Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Notre Dame Football 2009

An abbreviated preview for a hectic week.

The Boilers have a very effective run game, averaging 210 yards per on the ground, led by 140 per game from tailback #23 Ralph Bolden. However, after big days against Toledo and Oregon, the run game was held mostly in check by Northern Illinois.

Quarterback #14 Joey Elliot is one of those guys whose passes never hit the ground. He's completed 61% of his passes, but also has five picks already. Elliot also isn't afraid to run with the ball, averaging about five carries a game.

Purdue's base set is 3 WR, 1 RB, and 1 TE. Their pass game involves five passes a game to wideouts #17 Aaron Valentin and #8 Kevin Smith, with decent amounts of passes to running backs, tight ends, and other receivers mixed in.

The defense features SAM #24 Jason Werner and not much else. The defensive line does have two tackles over 300 pounds, but the rest of the front seven isn't very big. They also aren't very effective, giving up 181 rushing yards and over 250 passing yards per game.

Both kicker Carson Wiggs and punter Chris Summers have strong legs. Wiggs converted a 59-yarder in the opener, and his only miss this year is from 60.

This game will be a shootout if ND can't stop the run and can't get to the quarterback. But even without Michael Floyd, the Irish should still have enough guns to win it.

Prediction: Notre Dame 34, Purdue 25

Now, enjoy some Beat Purdue Memories.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Notre Dame Football 2009
Issue 3: Michigan State

Michigan State Run Offense vs. Notre Dame Run Defense

In the 90s, Michigan State was Wide Receiver U. This decade, their offense has become known for its steady stable of running backs. Even with the departure of Javon Ringer, MSU is still deep at the position.

The starter is small redshirt freshman #24 Caulton Ray, who is averaging 14 carries and 61 yards per game. Ray also has the team's lone rushing touchdown on the year. He is complemented by several backups, notably #22 Larry Caper, who is averaging six to seven carries and 33.5 yards per game.

The Spartans are employing a dual quarterback system this year, and of the two, #7 Keith Nichol is the runner. Nichol has had moderate success on the ground, averaging three to four carries and 17.5 yards per game.

Ray is averaging 4.4 yards per carry for the Spartans, and Caper and Nichol are both above five yards per carry. Michigan State uses a fullback, but no Spartan fullback has carried the ball yet. #82 Keshawn Martin has the team's lone carry made by a receiver, but don't rule out more by Martin and the other wideouts against Notre Dame.

After two weeks of seeing variations on the veer option, Notre Dame will finally face a traditional pro-style offense. That may be a blessing or a curse for a run defense that has been gashed to the tune of 171.5 yards per game so far.

Leading tacklers for the team continue to be safeties Kyle McCarthy and Harrison Smith, followed by linebackers Brian Smith and Toryan Smith. Injuries limited Toryan's playing time in the Michigan game, but he should be back to full strength now. He'll need another performance like the one he had against Nevada to keep these MSU rushers at bay. Toryan is leading the team in tackles for a loss with 3.5, followed by Brian Smith and Darius Fleming with 2.0 apiece.

Notre Dame Run Offense vs. Michigan State Run Defense

Last week, the Irish faithful saw a running performance perhaps unprecedented in the Weis era. It wasn't just Armando Allen's final numbers on the day, it was the way he ran - fighting and pushing for every yard he could get, refusing to go down until gang-tackled.

Allen is the definite starter on this team, averaging 18 carries and 105.5 yards per game. Jonas Gray has established himself as the top backup, but it remains to be seen how a fumble in the Michigan game will affect the sophomore's psyche. Gray is averaging six carries and 25 yards per game. Allen is averaging 5.9 yards per carry to Gray's 4.2.

James Aldridge is doubtful for Saturday's game, which likely means more of Robert Hughes and Bobby Burger at fullback. Hughes is averaging 3-4 carries and 10 yards per game, while Burger is used exclusively as a blocker - where he has excelled.

MSU's run defense has been stout this year, holding opponents to 64.0 yards per game. One may chalk that up to the quality of opponents the Spartans have faced thus far, but Michigan State has two things working in their favor. One, they held all-everything quarterback Dan LeFevour to just 0.8 yards per carry last week. And two, MSU's early success against the run has always been a sign of things to come, especially against the Irish.

The star of Michigan State's defense is middle linebacker #53 Greg Jones. Jones is the only MSU player with multiple tackles for a loss (he has 4.0 on the year), and he has almost twice as many overall tackles as any other member of the team.

