Monday, January 02, 2006

Viva La Fiesta

We’ll address how we all can celebrate the Dolphins’ Super Bowl victory next year, why Bengals/Steelers Round Three is so gosh-darn exciting, New Years at Niagara Falls and the potential redemption of the SEC later in the week, but for now, there’s the matter of the Buckeyes and the Irish.

There seems to be a general sentiment among the analysts and talking heads across the sport of college football: Notre Dame vs. Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl is probably going to be the best bowl game of the season.

They also feel that Ohio State is going to win.

Is this a reasonable opinion? Sure. Jim Tressel has been some kind of wonderful in bowl games, and any time you put a mobile quarterback that also throws at a high efficiency against the Irish defense, you’re going to have troubles for the Domers. Charlie Weis is coaching in his first bowl game, Brady Quinn and the Irish offense are playing in their first truly big game (you could argue Rocky Top and Stanford were as well, but come on) since October 15th .

The Ohio State University is seeping with talent on offense and defense. The linebacking corps is almost mythical in the way they’re talked about, and the skill positions on offense are loaded, starting with Holmes and Ginn on the outside and moving in to the backfield of Smith and Pittman. After a slow start where there was a quarterback controversy and some poor play-calling (mainly the Penn State contest), the offense has started rolling, albeit through some rather crappy opposition. The defense, however, has been a constant all year, holding conference champs Texas and Penn State to well below their season average in the games they played.

But Notre Dame has not been without their positive attributes. The offense has been dazzling for most of the season, and with Heisman fourth place finisher Brady Quinn already announcing his intentions to return next season, there will be nothing to distract him during this game outside of the scarlet and grey milling around him. Chances are good that we don’t start strong rushing, simply because that area favors Ohio State, but enough passing to the outside and down the seams will spread out the opposing defense and give D-Walk and Travis Thomas some lanes to run. A healthy Buckeye secondary won’t make things easy on Samardjiza, Stovall, Shelton and Fasano, but if anyone will gameplan to the Irish strengths and the enemy’s weaknesses, it’s Coach Weis.

On defense, things might get dicey. If you were to design a team that would give the Irish trouble, it would be one that can go vertical and run the option well, which Troy Smith and company are capable of doing. But we’ve got a defensive line that can get after the quarterback, linebackers that can stuff the run and two play-making safeties. If the corners can get some help from Zibby and Chinudem, meaning we’ll need to be able to stop the run with the front seven and not need safety help, they’ll be able to slow down the Ohio State passing attack. The other problem we’ll face with the front seven is the fact we’ll need to pressure Smith without losing contain and allowing him to improvise outside of the pocket in the open field.

I think we can do it. I think Weis is going to scheme up an offense that’ll be more than capable of scoring on Ohio State’s defense, and barring the return of Happy Feet Brady, we’ll put enough points on the board to win. On the other side of the ball, it’ll be interesting to see the amount of pressure and run stoppage we can get without bringing a safety into the box, as the ability to keep the safeties deep will be critical with the best playmakers on offense we’ve seen since a certain Number Five was lighting up the Stadium.

Is it going to be a battle? Absolutely. Is it going to be memorable? More than, as it’ll always go down as the first of many bowl games in Charlie Weis’s career and the real test of whether Notre Dame is truly “back”. Will we have to hear at least ten comments about AJ Hawk dating Brady Quinn’s sister? Ten will be the very minimum. But it’s going to be a dandy.

Go Irish, Beat Buckeyes.

Notre Dame 35 Ohio State 31

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