Fresh off of an escape in Purdue last weekend, the Irish get set to welcome the revamped Washington Huskies to South Bend in week five of the college football season. Yes, this is a team that went 0-12 a season ago, a team the Irish defeated 33-7 on the road a season ago. However, its also a team that has already done something in 2009 that Notre Dame hasn't successfully done since 2001: Beat USC.
The Huskies are coming to South Bend fresh off a 34-14 loss at Stanford a week ago. In the loss the Huskies gave up 321 of the 424 yards allowed on the ground to the Cardinal, they have also allowed 250 rush yards against USC and 149 rush yards versus LSU during the year. Although in USC's case it didn't result in points, expect the Irish to follow the lead of these teams and come out trying to establish the run.
Unlike a week ago the Irish will be with Armando Allen this week. If he at all struggles or is limited in carries, Jonas Gray had an impact out of the backfield a week ago while Robert Hughes reintroduced himself to Fighting Irish fans. Through four weeks the Irish have rushed for 632 yards on 151 carries, good for 4.2 yards per carry, a yard better average per rush than from a year ago.
The Irish bread and butter of throwing the football will be tested on Saturday, Washington brings a strong pass defense and secondary to South Bend. Golden Tate is a playmaker as we have all learned, expect Charlie Weis to get the ball in his hands in creative ways once again this week. I do expect the Irish to come out with several more multiple tight end sets this week then we have seen early on. I fully expect Kyle Rudolph to lead the Irish in receptions on Saturday.
Duval Kamara did himself no favors a week ago with multiple illegal formation penalties. Shaq Evans also showed his green by costing the Irish a timeout when not knowing where to line up last week. No replacement for Michael Floyd has been found yet, I don't suspect the Irish find their go-to this weekend either.
Washington will be led by junior quarterback Jake Locker, a former five star recruit. Locker has had two years experience already and its starting to show as he's already thrown for over 1000 yards on the season. He has also added 74 rush yards with two touchdowns coming on the ground. He's an all around athlete, more along the mold of a Tim Tebow than a Tate Forcier, both of which are very successful spread quarterbacks.
Washington will attempt to establish the run like all teams against Notre Dame in order to pull the upset will have to throw the football with success. The running game of the Huskies is led by Chris Polk who has rushed for 316 yards this but is only averaging 3.8 ypc. Jake Locker is the second leading rusher on the team, as a whole they pick up 3.3 yards a carry but only 108 yards or so a week on the ground.
Steve Sarkisian brings a more successful passing game to Washington from USC as the new coach is having success throwing the ball already far beyond what Tyrone Willingham was able to do in Washington. James Johnson is the go-to receiver for the Huskies, he has 19 receptions, 220 receiving yards, and a touchdown. Locker will also look to Jermaine Kearse and Kavario Middleton who both have double-digit receptions.
The Irish enter Saturday's game as a 13 point favorite over the visiting Huskies. Sure Washington did beat USC but this is still a very flawed team coming to South Bend. The Huskies can't stop the run to save their lives, as long as Notre Dame doesn't get themselves into many third and longs they should be just fine putting points on the board.
While beating USC, the Huskies kept the Trojans from converting a third or fourth down the entire game. Sure USC was playing with a backup quarterback but their game plan was getting them into several third and longs, they also coughed the ball up one too many times.
The Irish appear to be getting healthier headed into their final game before a bye week. I expect a big day from Armando Allen as Charlie Weis comes in with a run heavy offensive game plan with the use of multiple tight end sets.
Nick (3-1): Notre Dame 28 Washington 17 (I had to change mine, Mark picked the exact same score as me originally and he got it to me first)
Mark (3-1): Notre Dame 31 Washington 20