As Coach Weis alluded to in his brief comments today, the weather forecast for this weekend looks dreary in South Bend. The cool, wet weather should hang around all day Saturday, meaning that the game could be the first real “weather game” of the season.
The first thing that comes to mind when we talk about sloppy conditions is the new grass at Notre Dame Stadium. Last season’s field conditions were pretty atrocious, and the shoddy surface was the elephant in the room on most home broadcasts last season. Seemingly every game, there were plays were a running back lost his footing or a player’s cleats gave way as the grass slid out from under his feet. One of the big unspoken stories of Saturday will be how the new field holds up to the beating it takes. You’ve got to think that the bad track favors Notre Dame. They’ll have a familiarity with the surface and know precisely what cleats work best on the new grass, and will be in the friendly home confines of Notre Dame Stadium if equipment managers need to make quick adjustments.
Secondly, and more important than any sized cleat, is Washington’s 106th rated run defense. The resurgent Notre Dame running game and veteran offensive line has to feel like it can have it’s way with the undersized and undermanned Husky front seven, and a wet field would only help. Last week Toby Gerhart ran for 200 yards against the Husky defense, which is about an average day at the office for the UW defense. The UW defense is giving up 196 yards per game and a staggering 5.8 yards per attempt. Defensive coordinator Nick Holt admitted the problem was at the point of attack.
“Our inside guys need to play better,” Holt said. “When they run for that many yards, you are staying blocked inside… We need to have more production inside.”
The Irish offensive line needs to continue its stout play, and has to keep the yellow flag off the field. Also critical to the running game is Jimmy Clausen’s healing ability. If Jimmy is able to take snaps under center, the Irish will be more effective running the ball, as well as in the play-action passing game. If Weis coddles Clausen’s foot by sitting back in shotgun, he forces the Irish to rely on a different style of running plays, ones that weren’t anywhere near as effective as the Wildcat or the standard plays when Clausen starts under center.
Thirdly, turnovers will be a crucial part of Saturday’s contest. The Huskies have already lost four fumbles this season and the Irish three. And while no one has been able to muster many bad words for quarterback Jake Locker, one of the only knocks on Locker is his accuracy, and a slick ball won’t do anything to help that. From the Irish’s point-of-view, Weis already stated weather is his key with first time starter, true freshman punter Ben Turk.
“Just catch it first of all,” Weis said. “I think the most important thing is to just catch it and get it off.”
The weather always has a funny way of working itself out on a Notre Dame Saturday. But if the rain continues to fall in South Bend, it could become another key in a game ripe with subplots.