Michigan State has undersized defensive ends, mostly weighing in under 250 pounds. So if the Irish call for more outside runs this week, it not only keeps the ball carrier away from Greg Jones (at least momentarily), it also lets Paul Duncan and Sam Young impose their decided weight advantage on those MSU ends.

Michigan State Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense

Michigan State balances its effective running game with an efficient passing game. "Running quarterback" Keith Nichol has only completed 46.2 percent of his passes, but he does have three touchdowns. Starter #8 Kirk COusins, meanwhile, has completed a Clausen-esque 65.7 percent of his passes with four touchdowns.

On the average day, Cousins will complete 12 of 18 passes for 173.5 yards, while Nichol will complete six of 13 for 93 yards. Neither quarterback has thrown an interception on the season.

If Michigan State is to win back the title of Wide Receiver U, it will be on the shoulders of senior wideout #25 Blair White. White is averaging eight catches, two touchdowns, and 133.5 yards per game.

Not to be forgotten is White's opposite number, #3 BJ Cunningham. Cunningham has two touchdown receptions of his own, and is averaging at least three catches and 58.5 yards per game.

A trio of tight ends - #83 Charlie Gantt, #88 Brian Linthicum, and #80 Dion Sims - each have three catches and one touchdown on the year, so Notre Dame will have to look out for these tall threats in the red zone.

Michigan State have seven passing touchdowns to only one on the ground, so it's time for Notre Dame's hyped secondary to put up or shut up. The Irish are holding opponents to 197 passing yards per game, a respectable number. But it's the way that Notre Dame has done it that has caused some gnashing of teeth, as defensive backs seem to play soft in coverage to go for the sure tackle instead of trying to defend the pass itself.

Four Irish have registered sacks, including Brian and Toryan Smith, Darius Fleming, and John Ryan. Ryan has played well in 2009, hoping to erase his forgettable 2007 and 2008 seasons.

Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. Michigan State Pass Defense

Jimmy Clausen is still an improved quarterback, even if he isn't going to hit on 90 percent of his passes every game. On an average day, the junior will connect on 20 of 30 passes for 325.5 yards and 3-4 touchdowns. Most importantly, Clausen has yet to throw a pass to the opposite jerseys this year.

Notre Dame's top receivers are Golden Tate and Michael Floyd, each of whom are averaging six catches per game. Tate is averaging 87 yards per game and has two touchdowns on the year. Floyd is averaging 160 yards per game and has four touchdowns on the year. The sophomore Floyd should be good to go this weekend after a gash from the Big House warning track required 15 stitches.

Tight end Kyle Rudolph is averaging 3-4 catches and 33.5 yards per game. Meanwhile, Armando Allen hasn't been as much of a factor in the passing game this year as he has in the past. But that's probably due to the increase in passes to Tate and Floyd more than anything else. Allen is averaging 2-3 catches and 24.5 yards per game.

Michigan State's pass defense is giving up 225 yards per game. But that number is a bit misleading, as the Spartans gave up only 98 passing yards to Montana State, but 352 to Central Michigan.

A number of Spartans have recorded a sack this year, including Greg Jones, defensive tackle #99 Jerel Worthy, and ends #58 Trevor Anderson, #89 Colin Neely, and #54 David Rolf. MSU's lone interception was scored by cornerback #9 Jeremy Ware.

Special Teams

#14 Brett Swenson is Michigan State's placekicker for the fourth straight year, and for good reason. Swenson is perfect on the season, converting three field goals in the 30-39 yard range, plus one from 45 yards. Freshman Nick Tausch missed from 28 yards in his first collegiate attempt last week, but went on to convert 34- and 42-yarders.

MSU can be proud of its kickers, as Lou Groza candidate Brett Swenson is joined by Ray Guy candidate #18 Aaron Bates at punter. Bates is certainly making his case for the award, as he's averaging 48.9 yards per punt on the season. Four of Bates's seven punts have gone for 50 or more yards, including his long of 57. Michigan State is giving up 8.8 yards per punt return, a very respectable number. Notre Dame's Eric Maust is averaging 40.3 yards per punt with a long of 46, but has been inconsistent at times this year. Still, opponents have yet to be able to make a return on a Maust punt.

