Washington (2-2) faces Notre Dame (3-1) in a non-conference game Saturday at South Bend, Indiana. The Huskies will be trying to rebound from a 34-14 loss to Stanford, which knocked them out of the Top 25. The previous week the Huskies upset the #3 team in the country USC. A victory over the storied Notre Dame program would be another feather in first year Coach Steve Sarkisian's hat.
Washington is capable of winning this game if they avoid giving up the turnover and pick up a few themselves. The Irish really haven't been a sloppy team this year so those turnovers have to be earned with pressure and hard hitting.
Looking through the matchups you have to give the honest edge to the Irish in this one not only because of the home advantage but because this is their fifth consecutive season without Ty Willingham at the helm. That means Charlie Weis has stocked the shelves with five top ten classes and led them with a little more enthusiasm than his much maligned predecessor.
Weis isn't without his critics. He has never won a game that he was not supposed to win. To his credit he has won the majority of those type of games and that is why he was granted another season to get it right. The schedule was set up for a 12 win season but the Irish really don't have the look of a top 25 team yet. Consider them a work in progress that just wants to get to the bye week to get healthy.
When Weis came to Notre Dame he wasn't the first choice. Notre Dame abruptly fired Tyrone Willingham so they could hire Urban Meyer. Irish fans were disappointed to learn that Meyer thought Florida was a better opportunity at the time. He is still rumored to be in the wings if Weis falters this season.
So far this season Weis has escaped by the skin of his teeth. His Irish could easily be 1-3 right now if it wasn't for last second wins over Michigan State and Purdue. Washington was circled as an automatic win on the schedule this season and if the Irish fall on Saturday that large hot seat will only get hotter. It is very conceivable that if he doesn't win at least nine games this season he will be out. Firing a coach with an 8-4 record? It can happen at Notre Dame.
Washington head man Steve Sarkisian on the other hand arrives on the magic I can do no wrong carpet. Despite the 2-2 record and a poor showing at Stanford Husky fans are in love with him. Expectations are lessened when you take over an 0-12 team. That doesn't mean that the Washington fan base is complacent. The close loss to LSU and the win over USC has awakened them. All week before the Stanford game the talk was all about how quickly the corner was turned and the price of airline tickets to Pasadena.
Not so fast as Lee Corso has said one too many times. Washington can beat anyone left on the schedule but as we saw last week they can also get stuffed and left for dead. That light at the end of the tunnel was Toby Gerhart riding the proverbial freight train right up Washington's gut.
So this week it all comes down to a tale of two coaches leading struggling football programs. One has already beat a team nobody thought his team was capable of beating and the other one is still waiting. The point is the urgency is much greater right now on the Irish sidelines. If the Irish lose on Saturday to Washington it may just be the deciding nail in his coffin at the end of the season.
Quarterback - Washington - Jake Locker has the edge for a couple of reasons. He has the better arm and he can run a lot faster than Jimmy Clausen. This is actually pretty close but the turf toe injury clearly gives UW a big advantage. If Clausen was at 100% I would call it even.
Running Back - Even - Chris Polk has been solid for Washington all season and Homer is one of the better blocking backs in the country. Notre Dame counters with Armando Allen who is the best running back they have had in awhile. Injuries have hurt the Irish running game but they have found ways to be creative and win games.
Wide Receivers - Even - Washington's receivers were humbled last week at Stanford. If they had played that way the entire season ND would have the edge. All that being said the Irish have some serious speed and I would give them the absolute nod in this category if Michael Floyd was healthy. UW doesn't have Michael Floyd type player on the roster. So we call it even because the Irish won't have one till November.
Tight End - Notre Dame - I don't care if the Irish put Charlie Weis out there on Saturday. Whoever they have is going to block better than Kavario Middleton and approach the game with more fire. Expect Chris Izbicki to see more playing time this week. Just take one look of the photo ND TE Kyle Rudolph shows you at least what a BCS TE should look like...nice pipes.
Offensive Line - Notre Dame - The Irish have recruited well but have not gotten the production out of this unit they would have liked till this season. This is not a great line but man for man they have more talent and ability than Washington. The edge isn't huge but the Irish have put up some respectable numbers.
Defensive Line - Even - The Irish are young and smallish up front and have former UW assistant Randy Hart coaching them. My friend Chris over at Rakes Of Mallow insists this is the weak part of the Irish defense. I am tempted to give the Huskies an edge but after what happened at Stanford I can't do it. Count on DTN to be double and triple teamed all day. Randy Hart just may know a little something about DTN.
Linebacker - Washington - The Irish are young and talented but the Huskies have more experience. EJ Savannah has a broken hand and a foot problem that could keep him out. Usually that would tip the scales but Cort Dennison has actually filled in well for him. Give the Irish LB's some more time to season and they will be better than Washington.
Secondary - Even - Statistically you would have to go with Washington. Statisitics do lie because with the exception of Idaho we haven't faced a true passing team like the Irish. Notre Dame has given up a lot of yards through the air this season. If you harken back to Idaho things were less than satisfactory. Jimmy Clausen on one foot or not is a better QB than Nathan Enderle. Whoever defends the pass the best will win this game.
Special Teams - Notre Dame - Better depth and overall talent always tips the scales as far as I am concerned. Washington has not been terrible this season. The Owusu mistake last week was simply a mistake. For the most part we have covered adequately. Our return game hasn't produced anything this season. The coaches are making changes and one change is Jordan Polk won't be back there anymore because of his blocking ability. We need return yards.
