The Notre Dame Fighting Irish will open the season up against the Rice Owls with a win on Saturday, which will be the expected outcome. But for Irish fans there is going to be so much more to watch within the game.
Lets start with the big news of the day from head coach Brian Kelly. Kelly stated in his press conference today that, KeiVarae Russell, DaVaris Daniels, Ishaq Williams and Kendall Moore would not play against Rice. Also he has not had any updates on those players. This is something that fans should pay attention to moving forward.
Speaking of academics, Everett Golson is going to make his return to the Irish on Saturday. Golson was suspended for the entire year last year after an academic violation. But in the offseason he was working with quarterback guru George Whitfield to improve his craft. Irish fans shouldn’t expect monster numbers from him in the opening game and a slow start could be possibly but in the long run working with Whitfield is going to be a big positive. Anytime a player takes a year off it means that they are going to be a bit rusty. It is nearly impossible to match the speed of the game in practice. But I expect his pocket presence and mechanics to be improved in this opening game.
Sticking with the offense, Kelly has said throughout the entire offseason that he wants to be aggressive on both sides of the ball. Fans should expect the offense to play with a lot more tempo. Expect the Irish to use a lot more no huddle on Saturday. That is something that the Kelly was famous for when he coached at Cincinnati but was hardly seen at Notre Dame. This switch should favor the Irish’s offense because it’s going to force Rice into more vanilla looks on defense. That in turn should help Golson get into a rhythm early and shake off the rust.
On the defensive side of the ball Irish fans are going to get their first look at new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who is going to employ a very aggressive 4-3 defense. That is going to be a switch from the 3-4 scheme that they used last year. An aggressive defensive scheme is going to take time to develop because everybody has to know there assignments and they have to be technically sound. All gaps on the defense have to be accounted for or else a big play could be on the way.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Notre Dame allowed a big play or two against Rice because it’s early in the season. But if they can find a way to play aggressive and sound football that is going to go a long way in putting Notre Dame in the playoff picture.
The Irish should win on Saturday but fans should pay attention to what is happening within the game. Golson play is going to be under the microscope after coming off a yearlong suspension. Along with Kelly being more aggressive on offense and using more tempo with his offense. VanGorder is going to be employing a new scheme that may have some growing pains. Finally, win or lose the Notre Dame players will be singing the alma mater after a team vote earlier in the week.