Michigan State's primary kick returner is #41 Glenn Winston, another member of their stable of running backs. Winston is averaging 23 yards per return with a long of 38. Nick Tausch is averaging 60.5 yards per kickoff. But the Irish kickoff team hasn't lived up to its past performance, giving up an average of 24.2 yards per return. That gives opponents an average start on the 34 yard line.

Theo Riddick and Barry Gallup have shared kick return duties for the Irish. Riddick has two returns, each for 23 yards. Gallup has one return for 52 yards and another for 25. Kickoff duties for Michigan State have been split between Brett Swenson and #4 Dan Conroy. Both are averaging about 64 yards per kick, and Conroy has the lone touchback between them. MSU is giving up 22.4 yards per kick return, leaving opponents with an average starting field position around the 28 yard line.

Keshawn Martin returns punts for the Spartans. He's averaging 12.2 yards per return with a long of 26. Golden Tate is Notre Dame's punt returner. He's only had one chance so far this year, though, and it went for -2 yards.

Notre Dame Players to Watch

Armando Allen, Michael Floyd, Toryan Smith, Brian Smith, Eric Maust, Barry Gallup


Notre Dame 34, Michigan State 23

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Notre Dame Football 2009
Issue 2: Michigan

Michigan Run Offense vs. Notre Dame Run Defense

In the opener against Western Michigan, Wolverines quarterbacks kept the ball on 23 run attempts and handed off on 27. That's a pretty even mix, especially considering that 22 of those 23 keepers were made by freshmen quarterbacks #5 Tate Forcier and #16 Denard Robinson. Forcier, the starter, ran 11 times for 37 yards and Robinson 11 for 74 yards and a touchdown.

Only one carry came from a receiver, as #19 Kelvin Grady went for 11 yards. This is a contrast from the Florida and Missouri spreads, which liberally hand off to their slot receivers. However, it's possible that Michigan was simply saving those plays for bigger games - like this week's.

Running back #23 Carlos Brown had 10 carries for 54 yards, while fellow backs #20 Michael Shaw and #2 Vincent Smith had 7 for 34 and 6 for 23 respectively. So the Wolverines like to mix in all their capable backs.

Somewhat surprisingly, Michigan mainstay #24 Kevin Grady has essentially fallen to fourth string, seeing only two carries for seven yards. On one hand, it's not surprising to see the 230 lb Grady passed over in favor of smaller, quicker backs in the spread offense. But on the other hand, Rich Rodriguez did have success with bruising fullbacks like Owen Schmitt at West Virginia.

Notre Dame's went the bend-don't-break route against Nevada's run game in week 1, giving up 153 rushing yards and letting safeties Kyle McCarthy and Harrison Smith lead the team in tackles. Middle linebacker Toryan Smith was right behind them, and he'll have another chance to play the role of run-stuffer against the Wolverines.

Notre Dame Run Offense vs. Michigan Run Defense

Armando Allen and Jonas Gray both had efficient games against Nevada, averaging 4.8 and 5.6 yards respectively. Allen ran 15 times for 72 yards, while Gray got his fair share of touches with 9 carries for 50 yards.

It will be interesting to see how Notre Dame handles the fullback situation with James Aldridge out. Aldridge ran rather effectively before leaving the Nevada game with a shoulder injury. Will Notre Dame turn the fullback role over to the untested Steve Paskorz? Will they give Robert Hughes a crash course at the position? Or will they scrap the fullback entirely in favor of one-back sets and formations using H-back Bobby Burger?

The Wolverines were in Western Michigan's backfield all day, holding the Broncos to just 38 rushing yards. Michigan returns four starters to its front seven, which runs a hybrid 3-4 defense with a linebacker that can also be used as a 4-3 defensive end.

The Michigan D is led by end #55 Brandon Graham and middle linebacker #45 Obi Ezeh. Graham was held in check by the Broncos, but Ezeh had a forced fumble and six tackles, one and a half for a loss. Outside linebacker #3 Stevie Brown and "Quick" linebacker #58 Brandon Herron combined for 9 tackles in the game.

Michigan Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense

For the most part, the spread is a fairly balanced offense. So, despite the fact that Tate Forcier was making his college debut, he still had 20 pass attempts. Forcier completed 13 passes for 179 yards and three touchdowns, a pretty efficient day. Denard Robinson completed two of the four passes he attempted, for 18 yards. For the most part, it looks at this point like Forcier is the better overall quarterback, and track champion Robinson is just out for his running ability. But Robinson will try the ocassional short pass to keep defenses in check.

