I was on the Notre Dame website today to gather some information for my preview and noticed that the Fighting Irish are calling Saturday's game against Washington State the "Showdown in San Antonio." When I hear "showdown" I assume that it's going to be a close game...a real battle between two teams. I really hope that's the case this weekend.
The Cougars play No. 23 Notre Dame at the Alamo Dome at 4:30pm. The game will be nationally televised on NBC. Like I've said before, it's a going to be a really cool atmosphere, but I hope it's not too overwhelming for Wazzu. It's an unknown location, against a really good team, with the pressure of playing on TVs across the country.
Read my previous blog to find out how this game came about. In short, WSU is getting a boat load of money and some really good exposure.
Notre Dame is very capable of scoring points (they average 30 points per game). They are led by Heisman Trophy candidate Jimmy Claussen. There is no other way to put it...he is really good. Claussen has completed 65 percent of his passes for 2,050 yards (292.9 yards per game) and 16 touchdowns this year. On top of that, he has only thrown two interceptions.
Claussen's top target is Golden Tate (one of the best names in college football). He has 52 receptions for 847 yards and eight touchdowns this season. He is a more than capable of breaking a game open all by himself. Tight end Kyle Rudolph is another guy who will be targeted on Saturday. He has 25 catches for 285 yards and three TDs this year. After that, the Fighting Irish spread the ball to different guys. Robby Parris, Duvall Kamara, and running back Armando Allen will also probably catch the ball a time or two.
Notre Dame does not run the ball nearly as well as they pass it. They average only 132 yards on the ground every game. The leading rusher is Allen. He's run for 514 yards this season (85.7 ypg) and three touchdowns. Robert Hughes will also see carries on the goal line (he is 5'11" 234 lbs.). He has three touchdowns this season. Other than that, the Irish don't have many other running threats (Jonas Gray might get a couple of carries).
Defensively, Notre Dame is just OK. They don't do a bad job stopping the run (they allow only 127 yards on the ground per game). The Cougars said they want to establish the running game against the Irish, but that might be difficult. Washington State will find much more success going to the air. Notre Dame has the fourth worst passing defense in the country, allowing 282 yards per contest. To put it in perspective, the Cougars are right behind them at 284 yards a game. Jeff Tuel, who threw for 354 yards and two touchdowns against California, could have another field day against Notre Dame (it all depends on the offensive line).
The biggest key to the game is not allowing the Irish to jump out to an early lead. The Cougars have been miserable at stopping teams in the first quarter. Like I said in my previous blog, WSU has been outscored 112-3 in the opening stanza this season. If the Cougars can limit Notre Dame's production early in the game I truly believe Wazzu can stay in the game.
The Fighting Irish have allowed teams to compete with them all year. If you don't count the 35-0 season opening win against Nevada, Notre Dame has won the rest of their games by an average of four points per game. Close games are what the Irish are all about this season. Their only lost two losses were by four points to Michigan and seven points to USC.
Notre Dame is favored by 27.5 points. I think the Cougars will cover the spread (they've covered in all but two games this year). Again, it's going to depend on how well the defense plays early and how well the offensive line protects Tuel. Even in a perfect world, I don't see Washington State winning on Saturday (unfortunately). I think Notre Dame takes down WSU, 34-17.
As a Cougar football fan, I think it's exciting that WSU gets a chance to play against one of the most prestigious college football programs in the country. I went to the last game between the two at Notre Dame in 2003. Washington State lost 29-26 in overtime (I still can't find it in my heart to forgive Drew Dunning), but it was easily one of the coolest sports moments I have experienced.
Saturday's game will be fun to watch...I just hope my prediction is dead wrong and the Cougars will be celebrating a victory on the turf of the Alamo Dome (wishful thinking, but you're not a true fan if you don't have hope).
That's all I have for now.