The Notre Dame Fighting Irish open their season with an August 30 matchup against the Rice Owls and will look to improve upon their 10-3 record from a year ago. They will enter the season with an offense that has a lot of upside, but some of their expected key contributors are rather inexperienced.
Fighting Irish Offense
They will have the advantage of having quarterback Everett Golson taking snaps once again. Golson was suspended for academic reasons last year, but in 2012 he was the team’s starting quarterback for their undefeated regular season.
With a young supporting cast, Golson will have to become more than the game manager he was before – when he had the cast of T.J. Jones and Tyler Eifert to throw to, as well as Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood running the ball out of the backfield. Golson will be challenged all the way to the game against the Owls by sophomore Malik Zaire, who was the shining star of the spring game after throwing for nearly 300 yards. Regardless of who wins the starting job, the Irish will have a duel-threat option that will expand Notre Dame’s playbook.
The running back position will be an interesting one to keep an eye on, as leading rusher Cam McDaniel returns but could very well find himself third in the rotation behind two ultra-talented sophomores in Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston.
Folston made a strong case to be the team’s top running back by rushing for 470 yards as a freshman, while appearing in just nine games. Bryant was the other highly coveted running back in the class, rated even higher than Folston, but a leg injury prevented him from making an impact and limited him to just three carries. He was another spring game standout, however, rushing for 95 yards, and will make his case to be the starter in fall camp despite his lack of playing time last season.
The strength of the offensive unit could come from the wide receivers, which have an amazing blend of depth, youth, and skill. DaVaris Daniels is a star in the making and will get his first opportunity to be the go-to guy. He will be backed up by sophomores Corey Robinson and Will Fuller. Both have big play ability and made an impact at one time or another last year as freshman. Fuller has shown an amazing ability to track the deep ball over his head and come up with it. C.J. Prossie, Chris Brown, and Amir Carlisle will provide depth, and despite a talented group of receivers in front of him, don’t be surprised if freshman Justin Brent makes an early impact.
Ben Koyack will look to be the next in line of great tight ends at Notre Dame. Troy Niklas has shown there may be something in the water when it comes to the position, going from high school linebacker to second round pick as a tight end.
The senior Koyack made his 10 receptions from last year count, amassing 171-yards and three touchdowns. Behind Koyack will be two skilled, but inexperienced reserves in Mike Heuerman and Durham Smythe.
As for the offensive line, after being anchored by Zach Martin for the last four years, his younger brother Nick Martin will take that role. The senior has appeared in 24 games, 11 of them as a starter. He may be the anchor, but Christian Lombard is the veteran of the group. A veteran of 33 games (20 starts), the grad student will look to close out his Notre Dame career on a high note.
After coming to Notre Dame as a tackle (like Lombard), Steve Elmer will kick inside to guard and take over Chris Watt’s spot. Ronnie Stanley is the only returning lineman to not only play in but start each game last season. He will book end the line with Mike McGlinchey, who did not see game action last year.
The Irish will have a lot of contributors who will be in their first or second year of playing at Notre Dame, but despite the youth they remain a potentially dangerous offense. The success of the team will likely depend on their ability to adjust quickly to their new roles.
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