Wideout #21 Junior Hemingway was Forcier's top target in week 1, hauling in five catches, two of them touchdowns, for 103 yards. Tight end #86 Kevin Koger, veteran receiver #13 Greg Mathews, and Kelvin Grady also had multiple catches. If one game is any indication, Hemingway will be the deep threat, with Koger, Matthews, and Grady playing safety valves for their young quarterback.

Notre Dame used a talented secondary and efficient blitzing to hold Nevada to an 18 percent success rate on third down and 153 passing yards overall. The Irish corners continue to play soft in man coverage, seemingly preferring a catch and a sure tackle to a big gain on an attempted (and failed) pass breakup. Like last week, Notre Dame's safeties and blitzers can't get too greedy and leave the corners out on islands too often.

Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. Michigan Pass Defense

Jimmy Clausen has been near perfect in his last two starts against the WAC, and now he'll get to try his luck against the Big 10. In the season opener, Clausen was an efficient 15 for 18 for 315 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Clausen will work to four primary targets this year, wideouts Michael Floyd and Golden Tate, tight end Kyle Rudolph, and back Armando Allen. Going against a tougher defense this week, Clausen's goal should be avoiding bad habits from last year, notably not forcing the ball to Kyle Rudolph in coverage.

Michigan's secondary is a cause for concern. Despite two interceptions, the Wolverines did allow Western Michigan to complete almost 60 percent of its passes for 263 yards. Corner #6 Donovan Warren had one of those interceptions, and also led Michigan with 6.5 tackles in the opener.

But don't assume that Michigan's thin secondary means that Notre Dame will come out in four- and five-wide sets. Against Nevada, the Irish mostly utilized traditional two- and three-wide sets to help protect Jimmy Clausen, and they still had success through the air.

Special Teams

After three years on the practice squad, #92 Jason Olesnavage has earned a spot as Michigan's starting placekicker. In the opener, Olesnavage hit from 44 yards in his only field goal attempt. Freshman Nick Tausch of Notre Dame did not attempt a field goal last week, but he did chip in all five extra point attempts.

To recap, Michigan's quarterback is 6'1", 188; its placekicker is 6'5", 213; and punter #41 Zoltan Mesko is 6'5", 231. Mesko punted five times in the Western Michigan game, a number that tarnishes Michigan's offensive numbers a bit. Of course, maybe the Wolverines just wanted to show off his powerful leg, one that averaged 47.2 yards per punt in the game with a long of 66. In the "it's only one game" category, Michigan gave up only 3 yards per punt return. Notre Dame's Eric Maust punted three times last week with a long of 43 yards and an average of 40.7. Nevada was not able to make a return.

Michigan's kick returners are backup receivers #22 Darryl Stonum and #9 Martavious Odoms. Each had one return for 20 yards last week. Nick Tausch averaged 58.5 yards per kick last week, even including a kick where he lost his footing. The Irish gave up 17.6 yards per return, giving opponents an average start around the 30.

Notre Dame's Theo Riddick had the team's lone kick return last week, for 23 yards. It remains to be seen who will replace James Aldridge next to Riddick this week.. Michigan returns kickoff specialist #43 Bryan Wright. Wright averaged 66.5 yards per kick with one touchback in week 1. Michigan gave up 22.2 yards per kick return. That's an average start on the 26 yard line.

Greg Mathews returns punts for the Wolverines. He's had two returns in 2009, one for zero yards and one for 16. Returning punts for the Irish will be either Golden Tate or Armando Allen. In Tate's lone chance last week, he had a -2 yard return.

Notre Dame Players to Watch

Jimmy Clausen, Armando Allen, Toryan Smith, Brian Smith, Nick Tausch, Theo Riddick


Notre Dame 21, Michigan 16

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Notre Dame Football 2009
Issue 1: Nevada

Nevada Run Offense vs. Notre Dame Run Defense

Much has been made of quarterback 10 Colin Kaepernick's running ability, and the 1298 rushing yards he accumulated in 2008. But while Kaepernick led the team in rushing touchdowns, he was only second on the team in yards to running back 34 Vai Taua.

Kaepernick and Taua run a two-man option rushing attack out of Nevada's pistol formation. Last year, Taua averaged 18 carries and 117 yards per game, while Kaepernick added 11 carries and 98 yards per game (sacks excluded).

