Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Notre Dame Football 2006
Issue 8: Tennessee

Tennessee Rush Offense vs. ND Rush Defense

At the beginning of the season, Tennessee had senior Gerald Riggs, Jr. and freshman Arian Foster sharing time attailback. Their numbers were similar to Darius Walker's and Ryan Grant's last season, with Riggs averaging 88.3 YPG and Foster 40.7. Riggs, whose father was a Pro Bowl running back for the Falcons in the mid-80s, is now done for the season with torn ankle ligaments. So, last week Foster took over as the feature back and picked up 148 yards. Impressive, right? Not so fast my friend. Those numbers were put up against a South Carolina defense that on average gives up 168 rushing yards per game. Tennesee averages around 110 yards per game on the ground. So, unless they get behind big, expect to see about that many yards from Foster. Don't expect to see many carries from other players, though. When it comes to carries on the season, only Riggs and Foster are averaging over one carry per game.
Notre Dame is giving up 119.0 rushing yards per game. So, again, don't be surprised if Foster's final count is around that number. The SEC is known for smashmouth football, so the Irish front seven will need to prepare for a battle. Notre Dame has 38 tackles-for-loss this season, 21 coming on non-sacks. Of those 21 TFL, 16 have come from the predicted starting front seven - Victor Abiamiri, Derek Landri, Trevor Laws, Ronald Talley, Brandon Hoyte, Corey Mays, and Maurice Crum, Jr.

ND Rush Offense vs. Tennessee Rush Defense

Darius Walker gained 100+ yards in each of the first four games this season. Since then, he's yet to hit that mark, but he hasn't needed to. That, in a nutshell, is the beauty of Charlie Weis' offense - do whatever works. Against a tough defense, and again with Rashon Powers-Neal out, also look for some carries from Travis Thomas. Thomas is averaging 22.6 yards per game to Walker's 88.1. Fullback Asaph Schwapp got some carries while lined up at halfback in the BYU game; one wonders if he's ready to do so in a key situation. Not counting sacks, Brady Quinn has carried 33 times for 169 yards and a TD. That's close to 5 scrambles per game.
Tennessee is giving up 85.6 rushing yards per game, powered by a stifling front seven. Linebackers Kelvin Simon (63 tackles) and Omar Gaither (53) head a defense that has made 53 stops in the backfield this season. 32 of those are non-sacks, which means that Walker or Thomas won't be making it back to the line of scrimmage at least four times on Saturday. Indeed, rushing yards will be hard-earned for both teams in this game.

Tennessee Pass Offense vs. ND Pass Defense

Football is played on the field, but the big news for Tennessee's offense has come off the field this week. The Volunteers announced that Offensive Coordinator Randy Sanders will hand the playcalling duties over to Head Coach Phil Fulmer and will resign at the end of the season. Of course, there are those who have speculated that Fulmer already has been calling the plays, and that this move was just cosmetic. The other announcement was that Erik Ainge will start for an offense that's averaging 208 passing yards per game. The debate between Ainge and Rick Clausen is an interesting one. Ainge is supposed to be full of talent and potential, yet he is only completing 41 percent of his passes. Clausen, on the other hand, is completing close to 60 percent. Regardless of who the quarterback is, he will have a variety of options to throw to. There's no standout in the passing game - five players are averaging 25.9 to 36.0 yards per game with between 16 and 21 catches. All five players are wide receivers - Robert Meachem, Jayson Swain, CJ Fayton, Chris Hannon, and Bret Smith. That means that either Tennessee uses a variety of sets, or they rotate their receivers heavily to make up for the lack of a standout. Tight end Chris Brown has 7 catches in 7 games, so he either doesn't play much, or he's primarily a run blocker. Running backs Riggs and Foster have combined for 14 catches this season, so don't look for much from Foster in the passing game either.
Notre Dame's pass defense still has its weak spots, but they normally manage to do just enough to let the offense win. The Irish are giving up 306.6 yards per game through the air. As a team, Notre Dame has 17 sacks and 9 interceptions on the season (just over 2 and 1 per game). Victor Abiamiri leads the team with 4.5 sacks, while Tom Zbikowski and the pleasantly surprising Mike Richardson have 3 picks each. The way that Tennessee mixes the run and pass, look for the ND safeties to cheat up to cover the run. Doing that, expect Ainge or Clausen to connect deep once or twice. Whether the Vol QBs can connect consistently on all passes remains to be seen.

ND Pass Offense vs. Tennessee Pass Defense

What hasn't the Irish passing offense done this season? An average day for Brady Quinn is 336 yards on 25-for-38 passing with 3 TDs. Average days for his receivers look like this:
Jeff Samardzija: 6-7 catches, 107 yards, 1-2 TDs
Mo Stovall: 5-6 catches, 89 yards, 1 TD (the 4 TD day last week obviously helped that average)
TE Anthony Fasano: 4-5 catches, 56 yards (oddly enough, Fasano has yet to catch a TD this season)
Darius Walker: 3 catches, 28 yards
Matt Shelton: 2 catches, 25 yards
As stated above, the Tennessee front seven is tenacious. Notably, their line is considered one of the best in the country. Defensive End Parys Haralson leads the team with 5.5 sacks. Right behind him is the other end, Jason Hall, with 5.0. Haralson, Hall, and tackles Justin Harrell and Jesse Mahelona have combined for 109 tackles, 30.5 tackles-for-loss, and 13 sacks. DB Jonathan Hefney, who leads the secondary with 45 tackles, is also for the team lead with 2 INTs. DB Jonathan Wade also has 2 of the team's 6 total interceptions.

Special Teams

Volunteer kicker James Wilhoit has converted 7 of 12 field goals this season. He's perfect on three tries from less than 30 yards, but 4 for 9 from further out. His long is 46 yards, and he's also had two tries blocked on the year. He is a perfect 12 for 12 on PATs.
Notre Dame DJ Fitzpatrick has hit 7 of 9 field goal attempts, missing once each from the 30-39 yard range and the 40-49 yard range. His long is 48 yards.
Tennessee punter Britton Colquitt is averaging 39.4 yards per punt. He has a long of 61 yards with 5 touchbacks, 8 fair catches, and 11 total inside the 20. If it says anything, he is averaging 5 punts per game.
Fitzpatrick, Notre Dame's punter, has a 41.2 yard average this season. His long is 60, with 1 touchback, 2 fair catches, and 6 inside the 20, with one block. He averages 4 punts per game.
Tennessee's primary kick returner has been freshman wide receiver Lucas Taylor. He has a 20.9 yard average with a long of 41 yards. DJ Fitzpatrick has become ND's primary kickoff man. His 59.4 yard average puts the ball at about the 5, but he does have 6 touchbacks. Notre Dame is giving up 19.6 yards per kick return, giving opponents an overall average start around the 25.
David Grimes has moved into the role of primary kick returner for the Irish. He has a 23.9 yard average with a long of 40 yards. James Wilhoit averages 64.1 yards per kickoff, which puts the ball at about the 1 on average. Twelve of his 23 kickoffs have been touchbacks. The Vols give up 19.8 yards per kick return, giving opponents an average start at the 21.
Taylor is also the Volunteer's punt returner. He has an average of 6.6 yards per return with a long of 20 yards. Notre Dame coincidentally gives up 6.6 yards per punt return.
Tom Zbikowski is Notre Dame's punt returner. He has an average of 15.2 yards per return, with a 60 yard TD. Tennessee yields 13.3 yards per punt return.

Look for a big game from Quinn, Samardzija, Fasano, Landri, Richardson

ND 28, Tennesee 19: Samardzija, Fasano, Stovall, and one by the defense.

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