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Saturday, September 8, 2001
The keys to a Notre Dame victory
By Terry Bowden
Special to ABC Sports Online
Bowden's Weekly Chat Show
We haven't seen Notre Dame since its less-than-impressive performance in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. On Saturday night, if Nebraska plays its best football and Notre Dame plays its best, Nebraska is likely going to win.
For Notre Dame to have a chance, there a number of things it must do.
Slow down Nebraska's rushing attack
Nebraska does not mix it up well on offense. If the Huskers can't run the ball effectively, they don't have much else to turn to. It sounds like a simple strategy, but if it were, Nebraska wouldn't lead the nation in rushing nearly every year.
For Nebraska, it is important to limit the number of times Eric Crouch runs the football, but from Notre Dame's standpoint, the opposite is true. When he is gaining a lot of yards running with the ball, Nebraska is at its best.
The first thing you have to do is make sure you stop Crouch, or force him to pitch the ball.
The key to stopping the option is to make sure that each person on defense plays assignment football. Whoever is responsible for the dive has to take the fullback. Whoever is responsible for the quarterback has to take the quarterback. And whoever is responsible for the pitch has to take the pitch. The safeties have to read the run and play the alleys perfectly. Once somebody starts to cover for somebody else's job, that's when trouble starts.
The safeties are important because they fill the alleys and lanes. That's why Nebraska should hurt people by faking the option and throwing to the tight end in the middle of the field because the safeties thought it was going to be a run.
You can use schemes to make sure the quarterback reads all the options and the only one he has is to keep the ball. Against Nebraska, you don't want Crouch keeping it.
But Nebraska is not just an option football team. The Huskers also run a power football game between the tackles, where they will come at you and lead with a back and try to create holes. As you tighten down to stop that run and line up more people inside, they are going to block down on you and run the option on the outside. They will either spread you out to the outside to stop the option and then hit you inside with the power running game, or they will run the power running game so much that you bring everyone inside and the blockers can get outside angles and then beat you to the corner.
The other thing Nebraska wants to do is beat you with a big pass play. That's why Nebraska doesn't have to complete 60 or 70 percent of its passes. Completing 40-45 percent is fine. It's not great, but as long as one of those completions is a 50-yard touchdown, that's what they want.
Notre Dame has to force Nebraska to throw the football, and not allow a big play. TCU did a decent job of that. If TCU can do it, you would think Notre Dame can also.
Find a big-play offense
|Tracey Wistrom leads the Huskers with six catches through the first two games.|
The Irish have to show they can be a big-play offense. Last year, the only thing you can say about their offense is that they did not turn the ball over.
Give Bob Davie credit. He had a brand-new quarterback last year and the Irish turned it over an NCAA-record low of eight times. I don't know any other way you could have done it last year. It was a good strategy because he was playing a true freshman by the third game, and he had worked on the option all spring and preseason. That was going to be the basis of the offense and the option QB got hurt in the first game.
They went to the BCS last year. Now he has to take the program and his offense to another level. Now it's time to go out there and make some big plays. They have to take some risks.
Notre Dame needs to show big-play potential, either from the receivers or running backs. They have good athletes both inside and outside. They need to take some chances. You don't beat the better teams on your schedule just by saying you are not going to turn it over.
The offense must go from one that does not want to lose it to one that will find ways to win it with big plays. You can't just go out there and not throw the ball. Sometimes, you have to throw a risky pass, throw it downfield 20-25 yards between people. Tailbacks have to make people miss and go 60 yards for a touchdown. You may have an interception once in a while, but you can't throw hitches all day and have a good offense. You have to take some chances.
It comes down to big plays and big-play calling.
Steal points in the kicking game
|Julius Jones led Notre Dame in rushing last year with 687 yards.|
To win this game, Notre Dame has to at least break even on the kicking game. They are not going to be as good offensively or defensively as Nebraska. That may be the hidden key. If Notre Dame can create points in the kicking game, it may be the one thing that gives the Irish a chance. It's the hidden factor. Nebraska knows it gave up 14 points in the kicking game last year in South Bend.
Take the crowd out of the game
Notre Dame also must be able to handle the crowd noise. You are playing Nebraska in Nebraska, in front of a national television audience. The Irish have to show poise and not let the Nebraska crowd bother them.
It's not easy to go into Lincoln, Neb., and win ballgames, as you can tell by their home record: 15 straight wins and 62-1 in their last 63 games at Memorial Stadium.
Nebraska snuck in two games before this one. But Notre Dame has the element of surprise. If you are trying to upset a team, you can do something entirely different than they could ever expect because you could have worked on it in spring and the preseason without them knowing it. Notre Dame could have blocking schemes or defensive fronts unlike anything Nebraska has worked on.
Terry Bowden was the head coach at Salem College, Samford University and Auburn University. He is ABC's college football studio analyst and contributes regularly for ABC Sports Online.