Monday, December 27, 2004

ND Football 2004

Issue 12: Insight Bowl vs. Oregon State

Oregon State comes into this game an interesing 6-5. They've won 5 of their last 6 to become bowl eligible (with the only loss in that streak being an 8-pointer to USC in the fog). Basically, they've beaten the teams they were supposed to and lost to the teams they were supposed to lose to (all 5 losses came against teams currently ranked in the top 25 or ranked at the time of the game). Now, the question is, are they supposed to beat Notre Dame?

OSU Rush Offense vs. ND Rush Defense

Pac-10 teams are known for their passing games, and Oregon State is no different. However, the run game is something that can't be ignored. 74.5 yards per game as a team doesn't seem like much. But, if an opposing defense loosens up looking for the pass, leading rusher Dwight Wright can and will take advantage. Wright is averaging 69.1 YPG.
Notre Dame has been solid against the run this year, giving up 94.4 yards per game against tough competition. However, how will they fare out of their nickel and dime packages? Or will they stay in a base defense against 3 and 4 receiver sets? The Irish gave up 99 yards on the ground against pass-happy Purdue, but the runs were very well placed in that game.

ND Rush Offense vs. OSU Rush Defense

Oregon State has a small but very athletic defense. Will the Irish try to pound it against their smaller counterparts (OK, that just sounded dirty), or will they try to run around them with some misdirection? Darius Walker and Ryan Grant (when healthy) have consistently paced the Irish ground game with 74.3 and 62 YPG, respectively. Add in a token single run for 12 (.5) yards by Marcus Wilson, and a goal line rush by RPN, and there's your Notre Dame running game. The key for the Irish is to stick to their guns on the ground, and not get caught up playing shoot-'em-out in the air with Oregon State.
The Beavers are giving up 122.6 YPG on the ground. That's all the more reason for ND to stick to their ground game. OSU's defense is paced by linebacker Trent Bray, leading the team with 112 tackles.

OSU Pass Offense vs. ND Pass Defense

Whenever I see Chad Johnson and TJ Houshmanzadeh wearing the orange and black of the Cincinnati Bengals, I have flashbacks to our last trip to Arizona. Not good times. Oregon State's 304.4 YPG passing attack is lead by QB Derek Anderson (not the former Cleveland shooting guard). Anderson is a pocket passer, "averaging" -13.3 rushing yards per game. Anderson's favorite target is WR Mike Hass, who averages 115.8 YPG on nearly 8 catches per game. Aiding Hass are tight end Joe Newton with 60.2 YPG and wide receivers Marcel Love and Anthony Wheat-Brown, both averaging 40+ YPG. Running back Wright adds a solid 20.8 YPG.
Notre Dame's pass rush will be important in this game, and Oregon State has given up 34 sacks on the year. reports that Justin Tuck will be sidelined for the bowl game, so the likes of Victor Abiamiri, Kyle Budinscak, Trevor Laws, and Derek Curry will have to step up and "sheild" an ND secondary that has been poor against the deep pass. The Bank One Ballpark football turf, which resembles grass glued on sheets of cardboard, will not help the Irish DB's footing.

ND Pass Offense vs. OSU Pass Defense

Again, ND can't get caught up in a shootout. Brady Quinn has spread the wealth this year, but he will reportedly be without big play threats Maurice Stovall and Matt Shelton. This means that Rhema McKnight (47.3 YPG) will have to have a big game, and Anthony Fasano (35.4 YPG) will have to be open when Quinn needs him. Jeff Samardzija (16.8 YPG) will have to be used effectively has well.
But, will Fasano and the other tight ends be open? Oregon State takes pride in its safeties, especially Mitch Meeuwsen. Meeuwsen has 66 tackles (second on the team) and a team-leading 6 interceptions. Add 4 picks by CB Aric Williams and 5 by strong safety Sabby Piscitelli, and Brady Quinn will have to play a smart game. However, this OSU team can give up the big game, surrendering 53 points to Boise State and 49 to Cal.

Special Teams

OSU kicker Alexis Serna has gone 16-17 on field goal attempts this year, with a long of 55 and his only miss coming from the 40-49 yard range. Punter San Paulescu has been solid this year, with an average of 42.5, a (turf-aided?) long of 69, and 22 of 69 inside the 20.
Punt return duty for the Beavers is shared by Sammie Stroughter and Yvenson Bernard, who combine for 5.9 yards per return. OSU kick returners are also nothing to write home about (but nothing to overlook, either) with a committee averaging 18.1 yards per return.
Oregon State's coverage teams are average on kickoffs (22.4 yards per) and so-so on punt returns (11.3 yards per and a touchdown). Maybe this will be the time for Carlyle Holiday to finally shine.
DJ Fitzpatrick just keeps plugging along, 11-15 on field goals (long of 47) and a yards per punt average of 42.4. Maybe the Browns new GM can draft him to punt next year.
Notre Dame's kick returners haven't been great - averaging 18.8 yards per - but Carlos Campbell and his 25 yard average have been a diamond in the rough over the last few games. Holiday returns punts with an 11 yard average, but he did have a season-long 68 yard return in his final home game.
Irish coverage teams have been up and down, giving up 20.5 yards per kick return and 6.8 yards per punt return.

Look for a big game from
Grant, McKnight, Holiday, Abiamiri, BHoyte

ND 31, OSU 26: Grant, RPN, McKnight, Holiday, and one by DJ beats two field goals, three TDs, and a missed two point conversion.