Game Match ups
Washington running game versus the Notre Dame defense
The Irish shut down a pretty good running attack led by one of the best young running backs in the country last week. The young Irish defenders up front are obviously improving from week to week. Washington needs to do a better job on the line of scrimmage. Stanford man-handled these guys last week. Chris Polk as usual picked up his 70 tough yards but he is capable of so much more if the line can give him some room to run.
This will not be the most talented defensive line we face this season. In fact three out of the four we have faced this season were appreciable better on paper. I have the feeling our offensive line has something to prove after the butt kicking they received last weekend. If we can run on USC and LSU we can run on Notre Dame.
We expected Jake to run more last week against Stanford but it didn't happen. He dominated them two years ago so most of us thought it made sense. Sarkisian was blunt about it on Monday. He isn't going to sacrifice the health of his QB to spark the running game. Jake's health is way to important for the team to risk it.
If there are more than 2-3 designed running plays for Jake on Saturday I will be surprised by it. Expect Sark to use that card on a final drive. Don't expect him to use it 12-15 times per game.
Washington Passing Game versus the Notre Dame defense
For the 47th time...Jake Locker had an off game last week and didn't get a lot of help from his receivers or offensive line. We expect Jake to bounce back because it is very rare to see him have two bad games in a row. Notre Dame's defense is not of the same caliber as LSU, USC, and Stanford so he should be able to work the Notre Dame secondary for 250-300 yards.
One thing in Washington's favor this week is the Irish defensive line. Our zone blocking scheme should match up well against what Jon Tenuta is going to try to do. Tenuta is fond of the blitz but his defense has not done as well with it as he would like. The Irish have six sacks on the season. If Washington can handle the blitz with a combination of blocking and the mobility of Locker it should open up some big plays in the seams of the Irish defense.
Mike Holmgren was at the USC game and he commented that some of Jake's passes, especially in the fourth quarter were as good as any QB in the NFL could do. Heady praise from a guy who knows more than a thing or two about the passing game.
No comments from Mike on what happened at Stanford.
Notre Dame rushing game versus the Washington defense
Notre Dame is rushing better this year but i would hesitate to call them a good rushing team. The run blocking is better and they have been able to come up with enough yards to maintain a semblance of balance. The injuries have been a problem for them at this position. Last week they actually pulled out the Wildcat featuring Golden Tate to produce some key yards against Purdue.
We all know that Washington had a lot of trouble stopping the run against Stanford. We do seem to doa better job against slasher and cut back artist than we do the Mack Truck that was Toby Gerhart. If Notre Dame still had Jerome Bettis I would just hand the ball off to him 50 times. They don't have that type of an offense or player like that anymore. They would rather pass first and run second just to provide balance.
I expect Washington will do a better job stopping the run this week but Notre Dame should be able to pick up yards when they need to.
Notre Dame passing game versus the Washington Defense
Jimmy Clausen was supposed to be the next Joe Montana. Not sure if anyone will ever be the next Joe Montana. He hasn't even become the next Brady Quinn but he is one of the best quarterbacks we will face this year. Even with Michael Floyd out he has a bevy of talented receivers to choose from. These kids know how to get to the ball and they are very capable of causing a lot of damage.
If I were Charlie I would try to do the same thing Idaho did against us. I would attack the Washington defense with high percentage passes in front of and just over the linebackers. Weis likes to call the game the way he wants with little relation to scouting the other team's weaknesses. He likes the long ball and will try to use that speed coupled with Clausen's arm to try to burn us deep.
Washington needs to apply pressure to Jimmy. They need to sack him and make him feel some pain. If he doesn't get pressure and has four seconds the throw like Idaho's Nathan Enderle did it could be a very long day.
The special teams battle
Washington can't give up a cheap seven points to Notre Dame like we did to Stanford last week. The Huskies need to start creating a little magic of their own in the return game. The punting and place kicking have been solid this season so far. We need a little extra this week on returns to win this phase of the game. The Irish have more speed so we need to negate that in some way.
Washington needs to have at least a plus two turnover ratio to win this game.
The Notre Dame crowd and the mystique of the campus are always worth at least seven extra points at home for the Irish. It is hard to not enter this stadium and be intimidated by the history that surrounds you. There are bigger places, noisier places, and more fancy places...but no other place has Jesus signalling a touchdown.
Former long time Washington Assistant Coach Randy Hart is the Irish Defensive Line Coach. Life is good for Randy.
Notre Dame will try to improve to 8-0 all-time against the Huskies in Saturday's 3:30 p.m. EST contest. The game will be telecast by NBC.
Jimmy Clausen's 2-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph with 24.8 seconds remaining gave Notre Dame its victory over Purdue. That came one week after Kyle McCarthy's late interception at the Irish 4-yard line preserved a 33-30 triumph over Michigan State. A week before that, Michigan scored on a Tate Forcer-to-Greg Mathews TD pass with 11 seconds remaining to beat Notre Dame 38-34.
The Huskies' run defense ranks 106th of 120 teams in the NCAA Bowl Subdivision, giving up 195.8 yards per game. the huskies are giving up an average of 185 yards per game through the air.
Notre Dame is giving up 398.9 total yards per game, including 259.2 passing.
Jake Locker is 79-for-136 passing for 1,002 yards. Locker, who's been intercepted three times, has thrown six touchdowns and run for two.
Jimmy Clausen is fourth in the nation in passing efficiency with a rating of 172.86. He's completed 77 of 117 passes for 1,122 yards and 10 touchdowns. He's been intercepted just once.
The Irish defense held the explosive Purdue running game to only 74 yards last week.