Stayin Sharp with Evan Sharpley. Irish look to extend home winning streak to 20 games

Irish look to extend home winning streak to 20 games

Closing the BOOK on Duke

Notre Dame’s offense sputtered early and often last week against Duke, but the Irish eventually pulled away to win their season opener. Next up on the schedule are the Bulls from USF.

Third-year starting QB Ian Book was up and down in game 1, going 19-31 263 1/1. The Fighting Irish went three-and-out on each of their first three possessions and were outgained 151-13 in the first quarter as Book struggled to adjust to new cast of characters at the skill positions. In fact, Book didn’t complete a pass to a receiver until the final minute of the first half. “No spring ball,” coach Brian Kelly explained to the South Bend Tribune. “So it’s not in a situation where he knows exactly where (his teammates) are going to be.” Fortunately, one of those new starters — sophomore running back Kyren Williams — picked up the slack with 112 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns. Williams was named ACC Player of Week

Notre Dame’s defense also did its part in prolonging the Irish’s home winning streak to 19 games. The Irish bent but didn’t break in the opening half, allowing just a pair of field goals despite giving up 245 yards, and finished the contest with seven tackles for a loss. It’ll be worth monitoring the health of safety Kyle Hamilton this week after the sophomore left in the second half with an ankle injury. I’d be surprised if he played against USF.

Bulls open with win against The Citadel

The Bulls were without three starting offensive linemen for undisclosed reasons in their season-opening 27-6 win over The Citadel. USF still managed to run for 302 yards and didn’t commit a turnover, but the Bulls had just 102 passing yards from the tandem of Jordan McCloud and Noah Johnson.

Coach Jeff Scott plans to continue playing both quarterbacks in USF’s first three games before pronouncing a starter in time for the team’s conference opener against Cincinnati next month.

USF’s defense held Citadel’s triple-option attack to just a pair of field goals and 16 first downs.

USF vs. ND

The secret is out on Notre Dame’s home dominance as the Irish are laying 20-plus points at Notre Dame Stadium for the third straight outing. Notre Dame has covered seven of its last nine games as home chalk of 20 points or more.

The Irish have a strong track record in this price range and should be motivated to bring a much better offensive showing after last week’s struggles. Expect Notre Dame to focus on shutting down the USF running attack, and the Bulls won’t be able to pass their way back into the game if they fall behind early.

Where to watch USF at Notre Dame

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 19 at 2:30 p.m. ET

TV: USA Network

Keep your eyes on THESE players for USF

Quarterback McCloud started for the Bulls a season ago and held off transfer challenger Cade Fortin (North Carolina) but will likely share time with Johnson (Alcorn State). McCloud only threw for 68 yards and a touchdown in the season opener against The Citadel, though he was efficient in completing 11 of his 16 passes. The Bulls ran for 302 yards (7.7 yards per carry) last week, with Johnny Ford leading the team with nine carries (71 yards) while Kelley Joiner Jr. totaled a team-high 87 yards and a touchdown on eight attempts. Johnson did see a bit of action in relief of McCloud, completing three of his four passes for 24 yards while adding 49 yards on the ground on seven carries. The 302-yard output is a welcome sign after USF finished 66th out of 130 FBS teams in 2019 with 161.3 rushing yards per game.

USF's defense struggled at times in 2019, which contributed to the Bulls losing five of their final six games and surrendering 30 or more points in three of them. In all, they finished 75th nationally in scoring defense with nearly 29 points allowed per game, with a nearly equal ranking in total defense at just over 398 yards allowed per game. But The Citadel amassed just 284 total yards last week against the Bulls. Antonio Grier led the team in tackles with 10 and a sack, while Mekhi LaPointe grabbed the unit's lone interception.

Who to watch for the Irish

Book was far from perfect against Duke, completing 19 of his 31 passes for 263 yards with a touchdown and an interception, as well as 12 rushing yards on nine carries. The interception was his first since tossing two — out of six total for the season — against Duke last November, with the 12 yards on the ground his lowest since notching five against Bowling Green last October. Who will step up at the WR for Book? That remains to be seen. If anything, expect a steady dose of Williams running the ball, which should open up opportunities for play action passes down the field. Will it be Braden Lenzy breaking out for the WRs? Let’s hope so. 

In holding Duke to just 13 points, Notre Dame's defense picked up right where it left off. In the two-plus seasons of defensive coordinator Clark Lea's tenure, Notre Dame has held all but one of its 27 opponents under 30 points. Linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah kicked off his senior season with nine tackles, a sack and a forced fumble while safety Shaun Crawford and defensive lineman Ade Ogundeji each recovered a fumble.

Prediction

The Bulls are 11-28 all-time against ranked opponents, with losses in all three such games last year. USF also is 4-12 on the road against ranked teams, its last such win coming — incidentally — in 2011 at Notre Dame. But as Notre Dame showed against Duke, its veteran-led defense is key to its continued success. Speaking of continued success, an Irish win on Saturday would extend its home winning streak to 20 games, which would be the second-longest in program history and is the third-longest active streak among Power 5 programs. Take the Irish! 42-13.

Stay Sharp!

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