It’s Wolf Pack Week!
With the bitter loss to Texas in the rear-view mirror, the Fighting Irish return to South Bend for their home opener against the Nevada Wolf Pack.
It’s been a long week for Notre Dame fans, suffering through the first opening game loss for the Irish since their Week 1 meltdown against South Florida in 2011. That game, too, decided a QB battle for the Irish, with Dayne Crist being pulled for the eventual season long starter, Tommy Rees, who would lead the Irish to a very mediocre 8-5 season. Now, no sane mind would compare DeShone Kizer to Tommy Rees, and the Irish offense looks to be the least of Coach Kelly’s worries, at this point, but the Irish have some work to do on defense to avoid another let down season. Thankfully, for the Irish, the Wolf Pack are up next, and it should be a game where Kizer, now the unquestionable starting quarterback, and the rest of the young offense can continue to light up the scoreboard, while the defense will get a chance to collect themselves, and get right with the football gods!
Notre Dame comes into the game ranked 18th in the AP Poll, having dropped eight spots after their loss to Texas. Nevada enters the game with a 1-0 record after barely holding off Cal Poly in their season opener; Cal Poly scored two unanswered touchdowns in the 4th Quarter to force the game into overtime, but Nevada was able to convert two field goals to escape with the win.
Notre Dame and Nevada have met just once before, a 35-0 win for the Irish in South Bend.
Players To Watch
In a move that seemed a no-brainer to most fans after the game against Texas, Coach Kelly named Kizer the starting quarterback for the Irish this past Wednesday. Kizer had a phenomenal game against Texas, going 15-24 for 215 yards and 5 TDs. He added another 77 net yards on the ground on 13 carries, with a rushing TD, giving him 6 total TDs in the game.
Equanimeous St. Brown
Prior to the season opener against Texas, St. Brown had 1 reception for 8 yards in his young Irish career. That changed, in a big way, for the young Sophomore against Texas, with 5 receptions for 75 yards, and 2 TDs, including an acrobatic handstand into the end zone for his second TD, late in the 2nd Quarter, one of the more memorable plays of the game. With Torii Hunter Jr.’s status for Saturday’s game still up in the air, expect St. Brown to have another big game against the Wolf Pack.
In a game where there wasn’t much to rave about on defense, Nyles Morgan had a solid outing. It’s hard to imagine him filling the huge shoes left by Jaylon Smith in the linebacking corps, but he played physical and came up with 13 total tackles, including 9 solo tackles. He should have another big game against the Wolf Pack.
Players To Watch
Tyler Stewart (QB)
Stewart, a Senior, is a second year starter for Nevada who put up 2,139 passing yards with a 57.1% completion rate, and threw for 15 TDs and 7 INTs last season; he also ran for 322 yards and 4 TDs on 98 attempts. In their season opener against Cal Poly, went 17-23, throwing for 189 yards and 2 TDs, with 31 yards rushing on 8 carries. Stewart isn’t exactly a top caliber QB, and volume passing isn’t exactly the Wolf Pack’s game plan, but his efficiency and running ability can’t be ignored.
James Butler (RB)
Butler is, by far, the biggest play maker on the Wolf Pack team. He had a fantastic 2015 season, rushing for 1,345 and 10 TDs as a Sophomore. He’s picked up right where he left off, rushing 123 yards, including a 50 yard run, and 2 TDs in Nevada’s season opener against Cal Poly. He’s got speed, and has shown that he can break off a big run at any time; he has one run of 50 yards or more in each of his three seasons with the Wolf Pack.
Alex Bertrando (LB)
It was a brutal off-season for the Nevada defense, especially their front-seven where they lost three very good defensive linemen, and their top-four linebackers. Bertrando was a reserve last year, but due to the losses in the linebacker corps, he’s now a starter, and a team captain to boot. He led the Wolf Pack with 10 tackles against Cal Poly, but you have to wonder how he’ll match up against the physicality of the Irish run game as the Wolf Pack’s defensive leader.
Fighting Irish Keys To Victory
Bring The Defensive Heat
There’s really no way to sugarcoat Notre Dame’s defensive performance against Texas. It was bad, and, no amount of ‘Texas is better than we thought…’ will erase that fact. Coach Kelly said people were “jumping the gun” to judge the Irish defense so harshly after just one game, and while that is fair, to some extent, the truth is that a lackluster performance against an overmatched Wolf Pack team will only heighten the calls for Van Gorder’s job. Against Nevada, the Irish have an opportunity to change the narrative, to some extent, leading up to next week’s big game against Michigan St. Isaac Rochell and Nyles Morgan played a very physical game against the Longhorns, but it’s time for others to step up and do the same against the Wolf Pack.
Avoid Costly Turnovers
This should not be a back and forth game, nor should the Irish defense give up another 50 point game this week. The only way I see Nevada hanging around is if Kizer and the offense give up costly turnovers. With Kizer under center against Texas, the Irish offense looked, for the most part, to be firing on all cylinders with plenty of big plays to show for their efforts, not to mention six touchdowns. Most importantly, though, they did not turn the ball over. I can see the Irish offense putting up big numbers, and scores, against the Wolf Pack, but so long as they play a mistake free game on offense (and the defense holds up their end of the bargain) they shouldn’t need one.
The Wolf Pack may just be what the Fighting Irish need after such a huge letdown against the Longhorns. Nevada’s strength on offense is their run game, so the Irish defensive secondary may not be tested that often, but they’ll certainly need to do a better job of defending the pass than they did last week against Texas. The last game between these two teams was a one-sided affair, with the Irish shutting out the Wolf Pack, and I don’t expect the Nevada to seriously challenge in this game, either, unless the Irish have a complete meltdown on both sides of the ball.
Final Score: Notre Dame 48 – Nevada 13