September 02, 2011

Notre Dame vs. South Florida - Unanimous Optimism

The interminable wait is over.  Tomorrow Brian Kelly leads his men out of the tunnel to an eruption of ND fans eager and hungry to see how close this tantalizing season of promise will meet expectations.  First things first - the South Florida Bulls.

Dan: Notre Dame
Expectations are high. The defense suddenly looks like a strength after years of being a gaping weakness. The offense returns most of the starters. It’s hard not to be optimistic and think that this year is BCS or bust. But first, Skip Holtz brings the Bulls of South Florida (USF! USF! USF!) to town. The key to the Irish defensive game plan is fairly simple – don’t let B.J. Daniels beat you scrambling and prevent Demetris Murray from any big plays on the edge. I feel confident that our new look Front 7 can accomplish that. On offense, I hope to see a plan similar to the latter portion of last year. Pound the ball early and often. Let that open the play action pass. 
I expect this to look close for a quarter, and then for ND to pull away. I think BJ Daniels will turn the ball over at least once, and ND will have success on offense. Look for ND to come out with a comfortable opening day win.  
ND 28 USF 13
Jeremy: Notre Dame
The Irish welcome Skip Holtz back to town, and he brings with him an athletic team that should given the ND offense a nice test in game one.  

BJ Daniels will command much of the attention, and he's got some nice weapons to play with.  Darrell Scott has to be labeled a bust at this point in his career, but he's obviously still extremely talented and Bob Diaco can't overlook the former Colorado RB in his gameplanning. 

On defense, the Bulls are a bit young, a bit small, but very fast.  Kelly will hopefully try to use the Irish's size along the offensive line to his advantage and establish the running game from the get go.  

Although most Irish fans are probably hoping for a big offensive explosion to open up Year Two of the Kelly Era, I think a low-scoring, defensive struggle is more likely.  Both teams slug it out throughout the 1st quarter, and the period ends with the Irish driving in a 0-0 game.  As the 2nd quarter opens, the Irish settle for 3, but get the ball right back after a BJ Daniels INT.  Another FG puts the Irish up 6-0, and that score holds until halftime.  

The Irish open the 2nd half scoring with a TD drive for a rather comfortable 13-0 lead.  The Bulls eventually get on the board with a FG in the 3rd quarter, but never get closer than 10 points.  The teams trade late TDs and the Irish move on with a very impressive defensive effort.  

As much I would love to see some serious offensive fireworks from Crist & Co., I'd much rather see the defense continue to repeat their late-season success from 2010.  I think they'll do it.

ND 20  USF 10

Jimmy: Notre Dame
Not sure what it says that I've been worried more about tailgate plans (food, playlist, parking spot, crew arrivals for early start in the lots, cold beverage choices...HARD decisions) than anything BJ Daniels will do on the field.  Sure, he's athletic.  But Bob Diaco's unit is on a mission.  The Bulls will find it difficult to score on Te'o & Crew.  

I hope Crist looks decisive in his reads and spreads the ball around to Riddick, Eifert, Wood, Jones and Floyd.  I see a few big game-breaking plays as opposed to sustained drives, though the latter would be a beautiful thing.  

The most encouraging signs may come with an improved special teams unit all around.  Riddick figures to become the best return man since Julius Jones, Ruffer will vie for the Lou Groza Award again, Turk will find an above-average consistency, Brindza should earn the defense some field position yards with booming kickoffs and the influx of young sophomores and freshman will be evident on coverage units as the depth at certain positions allows some guys to make their presence felt in this area.  Whether or not there's another Mike Anello on the roster remains to be seen, but special teams will win the Irish at least one game this season.  I trust there'll be plenty of cushion in this not-as-close-as-it-looks victory.

ND 26  USF 13

Matt: Notre Dame
Not mincing words.  ND will win convincingly.  Go Irish!

Mike: Notre Dame

Historically, I’ve been able to forecast ND’s performance opening game with a high degree of accuracy, despite my usual pessimistic bias.  While I am significantly more bullish on this year’s team than prior editions, I expect a tough opening game for the Irish this year.  South Florida played tough, physical football under Skip Holtz last year and the Bulls have plenty of quality players returning on defense this year, including DEs Ryne Giddins and Julius Forte, LBs DeDe Lattimore and Sam Barrington and four returning starters in the secondary.  USF also has a well respected defensive coordinator in Mark Snyder.  Accordingly, it would not surprise me if the Irish struggle a bit to move the ball against the Bulls defense, particularly in the first game of the season with Dayne Crist coming off a serious injury. 
Having said that, there is no reason why the Irish shouldn’t be able to shut down the USF offense completely.  The Bulls’ quarterback, B.J. Daniels, has ranged from below average to terrible throughout his career and he has struggled with hamstring problems this fall.  At the skill positions, USF’s feature running back, Darrell Scott, was a complete bust at Colorado despite his lofty prep reputation and their receivers are a ragtag collection of walk-ons and players either converted from other positions or coming off serious injuries (e.g., A.J. Love, Sterling Griffin).  Simply put, Notre Dame should dominate defensively.
On special teams, it would be nice to see an Irish kickoff or punt returner break a long return, but I won’t hold my breath.  Likewise, I’d like to see Kyle Brindza accomplish the elusive goal of forcing a touchback, a feat which has seemingly been unattainable for Irish kickers over the last 30 years.  But I digress.
Anyway, look for a physical, defensive game that will have Irish fans on edge until late in the 4th quarter.  In a game where points will be at a premium, Notre Dame will be able to move the ball effectively enough to pull away at the end for an opening day victory.  Rounds of Guinness on me (but not really).
Notre Dame 24  USF 10
Phil: Notre Dame
Dangerous season opener for the Irish, which kicks off a 3 game set that could determine the difference between 8-4 vs 11-1. Big sub plot as Skip Holtz returns to South Bend. Baby bro said the rumor around campus is that our defense will be stout and the offense steady. I have uncharacteristically high hopes for the Irish this year, even though I'm less than thrilled with Crist at the helm. Look for the game to be close late against the athletic Bulls, but the Irish pull it out. 
ND 27   USF 21

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