As mentioned earlier this week,t he official opponent preview is a little bit different. The noted Notre Dame blog. UHND.com offered to provide a scouting report on the Irish as long as I provided them a Purdue report. Frank Vitovitch posted my report over at his site this morning, and what follows here is his outlook on the Fighting Irish.
Notre Dame's Offense
The Irish offense suffered a major loss when star wide receiver Michael Floyd broke his collarbone in the second quarter of last weekend's Michigan State game. Floyd was approaching uncoverable status after catching six touchdowns in his first nine quarters of football this year. Floyd's absence deals a major blow to what was quickly becoming the most explosive Irish offense in the Charlie Weis era.
Last year when Michael Floyd got hurt and missed the final two and a half games, the Irish offense really staled and was unable to sustain drives. The difference this year for Notre Dame is that the Irish actually have a running game to fall back on. Armando Allen has run for more than a 100 yards in back to back games after eclipsing the century mark just one time last year. That one time was against Purdue when he ran 17 times for 134 yards. Allen's been a much different back this year. He's run much tougher and is getting more yards after contact than he ever has in his Irish career.
The Notre Dame offensive line is vastly improved this year as well. The line, under new OL coach Frank Verducci, has officially only allowed two sacks in three games this year. Considering Notre Dame set a NCAA record for sacks allowed in 2007, that is quite a turn around.
Floyd's absence won't deter Notre Dame from passing the ball though. Junior quarterback Jimmy Clausen is having an excellent season so far and has been extremely accurate. Clausen has completed 62 of 91 passes for 951 yards with 9 touchdowns and zero interceptions ranking him second in the nation in quarterback rating. It's not just Clausen's stats that are impressive this year though. He's stepped up his game in all aspects including his leadership. Clausen was voted a team captain this year and showed a lot of heart playing most of last week with a very noticeable limp.
Clausen was injured against Michigan State and has a case of turf toe this week. All signs are pointing to Clausen playing this weekend though. He was limited in practice Wednesday, but is expected to fully participate Thursday. The Irish will then evaluate how Clausen responds. Based on Weis's and Clausen's remarks this week though, they fully him #7 lining up under center this weekend.
Assuming Clausen plays, he will still have star receiver Golden Tate to throw to. Tate has had back to back 100 yard games and has scored three touchdowns the past two weeks. Tate is one of the best deep threats in the country and despite a couple drops the past two games, he normally has great hands. Tate has developed into more than just a deep threat though. He is very dangerous with the ball in his hands and with Floyd out, I expect Weis to try and get Tate the ball in space much more than he's been in order to let him make some plays after the catch.
Tate received a lot of attention and double teams last year when Floyd was hurt and I expect teams to do the same to him this year until Notre Dame shows they have other options in the passing game.
Notre Dame has a lot of options to replace Floyd with. Junior Duval Kamara and senior Robby Parris are listed as the co-starters at Floyd's z-receiver position on the Notre Dame depth chart. Both are solid options, but neither are the deep threat that Floyd was. Kamara though is a huge target for Clausen and is tough to cover with a corner because of his size - 6'5"220 lbs.
The x-factor at receiver for the Irish with Floyd out is freshman Shaquelle Evans. Evans is one of the fastest players on the team and has pretty good size for a freshman at 6'3", 200 lbs. He's seen a little bit of action so far this year (2 catches for 15 yards), but Weis hinted that his role could expand now that Floyd is out.
Also helping to fill the void left by Floyd will be tight end Kyle Rudolph. The sophomore tight end is coming off a career high 95 yard receiving day and is very tough to cover one on one with a linebacker. He is going to have to become a much bigger part of the passing game for the Irish.
Notre Dame has also used the wildcat formation quite a bit this year. Against Michigan State, the Irish scored two touchdowns out of the wildcat - one on an Armando Allen run and another on an Allen to Robby Parris touchdown pass. Even before the injury to Floyd, Notre Dame used the wildcat quite a bit with Allen lining up under center.
If Clausen is unable to play this weekend or gets injured worse during the game, Notre Dame will turn to sophomore Dayne Crist. Crist is a former five star recruit who has picked up the offense well in his second season. If he has to play for any extended period of time this weekend though, it will likely drastically affect what the Irish are able to do.
