Which players will have the biggest impact on the game? Who will win? How many QB's will mad scientist Brian Kelly use for the game? For all that and much more, we caught up with the guys over at One Foot Down.
Here's what we asked:
T7F: New OC Chuck Martin has switched over after coaching the defensive backs last year. He made the same transition at Grand Valley State after Brian Kelly left for CMU, moving from DC to Head Coach and OC, and won two D2 national titles to boot. How has he done so far at Notre Dame?
OFD: I'd say the jury is still out. Brian Kelly still calls the plays and has had the offense on a very short leash this season. Against Michigan and Michigan State, once the Irish took the lead, Kelly was content to hand the ball off the rest of the game and let the defense carry the team to the victory. The one game where the offense was allowed to air it out a bit was against Purdue and Everett Golson had his best game (21/31, 289 yards), despite no running game and the team's two best receivers leaving the game early in the third quarter.
This game against the Hurricanes probably represents the first true test of this offense. Miami's offense has been explosive this season, so if Miami gets on the board early we'll probably see Kelly and Martin open up the playbook some more.
But I love Chuck Martin and I think he was a great hire. He's a no nonsense coach who takes no pleasure in outsmarting the other team (Oh, hello Charlie Weis). If we can win the game by running the same play twenty times in a row, he'd do it. He also puts a premium on putting the best players on the field and getting them the ball any way possible. Things have been pretty vanilla so far this season, but I think we'll see a lot more creativity on offense once Golson gets himself settled into the position.
T7F: Coach Brian Kelly is not bashful about using more then one QB. Do you expect Everette Golson to get the majority of snaps against Miami? Or can we expect to see Tommy Rees as well?
OFD: This is kind of a cop-out, but it depends. Rees has come into the game in very specific situations this season.
Against Purdue, Golson was having trouble getting the play calls in from the sideline all game. When Notre Dame needed to run a two-minute drill to get into field goal range at the end of the game, Rees came in out of necessity.
Against Michigan, Golson had a game you expect to see from a redshirt freshman in his fourth career game. Everything seemed to be moving too fast for him and he made some boneheaded decisions. Lucky for Kelly, he didn't need to keep putting Golson out there and was able to turn to an experienced player on the bench like Rees.
So I think it depends on how Golson plays. If he continues to struggles it wouldn't surprise me to see Rees come in again. But if the offense is moving the ball, Kelly won't pull Golson just for the sake of pulling him.
T7F: Manti Te'o has been nothing short of a beast so far this season. How important is he to the defensive success Notre Dame has had? Which other players on defense should 'Canes fans keep an eye on?
OFD: The impact Te'o has made on and off the field cannot be overstated. Since I assume Miami fans don't want me to gush about his leadership and character, I'll spare everyone, but I will say this: prepare for a constant stream of stories on Manti if the Irish keep winning. ESPN loves a good story and this kid has one. So be sure to get your outrage ready if/when his name comes up in the Heisman talk in full force in a few weeks.
As for the other players on defense, watch out for DE Stephon Tuitt and OLB/DE Prince Shembo. Tuitt is a physical freak of nature and is currently in a tie for seventh in the nation in sacks and second in sacks per game. Shembo is a pass rushing specialist and spent the Michigan State game making Andrew Maxwell's life miserable and abused future 1st round NFL draft pick Taylor Lewan multiple times against Michigan. Expect to see them in Morris's face a lot on Saturday.
T7F: How important has RB Theo Riddick been to the offense? Aside from Theo Riddick, which other offensive playmakers on ND should concern Miami?
OFD: Riddick is a good player, but he's far from the most important piece on offense. The best running back on the team is Cierre Wood. He has better vision and burst than Riddick, though Riddick is much better at catching balls out of the backfield. Hurricane fans might also see George Atkinson III get a few handoffs on Saturday. Atkinson is an elite athlete but he's still learning the running back position. He's fantastic with the ball in his hands but still needs to work on his blocking and blitz pickup.
In the passing game, the big name is tight end Tyler Eifert. At 6'6 and 251lbs, he's a match-up nightmare. He's a good blocker in the run game but is often seen split out wide. A cornerback who is six inches shorter than him doesn't have much of a shot against him when the ball is in the air. The other important name is redshirt freshman Devaris Daniels. He's been the team's best big-play receiver but has been slowed by an ankle injury he suffered against Purdue. He should be at full speed on Saturday, though.
T7F: In your opinion, which players on the Hurricanes pose the biggest match-up problems for the Irish?
OFD: Actually, I think the biggest match-up will occur in the coaching booth - namely, Jedd Fisch's patience vs. Bob Diaco's bend-but-don't-break defense.
Diaco likes to play a soft zone and force opposing teams to dink-and-dunk their way down the field, counting on someone to eventually miss a block or drop a pass to set up a third and long where the defense can line up and attack. Meanwhile, Miami has been very proficient at coming up with big plays through the air.
I think it will come down to whether or not the Hurricanes are willing to go on long, sustained drives. The Irish defensive line probably won't give Morris a lot of time to throw, so stringing together some short passes and keeping the offense out of third and long will be critical for Miami. Purdue did a nice job of attacking the edges against the Irish and then running the ball up the middle to keep the defense honest and Michigan moved the ball well the same way until Denard Robinson started raining down turnovers. Eschewing the home run ball, hitting the edges of the defense, and putting up points early will force Diaco to adjust and could set the Hurricanes up for the big play later on.
T7F: Finally, what is your prediction for the game? Who wins, final score, and how does the game play out?
OFD: Despite the gaudy numbers the Hurricanes have put up on offense, I think they'll have trouble moving the ball against the Irish. Running the ball simply does not work against this defense and spreading the field and throwing it puts Miami's relatively green offensive linemen up against Tuitt and Shembo - a match-up decidedly in Notre Dame's favor.
I also think this is a great game for Notre Dame to get their offense moving again. Miami's defense has been awful this season - ranking in the triple digits in almost every major category - and the Irish are coming off of a bye week. If Notre Dame can't move the ball on Miami, they won't move it on anyone this season.
This game might start slowly, but I think the Irish will build a modest lead and then let the running game and defense bleed this game out. I have the Irish winning 27-16.
We sure hope you are wrong!! Thanks again to the guys at One Foot Down for taking the time to provide us additional insight into the game. Be sure to head over to their page to see our answers to their questions.