clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Opponent Breakdown: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Notre Dame and Louisville both need to win out to avoid disappointing seasons. Can the Irish offense stop making mistakes against a defense that causes teams to make so many?

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Brian Kelly is one of the top coaches in the country and he will be looking to get a win Saturday in hopes of getting a few ranked wins to end the season. Kelly has done great things at Notre Dame since his arrival, with a National Championship appearance and a Coach of the Year award under his belt. This season has been somewhat of a letdown with a close loss to FSU and a suspect strength of schedule. With his team coming off a very disappointing loss to Northwestern, you can bet that Kelly will have his team ready to improve on the mistakes that have killed his team.


Every offense depends on their quarterback to do one thing over everything else: protect the football. You can't consistently win games with a quarterback that doesn't value the football and Notre Dame is learning that the hard way. Everett Golson flat out doesn't value the football. There are quarterbacks that throw costly interceptions or have a tendency to fumble when being sacked. Golson makes it a point to try to make plays when the smart play would be to take the sack and protect the ball. Golson tries to make the spectacular play while in the grasp and it has bitten him a few times this year. Golson also has a tendency to stare down receivers while waiting on them to make their cut instead of looking off coverage and trusting his receivers. Golson is an NFL prospect so he's not bad by any stretch, but it is really easy to see his flaws. He has a big time arm and he can get the ball where it needs to go in a hurry. He also does a great job of extending plays with his mobility. He sidesteps rushers well and he can deliver a really good ball on the run. That's all aside from the fact that he can take off and hit the corner on read option and designed running plays. If the Golson that makes poor decisions shows up this weekend, it could be really hard for this offense to score points.

Nortre Dame has always been able to recruit nationally, but Brian Kelly's ability to get top players out of Florida has been a really big plus for his program. Tarean Folston is one of those big time prospects that he's gotten in the last few years. Folston is a smaller back that does a great job of letting his blocks develop and shooting through the holes they open. He's more quick than fast, but if he gets a straight line, he can absolutely take off. Folston has been the starter for the second half of the season and he has really been a bright spot for the offense. If Golson can limit his turnovers the Irish will have a good chance to use the same template that FSU did. Get the ground game going and try to wear out the Louisville defense. As good as Folston has been of late, he hasn't been able to really gas a defense because they have been playing from behind.

Notre Dame's wide receivers are one of the most underrated group of players on Louisville's schedule. They don't make a lot of big time plays, but they have situational attributes that really allow this offense to put together some really nice drives. William Fuller is the number one target for Golson and he already has 13 touchdowns on the season. Fuller can do just about anything you need from a receiver, but his speed is what is really utilized in this offense. Corey Robinson is a red zone and third down receiver for the Irish. At 6-4, he can easily out-jump guys when needed and he can also uses his size to wall off defenders when needed. He had a really big game against FSU's stellar secondary earlier this year. What Notre Dame has lacked from this group is the consistent big play threat. C.J. Prosise has made some plays but with some of the talent that they have recruited over the last few years I'm sure they expected more. Louisville has done a great job of limiting big plays this year. The secondary can't fall victim to Golson's big arm if he breaks contain.

The Irish offensive line had been having a solid season up until a few weeks ago. Arizona State got to Golson seven times and held the running game to 41 rushing yards in Tempe. As well as the running game has been lately, the pass protection has struggled just as much. Teams are bringing more pressure on Golson because of his awful ball control issues and the line has been exposed a bit. Edge rushers have had a lot of success getting upfield and forcing Golson to step up into pressure. That doesn't bode well against a defensive front led by Sheldon Rankins, James Burgess, and Keith Kelsey. Throw in the fact that B.J. DuBose and DeAngelo Brown led the team in tackles last week and you have an obvious potential issue for this line.

KEY PLAYERS: QB Everett Golson, RB Tarean Folston, WR William Fuller, LG Nick Martin


The Notre Dame defense is giving up 42 points a game over their last five outings. I could pretty much stop there and be done with it. The Irish defense has been unbelievably bad in the second half of the season and there's a very good chance that they were not very good in the first half of the season, also. They didn't play a good offense until they got to UNC and they promptly gave up 43 points. For all of the strong recruiting classes they've brought in since Kelly has arrived, the defense doesn't have a lot of playmakers. The defensive line will be without its top player in Sheldon Day so it will need Jarron Jones to play an outstanding game. The line is also down Jone's backup in Daniel Cage, so it will have to get off the field or risk being gassed late in the game. The Irish haven't gotten anything that would resemble a pass rush from the front four and with guys missing this week I wouldn't expect that to change.

I've tried to make it a point to make note of the types of players that we all looked forward to seeing on the field with the step up in competition. Jaylon Smith is definitely one of those guys. Smith was the second ranked prospect in the country coming out of high school two years ago and he hasn't disappointed at all. Smith is a sideline-to-sideline linebacker and he runs like a safety. A very fast safety. Smith has pass rushing ability that was showcased in high school, but he hasn't done much blitzing for the Irish. He's mostly used in zone coverage and man coverage in Brian VanGorder's NFL-styled defense. Smith can do anything you need from a linebacker and he will definitely be someone that I'm sure Petrino has schemed around.

Smith is joined at linebacker by two players that don't have a ton of experience. Nyles Morgan was a pretty big recruit coming in this season, but I don't think the coaches expected him to be starting at this point. Injuries have led to that and he is now being asked to man the middle linebacker spot. The SAM linebacker spot is manned by James Onwualu, who was a wide receiver this time last year. Neither is what you want if you're the Irish and with the struggles the defense has had of late, it's hard not to look at some of the guys that weren't playing early in the season as the possible reason for those struggles.

The secondary for Boston College was where their issues were really magnified and you could probably say the same thing for the Irish. The lack of pass rush has forced defenders to stay in coverage for way too long and injuries and suspensions have killed the unit. VanGorder's system is not very good in my opinion. It's made worse by the fact that he's asking guys to do things that they just can't do. In this scheme the safeties have to be able to match up in man coverage and Notre Dame doesn't have guys that can consistently do that. VanGorder tried to change up his personnel last week but he didn't see much improvement. Safeties were beaten repeatedly down the seams on double moves. It's a glaring weakness with this defense and a coach like Petrino will do everything he can to exploit it.

Cole Luke and Cody Riggs are serviceable cornerbacks but they aren't the type of lockdown guys you need to slow down DeVante Parker. Riggs was a backup for Florida in the Sugar Bowl a few years back so that could possibly help with knowing the opposing personnel a little better. Luke is a solid cover guy that has made a few nice plays this year. With Riggs being pretty undersized, I wouldn't be surprised to see Luke shadow Parker around the field. VanGorder could also go with Devin Butler in situational coverage as he is a tall, long corner. Matthias Farley is they usual nickelback for the Irish but he is really more of a safety. If guys like De La Cruz and Quick (if he plays) can get matched up with Farley and other safeties, it could provide Reggie Bonnafon with some easy throws.

KEY PLAYERS: DT Jarron Jones, OLB Jaylon Smith, CB Cole Luke, S Elijah Shumate, S Max Redfield


  • Brian VanGorder looks like a dirt cop from the 80's.
  • Brian Kelly left a lot of really pissed off players at Cincinnati when he left.
  • Notre Dame has been accused of covering up the rape of a student who later committed suicide.
  • A student filming practice was killed under Brian Kelly's watch.
  • Corey Robinson is the son of former San Antonio Spurs center, David Robinson.
  • MLB player Torii Hunter has a son on the team, also.
  • Chris Collingsworth's son, Austin is a senior safety.
  • I chose that picture for this post because it is probably my favorite picture ever.