As promised, I’m taking a look into Sunday’s showdown in the Lone Star State between the Longhorns and the Fighting Irish. This season, I’m going to try something different for my Irish/Patriots previews and recaps. I guess you can go ahead and consider this a pilot, and we’ll see how this goes.
I’m going to start breaking things down into my keys to victory. If ND is interested in winning (I’d hope they are), these are my keys:
- Control The Clock: Typically, this wins you most games, and this is about as stereotypical as football advice can get. But as I said last week in my expectations piece, the Irish offense is going to look different this season. Last year, they could go get six pretty easily by throwing it up to Will Fuller or finding Amir Carlisle on a screen; regardless of who they were looking for, they could do it pretty quickly. This season? I don’t see the offense being as explosive. That’s not to say they can’t score, but I think there will be a lot more emphasis on the ground game, which actually works out this week since Texas really had issues finishing their tackles last season. That’s clearly the strength of the team, and it helps offset the biggest weakness, which is the defense. Keep the D off the field, feed Tarean and Adams.
- Stick With One Guy: Coach Kelly hasn’t backed off of playing both Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer. I’m still anti-two quarterback, but I’m not the coach. I’m not sure who Kelly will trot out there first, but whoever it is, if they start off fast, let them play. If Zaire comes in and runs for 50 yards and throws for 25 more on the first drive, give him the second drive. And if he keeps playing well, leave him in. Do not mess with tempo or momentum for the sake of playing both guys. Your job isn’t to keep them happy, your job is to win the game. The only way I foresee the Irish having a problem at the quarterback position if neither guy grabs the bull by the horns.
- Stack the Box: Like Notre Dame, Texas has a quarterback competition of their own. Unlike Notre Dame, neither of their guys are exceptional. Supposing the Longhorns use one quarterback, I’d expect it to be senior Tyrone Swoopes, who’s an impressive runner but a less-than-impressive passer. Coach Charlie Strong can’t afford to start this season off on the wrong foot, and though he’s apparently been switching to a spread offense, I just don’t think that’s the strength of this Texas team. They have a couple of good backs, in Chris Warren III and D’Onta Freeman. As inexperienced as ND’s secondary is, I’m okay with them going one-on-one against a team that had 9 touchdown passes last season. New coordinator or not, I’d rather see ND stack the box and go with man matchups on the outside.
- Take Advantage of Mistakes: Swoopes only turned the ball over 4 times last year, but he didn’t exclusively start until the last part of the season. He’s competing with freshman Shane Buchele, who is probably more fit to run a spread offense. However, he is still a freshman. Regardless of who’s playing, take advantage of any mistakes each quarterback will inevitably make, and there should be lots of them. Do not blow opportunities for turnovers by not capitalizing on Texas’s inexperience.
I don’t think Texas is a bad team – I see them as a 7-8 win team with the potential to get into a lower to mid-level bowl game. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the Longhorns. But I also don’t think their defense, which can’t stop a nosebleed, will be able to keep Tarean Folston, Josh Adams and Zaire/Kizer down. Despite the Irish’s inexperienced receiving corps, I don’t think they have anyone that can cover Torii Hunter Jr. when it comes time to throw the ball, either. I’m thinking the Irish win by about 17 on the road to start the season off.
P.S. – If you haven’t had a chance, check out this Players’ Tribune entry from a Texas great and one of my all-time favorite college players, Colt McCoy. I hope it doesn’t happen, but it’s really nice.
Cover Photo courtesy of USA Today.