Wednesday, September 21, 2005

ND Football 2005

Issue 4: Washington

Washington Rush Offense vs. ND Rush Defense

For a PAC-10 team, Washington does have a decent run game. Running back Louis Rankin gets the bulk of the carries, about 19 per game, and is averaging 88.3 yards on the ground. Washington's other main running threat is quarterback Isaiah Stanback, who tucks-and-runs six or seven times a game, to the tune of 23.3 yards per contest. The only other runner with a significant number of carries is fullback James Sims. Sims' 14 carries for 28 yards looks downright gaudy for a blocking back in Ty Willingham's system.
Notre Dame has given up an average of 126 rushing yards per game, while the Huskies have gained 129.7 per. So, look for 125-130 yards from Washington runners this Saturday, right? Not so fast my friend. As baseball statheads will tell you, three games is too small a sample set. The Irish gave up just over 100 yards each to Pitt and and Michigan, then over 160 to MSU. Washington gained only 68 yards on the ground against Cal, but came back with 192 against Idaho. Notre Dame's defense has been stout against the run over the past few years. Their strength is once again their linebackers. Even if one has to spy Isaiah Stanback, there are still two qualified backers left to go after the play. Brandon Hoyte is the team's leading tackler with 29 stops, including 8 tackles for a loss. He's joined by Corey Mays and Maurice Crum, who each have 17 tackles this season.

ND Rush Offense vs. Washington Rush Defense

Notre Dame's workhorse this season has been Darius Walker. Fullback/halfback Rashon Powers-Neal is the team's second-leading rusher, who gained 60 yards his first two games. Powers-Neal didn't get a single carry against MSU, but there was a reason for that. Coach Charlie Weis concluded that he would need two halfbacks more than two fullbacks, so he moved Asaph Schwapp to the starting fullback spot with the intent of keeping RPN rested and ready when Walker needed a breather. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way. Wisely, Weis has not revealed his plans for RPN this weekend.
Washington limited Idaho to 4 rushing yards last Saturday, and their average yards against is still 167 per game. (Also, Idaho did get 56 positive rushing yards while losing 52 to sacks.) Of course, Air Force will always put up big yards on the ground, and Cal has been known as a good running team as of late. Washington can get in the backfield, as nine players have made stops for a loss. Their leading tackler is linebacker Evan Benjamin with 24 tackles.

Washington Pass Offense vs. ND Pass Defense

Isaiah Stanback took the starting quarterback job from Casey Paus, and Stanback runs what can only be described as a typical Ty Willingham offense. The quarterback averages 229 yards passing per game, and he has already hit 11 different receivers. Sonny Shackelford has been the primary target, with 12 catches for 199 yards thus far. Shackelford is joined at wide receiver by Anthony Russo and Craig Chambers, who have combined for 14 catches and 215 yards. Russo is the possesion receiver, with 9 catches for 86 yards, while Champers is the big play guy, with 5 catches for 129 yards and a TD. Washington's other target is 6-3, 280 lb. freshman Johnie Kirton, a tight end/H-back. Kirton has 8 receptions for 103 yards this season.
Notre Dame's pass defense did well in their first two games, aided by Dave Wannstedt's stubborn favorance of the run game and the Wolverine receivers' case of the dropsies. Things came back to bite them against MSU, as they surrendered 327 yards to Drew Stanton et al. ND has been criticized for its inexperience in the secondary and lack of a pass rush, both before and during the season. It will be interesting to see what defensive coordinator Rick Minter calls. If they stay in the base 4-3 against three receiver sets, will they spy the QB, and who will that spy be. I would assume that the Irish will try to stop the pass and force Washington to run. Then again, I'm just a guy sitting in front of his computer who's never played football, and Minter actually gets paid to think about these things.

ND Pass Offense vs. Washington Pass Defense

Overrated and overhyped? That's what some people, friend and foe, are calling Brady Quinn. Quinn has thrown for 854 yards, 9 TDs, and only 2 INTs. But, he's "only" 70 for 117, including 33 for 60 against MSU. Also, before the MSU game at least, Quinn was criticized for not throwing the deep ball. Of course, as a wise man once said, "you play to win the game," and if dump offs get the job done, why not stick to them? Quinn's leading receiver now is Anthony Fasano with 15 catches. Fasano, however, is questionable for Saturday with a shoulder injury. Also out is receiver Rhema McKnight, who at least has been upgraded to day-to-day. In their absence, Jeff Samardzija and Maurice Stovall will have to continue to step up. Samardzija has been Quinn's Mr. Touchdown - 5 of his 13 catches have been for six points. Stovall, meanwhile, is coming off a huge 8 catch, 176 yard performance. However, two receivers can't do the job alone. Darius Walker ties Samardzija with 13 catches on the year, and Quinn will hope that his running back will continue to be a reliable dump-off option. Also needing to step up are receivers Matt Shelton and David Grimes and tight end John Carlson.
Washington's pass defense has been decent, giving up 223 yards per game. Remember, though, that that average includes games against Air Force and Idaho. The man to look out for is defensive tackle Manase Hopoi. The 290 pound defensive tackle has four of his team's 10 sacks. Notre Dame's interior line will have to stop Hopoi on pass plays, or Brady Quinn will have to effectively roll away from the pressure up the middle. Of course, Hopoi's pass pressure will hopefully be a moot point if ND can establish the run.

Special Teams

Washington kicker Evan Knudson is 4 for 5 in field goals, with a long of 46 yards. His Irish counterpart, DJ Fitzpatrick, is 3 for 4 with a long of 48.
The Huskies are likely very happy to have such a good punter in Sean Douglas. Douglas has punted 15 times, with an average of 44.5 yards, a long of 58, and 5 kicks inside the 20. For the Irish, Fitzpatrick has 16 punts with an average of 41.8 yards and a long of 60.
Washington's kick returners, cornerbacks Roy Lewis and Matt Fountaine, each have an average of 21 yards per return. Lewis has the long return for the Huskies at 38 yards. ND kickoff specialist Carl Gioia is averaging 55.8 yards per kick, putting the ball at about the 10 yard line each time. From there, the Irish are giving up 18.5 yards per return.
Notre Dame's kick return duties are shared by Justin Hoskins and Brandon Harris. Hoskins is averaging 23 yards on 4 returns, while Harris is averaging 17.7 yards on 3 returns. Evan Knudson averages 64.3 yards per kickoff. That's an average starting position of the 0.7 yard lines, and in fact 6 of his 14 kicks have been touchbacks. From there, the Washington coverage teams surrender 22.6 yards per return.
Receiver Anthony Russo has been the primary punt returner for the Huskies, with 5 returns for 14 yards. Insert your own Willingham special teams joke here. Notre Dame is yielding a stifling 4.1 yards per punt return.
Safety Tom Zbikowski has been Notre Dame's punt returner this year. On 4 returns, he's averaged 16 yards, with a long of 23. Washington, meanwhile, is giving up a regular 8 yards per punt return.

Look for a big game from Walker, Samardzija, Zbikowski

ND 34, Washington 20: The backs get one on the ground and one in the air, plus receptions by Samadzija and Stovall, and two by DJ.

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