The pistol is a one-back formation, and in fact Nevada does not list any fullbacks on its roster. Also, don't confuse the pistol with the spread attacks run at places like Florida or Missouri. While the Wolf Pack will ocassionally hand the ball off to one of its three wideouts, receiver runs are not a primary part of its game. Last year, no Nevada wide receiver had more than seven rushes on the season.

Notre Dame's front seven returns only three starters this season. However, maybe that's a good thing, as the Irish run defense gave up 134 yards per game in 2008. The line and linebackers are an exciting group of players, each with an interesting story to tell. Brian Smith and Kerry Neal are now the steady leaders of the group. Ethan Johnson and Darius Fleming return after breakout freshman campaigns. Ian Williams and Toryan Smith are out for redemption. And Kapron Lewis-Moore, Steve Filer, and Manti Te'o are itching to make an impact in their college debuts.

Defending the option calls for discipline on the outside and a good push on the inside. That will take patience from Lewis-Moore and converted defensive end Fleming. It will also be an excellent chance for Johnson to prove the move from end to defensive tackle was wise, and for Williams and Toryan Smith that they belong with the first team.

The option will also require run support from the safeties, and neither Kyle McCarthy nor Harrison Smith are afraid to mix it up in the box. How else would McCarthy lead the team in tackles in 2008 and Smith volunteer to play outside linebacker?

Notre Dame Run Offense vs. Nevada Run Defense

Armando Allen is the number one back outright this year, and now it's his job to prove he earned that right. Allen averaged 10 carries per game and 4.4 yards per carry in 2008 - numbers that Irish fans both hope will improve in 2009. Backing up Allen will be sophomore Jonas Gray, who averaged 4.3 yards per carry in limited playing time last year, but who also had fumble trouble in his introduction to college ball. Behind Allen and Gray is Robert Hughes, who has fallen out of his coach's good graces for playing like a small back despite weighing in at 234 lbs.

James Aldridge has been moved to fullback, and it will be interesting to see how he is used this season. The fullback has not seen many touches in Notre Dame's offense these past few years, but that may simply be due to the fact that the Irish haven't had an offensive threat at that position. Also, if Gray and Hughes falter early this year, don't be surprised to see Aldridge back in a tailback when Allen comes out of the game.

Now is the time for the Irish to improve their mediocre run game. Depth and experience are no longer issues at running back or along the offensive line. So if the talent is there, it's time for it to shine.

Nevada's front seven features three seniors and two juniors, and their defense as a whole held opponents to 3.1 yards per carry and 88 yards per game. Those are fairly impressive numbers, no matter who you're facing.

The Wolf Pack return three players who had double-digit tackles for a loss in 2008. Most notable is sophomore SAM linebacker 52 James-Michael Johnson, who registered 12.5 TFL in his freshman campaign. Johnson will look to lead Nevada's linebacking corps, as he is the lone returning starter in that unit.

Nevada Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense

For all that is made of Colin Kaepernick's running ability, his passing also deserves some recognition. A 54.3 percent completion rate and 219 yards per game by themselves won't win a Heisman Trophy, but a 22 to 7 touchdown-to-interception ratio is certainly impressive. On average in 2008, Kaepernick completed 16 of 29 passes per game.

Nevada primarily utilizes three wideouts, but of their top three receivers in 2008 only one returns in 2009. 14 Chris Wellington averaged three catches and 48.6 yards per game while also grabbing six touchdowns on the year. 82 Tray Session only caught one pass in 2008, while 18 Brandon Wimberly will make his collegiate debut after redshirting last year.

Running back Vai Taua averaged two catches and 18.7 yards per game in 2008, while tight end 85 Virgil Green - a returning starter - averaged one catch and 12.6 yards. In otherwords, Nevada will go to checkdown options on ocassion, but the three wide receivers are Colin Kaepernick's main targets.

This season, Notre Dame will march out its most talented secondary in years. Robert Blanton gets the nod at one starting cornerback position, while the other will be a gametime decision between Raeshon McNeil and Darrin Walls. The indecision there comes from limited practice time for Walls due to a mild hamstring injury. But either player can fill the role admirably, as can any of their backups.

As mentioned above, both safeties are more than willing to help in run support. But they can't get greedy, or else Nevada will burn them over the top.

It remains to be seen how effective Notre Dame's pass rush will be, or how much pressure they'll try to get on Kaepernick. With an inexperienced front, the Irish may instead try to contain the run and let the defensive backs worry about the passing game.

Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. Nevada Pass Defense

When Jimmy Clausen let go of the ball in 2008, it didn't hit the ground much. Clausen completed 60.9 percent of his passes last year, 64.8 if you count his 17 interceptions. So which quarterback will the Irish get this year? The mid-November Clausen who forced passes into triple coverage? Or the December version who threw a "perfect game" in the Hawaii Bowl? The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle.

Clausen's 2008 receivers can be divided into three tiers: those who caught four or more passes per game (Golden Tate, Armando Allen, Michael Floyd), those who caught three per game (David Grimes), and those who caught one to two passes per game (Kyle Rudolph, Duval Kamara, Robert Hughes, Robby Parris).

Two questions arise from this list. One, who will move up to Grimes's tier? Rudolph, Kamara, and Parris are obvious choices, but don't count out any of the freshman, either. Two, who besides Armando Allen will catch passes out of the backfield? James Aldridge has only 11 career receptions, and Jonas Gray was not thrown to last year. Will one of them see more screens come their way in 2009, or will Hughes get to see the field just for this purpose?

The stars of Nevada's defense are its ends. 99 Kevin Basped had 18.5 TFL, 10 sacks, and three forced fumbles last year, while 55 Dontay Moch had 17.5, 11.5, and 4. Both are back to lead a veteran defensive line this year.

It's a good thing Nevada has such great pass rushers, because when the opposing quarterback did get the ball off, the results weren't pretty. The Wolf Pack gave up 311 passing yards per game in 2008. Its top two tacklers were both defensive backs, and only one of those two - free safety 49 Jonathon Amaya - returns this year. Amaya also led the Wolf Pack with four interceptions in 2008, followed by 2009's strong safety 25 Mo Harvey with three.

To prey on Nevada's defensive weaknesses, the Irish should employ a steady diet of screens (and draws) and deep passes. Fortunately, these are things the Irish excelled at in 2008. Notre Dame can also choose to spread Nevada's secondary thin with its bevy of talented receivers, or aid Jimmy Clausen and the line by keeping tight ends in to protect against the pass rush.

Special Teams

Nevada's placekicker is junior college transfer 46 Ricky Drake. Notre Dame's placekicker is freshman Nick Tausch, who won the job impressively in fall practice. Stats are not available for either player.

48 Brad Langley returns as Nevada's punter. In 2008, he averaged 44.0 yards per punt with a long of 77. How do mid-majors continue to land strong legs like this? Or is it just the thin mountain air and turf fields? Last season, the Wolf Pack punt coverage team gave up 9.2 yards per return, a very respectable number. Notre Dame returns punter Eric Maust as a scholarship player after averaging 41.1 yards per punt in 2008 with a long of 54. Last year, the Irish punt coverage team was outstanding, holding opponents to just 6.0 yards per punt return.

Nevada's kick returners are slated to be a combination of 24 Brandon Fragger, 5 Mike Ball, and Brandon Wimberley Of the trio, only Fragger returned kicks in 2008, averaging 18.2 yards with a long of 26. Nick Tausch will also kickoff for the Irish. He has been praised not for his ability to boot the ball out of the endzone, but for his hang time, which allows Notre Dame's fantastic kick coverage team a chance to get down the field. Last year, that kick coverage team gave up just 16.5 yards per return.

Notre Dame's choices for kick returner may be a bit of a surprise. James Aldridge and freshman halfback Theo Riddick start the year at that position. Last year, Aldridge returned one kick for 15 yards. Behind Aldridge and Riddick on the depth chart are freshman Shaquelle Evans and senior Barry Gallup. Nevada's kickoff specialist will be either Ricky Drake or sophomore 39 Nick Rhodes. Like Drake, Rhodes has yet to see field action for the Wolf Pack. In 2008, Nevada's kickoff coverage was pedestrian, giving up 26.1 yards per return.

The Wolf Pack have three players vying for punt return duty: 5 Thaddeus Brown, Vai Taua, and 24 Khalid Wooten. None of the three returned punts in 2008. Returning punts for the Irish will be either Golden Tate or Armando Allen. Tate averaged 8.3 yards per return in 2008, with a long of 42. Allen had an average of 9.4 with a long of just 22, but he did add a 96-yard kickoff return in the Hawaii Bowl.

Notre Dame Players to Watch

Jimmy Clausen, Armando Allen, Toryan Smith, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Nick Tausch, and Theo Riddick


Notre Dame 38, Nevada 24