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Notre Dame vs. Washington State: Keys to an Irish Win

By · October 29th, 2009 · 0 Comments
Notre Dame vs. Washington State: Keys to an Irish Win

Notre Dame takes on the Washington State Cougars in San Antonio this weekend, one week before returning to South Bend to host the Midshipmen.

The Irish offense looks to get on track against the Cougars, as the last two games have been the lowest production totals of the season. The defense, on the other hand, has been steadily improving against the run and on first down, albeit while giving up huge chunks of yardage through the air.

Washington State Version 2009

Washington State is led by former player Paul Wulff. Wulff is in his second year with Cougars, coming over from Eastern Washington University where he amassed a 53-40 record to go along with three Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year awards.

The Cougars enter Saturday’s game at 1-6, following a 2-11 campaign last season. The lone win this year came against Southern Methodist University, while the five losses have come at the hands of Hawaii and a host of Pac-10 foes.

In their five losses the Cougars have been outscored by an average margin of 26 points and have given up no fewer than 27 points in every game they’ve played. The first quarter has been especially difficult as Washington State has been outscored 112-3.

Wulff’s squad is -1 in turnover margin (ranked 67th), commits a fair amount of penalties (61.7 yards per game, ranked 79th), and only possesses the ball for 28:47 per game (90th). The Cougars occupy the 110th spot in the AV Ranking but have played the 13th most difficult schedule.


No matter how you slice it, the Cougars have struggled on offense this season.

Washington State ranks no higher than 55th in any meaningful offensive category, struggling mightily on third down, in the red zone, and running the ball. The Cougars have also surrendered 20 turnovers on the year (2.9 per game).

The strength of their offense is the passing game, but it isn’t overwhelming and much of the production is exaggerated by playing from behind. The offensive line doesn’t protect the passer (35 sacks or one per seven pass attempts) and the result is a passing offense that isn’t overly efficient.

Dwight Tardy spearheads the ground game for the Cougars with a team-high 57 attempts for 203 yards (3.3 yards per rush). However, James Montgomery and Carl Winston average better than 4.5 yards per carry.

Wulff has played three quarterbacks who have attempted 48 or more passes, but seems to have settled with freshman signal caller Jeff Tuel who has taken the majority of snaps over the past two games.

The receiving corps features three players with 20 or more receptions, but Jared Karstetter is the statistical leader of the group in receptions (24), yards (337), average per reception (14), and touchdowns (three).

See the tables below for a more in-depth look at the Cougar offense.

Washington State Offensive Efficiency

[table id=122 /]

Washington State Total Offense

[table id=123 /]

Washington State Rushing Offense

[table id=124 /]

Washington State Passing Offense

[table id=125 /]


With a few exceptions, the Cougar defense hasn’t fared much better than the offense.

The defense ranks second to last in total defense, allowing almost 500 yards per game (215.4 rushing, 284.1 passing) and giving up yards in big chunks on the ground (5.8 yards per rush) and in the air (nine yards per pass attempt, 13.4 yards per completion) to offenses that aren’t overwhelmingly productive.

About the only bright spots are third down and red zone defense. The Cougars allow opponents to convert only 35 percent of third down attempts (37) while surrendering points on only 70 percent of red zone opportunities.

Additionally, the defense has been opportunistic. Washington State has forced19 turnovers in their seven games (2.7 per game) including eight interceptions (41).

See the tables below for a more in-depth look at the Cougar defense.

Washington State Defensive Efficiency

[table id=126 /]

Washington State Total Defense

[table id=127 /]

Washington State Rushing Defense

[table id=128 /]

Washington State Passing Defense

[table id=129 /]


Washington State is a team with very few bright spots. The Irish hold a clear talent advantage at virtually every position in this game. The most difficult task for head coach Charlie Weis will be to make sure his players are motivated.

Notre Dame needs to come out strong, shake the rust off their offense, play better defense on long down-and-distance situations, and not play down to their competition. The Irish haven’t scored a touchdown with the lead since the first half of the Purdue game, have allowed 22 big gains in their last two outings, and have needed last-minute heriocs to produce several wins this season.

Hopefully a trip to warmer weather brings change and a host of backups can see meaningful action in the second half.



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