Kizer, and get him primed for next week’s big game against Clemson.

CJ Prosise

In his first game at running back, against Texas, Prosise came up just two yards short of a 100 yard game. Against Virginia, he broke the 100 yard mark. Against Georgia Tech, Prosise came up just 2 yards shy of a 200 yard rushing game… Am I the only one that sees a pattern emerging? OK, Prosise isn’t likely to break the 200 yard rushing mark against UMass, especially if the Irish are up big early and Coach Kelly is able to give him a chance to rest, but the exciting thing about this kid is that a 200 yard game isn’t outside the realm of possibility for him, especially against this UMass team that gave up 390 rushing yards to Colorado.

Will Fuller

Because all he does is score TDs and win games.

Matthais Farley

A Graduate student in his 5th season with Notre Dame, Farley is a Team Captain, but he’s not a starter. For Notre Dame, Farley is the epitome of the Next Man In philosophy, making big plays whenever, and wherever, he’s called upon. After Drue Tranquill’s injury against Georgia Tech, Farley stepped in for him, and it wasn’t long before he made a huge impact on the game, forcing a fumble that Jaylon Smith came just short of returning for a touchdown.

Players to Watch

Minutemen

Blake Frohnapfel (QB)

Coming off a 2014 season that saw Frohnopfel throw for 3345 yards and 23 TDS, Frohnopfel has been named to the 2015 Davey O’Brien National QB Award watch list, and was recently selected as a Campbell Trophy semi-finalist. Through two games this season, Frohnapfel has thrown for 618 yards 4 TDs and 2 INTs. Last week against Temple, Frohnapfel led the Minutemen on an eight play, 59 yard drive for a touchdown that gave the Minutemen their first, albeit brief, lead of the game.

Tajae Sharpe (WR)

Coming of a 2014 season where he led the team in receiving yards with 1281, and a team leading 7 receiving TDs, Sharpe once again looks to be Frohnapfel’s go to receiver this season. Sharpe has had 11 receptions in each of the first two games, and leads the team with 294 receiving yards, though he’s yet to find the end zone this season.

Jovian Santos-Knox (LB)

Santos-Knox, a stand-out on the Minutemen defense, led the team, and the MAC with 143 tackles last season, the 8th most in UMass history; his impressive 2014 season landed him on the watch lists for the Nagurski, Bednarik, and Lombardi awards entering the 2015 season. He’s off to another strong start with 17 total tackles (8 solo), 3 TFL, and 1 sack through two games.

Keys to Victory

Fighting Irish

Avoid Costly Turnovers

Notre Dame avoided turning the ball over in its first two games, against Texas and Virginia, committing their first turnover of the season midway through the 2nd Quarter against Georgia Tech when a Kizer pass was intercepted in the end zone. Georgia Tech made the Irish pay for their mistake just four plays later as they rumbled into the end zone, tying the game up at 7-7. The Irish turned the ball over again later in that same quarter when Irish TE, Alize Jones, coughed up the ball, but at least there the Irish avoided paying for the miscue when a Georgia Tech field goal attempt sailed wide left just before halftime. So, while Notre Dame should have no problem taking care of business against UMass, turning over the ball is one surefire way to keep the Minutemen in the game.

Different Defensive Scheme, Same Attitude

After a lackluster defensive effort against Virginia, Notre Dame’s defense came out on fire against Georgia Tech’s high powered triple-threat-option run game. Playing with an intensity and a toughness that we hadn’t yet seen this season, the Irish forced Georgia Tech into three-and-outs on their first two possessions, and held the Yellow Jackets without a successful 3rd down conversion until the 4th Quarter. Against Georgia Tech, the defense set the tone of the game early on, and never really let their foot off the gas (at least not until the game was already well in hand, (i.e. garbage time). Against UMass, the Irish will be facing a more traditional offense, but there’s no reason the intensity and toughness that the Irish defense brought against Georgia Tech can’t be carried over to this week.

Final Analysis

UMass isn’t a very good football team, despite nearly pulling out the win against Temple. With Notre Dame coming off a big win against Georgia Tech, and a showdown with Clemson fast approaching, the Irish need to stay focused on the game in front of them. This should be a game that’s well in hand before the First Half comes to a close, which should give the Irish an opportunity to rest some starters, and get some of their back-ups some valuable game time experience.

Final Score: Notre Dame 48 – UMass 13

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