Notre Dame Defense
The Irish defense has been the Achilles heel for Notre Dame this season. Jon Tenuta's blitz happy defense has been getting gashed for big yardage all season and has nearly allowed game winning drives by opponents in back to back weeks. Two weeks ago against Michigan the Irish defense let freshman Tate Forcier march the Wolverines down the field for the game winning score in the final seconds. Last weekend they nearly let Michigan State's Kirk Cousins do the same before Kyle McCarthy came up with the game and possibly season saving interception.
Notre Dame's been susceptible to both the run and the pass at times this season. Against Nevada and Michigan, the defense gave up large chunks of yards on the ground. That changed last weekend when Notre Dame allowed Michigan State to throw for 354 yards while limiting them to 105 on the ground.
The biggest problem for Notre Dame has been the pass rush or rather the lack thereof. Jon Tenuta's defense requires a lot of blitzing and so far this season, those blitzes have been largely ineffective. The rush has only gotten to opposing quarterbacks four times in three games which has left the Notre Dame secondary very vulnerable. The secondary should be a strength for the Irish defense this year, but the lack of a pass rush has really put them in some unfavorable situations.
Tackling has been a major issue for the Irish defense as well. Notre Dame has missed a ton of tackles this season and has shown some poor fundamentals. Notre Dame's linebackers specifically have done a poor job of wrapping up and making stops this year. The top two tacklers amongst the linebackers for the Irish, Brian Smith and Toryan Smith, have combined for just 25 tackles in three games.
There were, however, a few glimmers of hope for the Irish in an otherwise dismal defensive performance on Saturday. Defensive tackles Ian Williams and Ethan Johnson started to emerge a little bit and were getting nice penetration on running plays. Johnson, a converted defensive end, really struggled the first two weeks but started to come on a bit last weekend.
The Irish secondary also was in position to make some big plays last week, but just couldn't come up with them. Senior cornerback Darrin Walls had two sure picks bounce off his hands. As did fifth year senior safety Ray Herring on the game's final drive. Sophomore Robert Blanton had an opportunity for a fourth quarter interception that he failed to come up with as well. So there have been plays to be made for the Irish defense - they just haven't been making them. Most of these plays have come on the few instances when the Irish pass rush has put some pressure on the opposing quarterback.
Tenuta's scheme is very much a high risk/reward system which makes coming down with turnovers when they are there extremely important.
Notre Dame played a lot of different personnel last week which could suggest that they are still looking for who the best players are. Based on the defensive performances the past two weeks, it wouldn't be surprising to see some personnel changes this week. One such move could be getting Manti Te'o, the all world linebacker recruit, onto the field more.
Even with some personnel changes though, the Irish defense remains a major cause of concern for Notre Dame. The Irish will live and die by how much pressure they are able to generate on opposing quarterbacks this year and so far, they haven't been able to generate a whole lot of it.
Notre Dame Special Teams
Notre Dame was one of the best kick coverage teams in the country last season, but this year they are breaking in a freshman kick-off man in Nick Tausch. At timesTausch has had problems getting his kicks deep enough which has resulted in some big returns - most notably Darryl Stonnum's return for touchdown two weeks ago.
Tausch has been a little shaky place kicking as well. He missed an extra point against Michigan State and missed his first collegiate field goal attempt - a 28 yarder against Michigan. Since missing the 28 yarder though, Tausch is 4 for 4 with two of his kicks coming from over 40 yards.
In the return game, Notre Dame will look to get speedy freshman running back Theo Riddick the ball as often as they can on kickoffs. Riddick has a really nice burst and has had a couple nice looking returns already. If the Irish can create a seem for him to run through, it looks like he has the extra gear to exploit it.
This weekend will show just how good of an offense the Irish have. It's impossible to replace someone with the skill of a Michael Floyd, but Notre Dame has enough talent at the skill positions to be able to get by much better than they did a year ago. I could see Notre Dame coming out in a spread out five receiver set like they did against Michigan State this weekend to spread Purdue out in an attempt to keep them from focusing too much on Golden Tate. I also think we'll see more of the wildcat this weekend to try and keep Purdue off balance.
This game will come down to which defense shows up for Notre Dame. Will the one that shut out Nevada and got to the quarterback or the one that got torched the last two weeks make the trip to West Lafayette? If it's the latter, this game will likely follow the script of the last two Notre Dame games - a high scoring affair decided in the fourth quarter.
Thanks for stopping by, Frank. Frank was also kind enough to provide some game wraps of Notre Dame's previous three games, as well as an outlook on how the Irish offense will adapt to losing Michael Floyd.