Notre Dame vs. Washington: Keys to an Irish Win
Coming off a bye week Notre Dame travels to Seattle to face the win-less Washington Huskies. With the memory of a mistake-ridden loss to North Carolina fresh in the minds of the Irish players, a strong effort in the early going is a necessity. A convincing road win would go a long way to getting the second half of the 2008 season pointed in the right direction.
Despite conjured sub-plots by media sensationalists bent on the Willingham/Weis comparison, this game shouldn’t be much of a contest. The Huskies simply are not a good football team.
Washington is only averaging 17.7 points per game (the Irish surrender about 20). The Husky defense is allowing over 40 points per game (the Irish offense has averaged nearly 30 in their previous three contests). Throw in a –7 turnover margin for the Huskies and you quickly arrive at 0-6.
Washington’s defense surrenders over 230 yards per game on the ground and 250 in the air at a rate of 9.4 yards per attempt and 12.9 yards per completion. The last time Notre Dame faced a poor rush defense (Purdue) they ripped off more than 200 yards. Additionally, the new-found Irish spread passing attack should move the ball with ease against a porous Husky secondary.
If that isn’t enough, Washington allows opponents to move the chains on 61 percent of third downs and convert 88 percent of red zone tries into points. This provides a great opportunity for the Irish to improve their last-ranked red zone offense.
Offensively, the stat line isn’t much better for the Huskies. Washington is only managing slightly over 100 yards per game on the ground at a paltry three-yard per carry average. This should be welcomed relief for an Irish defense struggling against the run.
Washington is also only averaging 215 yards per game through the air. While they are able to go down the field with the ball, the absence of quarterback Jake Locker is a significant loss in the passing game. Look for Notre Dame to pressure backup Ronnie Fouch early and often.
If there is one area of concern for the Irish it should be allowing the Huskies in to get in the red zone. Washington is converting 65 percent of red zone opportunities into touchdowns.
- Urgency is imperative – The easiest way to lose to an inferior opponent is to allow them to keep the game close and continue to build confidence. The Irish must come out firing, score early, and show the killer instinct they lacked against Purdue, Stanford, and North Carolina.
- Run in the red – It’s no coincidence that the Irish are dead last in the country in red zone efficiency. The absence of an effective rushing attack is felt the most on a short field. Against a woeful rush defense Notre Dame must get their ground game going to take advantage of scoring opportunities.
- Protect the ball – I know, I know, this is a gimme. Not turning the ball over is a key to winning every game. But for the Irish it is important for two additional reasons. First, they are –7 in turnover margin in their two losses. Second, coughing up the football is the easiest way to not accomplish number one of this list.
- Blitz like hell – While the Irish haven’t been particularly productive in the sack column, they should still pressure Fouch early and often. Fouch is young and inexperienced, not extremely mobile, and plays behind an extremely porous offensive line. Applying pressure is the surest way to force mistakes and put the burden of winning on his shoulders.
- Tighten up on the outside – Of course, applying pressure is for naught if the corners don’t tighten up on the outside. The Irish defense needs to scrap the blended defensive schemes of defensive coordinator Corwin Brown and assistant head coach Jon Tenuta and commit to one.
- Don’t give any help – Similar to number three on offense, the defense must make the Huskies consistently move the ball to have success. Many times this season the Irish have had untimely penalties or given up third and long. This will allow Washington to stay on the field and in the game.
The matchups favor Notre Dame on both sides of the ball. On paper it would take a Herculean effort for Washington to come away with a victory. Notre Dame is more experienced (for once), more talented, and better coached. As such, the keys to victory are relatively benign and certainly obvious.
But if the San Diego State game was any indication, football isn’t played on paper. Notre Dame’s offense came out slow, turned the ball over, and took three quarters before springing to life. A much improved offense arrives in Seattle, and the Irish should have little trouble putting the Huskies away.