The Bulls of South Florida (1-0) will be returning to Notre Dame Stadium for the first time in nine years this Saturday to take on the 7th ranked Fighting Irish (1-0). The last time South Florida played here, they escaped with a 23-20 win over a then 16th ranked Notre Dame team. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen again. Coming off a 27-6 victory last weekend against the Citadel, the Bulls will look to keep their winning ways alive, but being a program going through a rather substantial rebuild, I don’t see that happening.
Bulls head coach Jeff Scott, the man in charge of handling this rebuild, will undoubtedly have his hands full on Saturday, but a familiar face will be returning to Notre Dame Stadium – this time on the opposing sideline. South Florida’s offensive coordinator, Charlie Weiss Jr., will need to dial up his A game for the Bulls’ run heavy offense to stand a chance. On the field, South Florida is led by Sophomore quarterback Jordan McCloud. McCloud completed 11 of his 16 pass attempts last week for a total of 68 yards. That’s right, only 68 total passing yards. The Bulls ran the ball more times than they threw it, putting up over 300 yards on the ground. These yards were spread out by a number of backs, with Kelley Joiner Jr. and Johnny Ford leading the way for the South Florida rushing attack. The Bulls do have one of the largest offensive lines that the Irish will face all year, but as the game progresses, I would look for Notre Dame’s edge attack to step up and get into the Bulls backfield. If Charlie Weiss Jr. and the Bulls offense want to stand any chance, I can only guess that more pass plays will be implemented this week. If this is the case, Bryce Miller, Randall St. Felix, and Sincere Brown claimed the titles of McCloud’s favorite targets in week one. Miller, a 5 foot 10 inch Junior came to South Florida as a walk-on and worked his way up to earning a starting spot in seven of twelve games last season. St. Felix, a Junior as well, has been a top receiver for the Bulls during their last two seasons and could pose as the biggest threat to the Irish secondary. At the time of writing this article, the Irish are 25.5 point favorites. Because of this, I would expect to see South Florida use a very quick tempo offense, adding in misdirection when possible to try and catch the Irish out of position. I don’t expect this to yield a great deal of success against a Clark Lea defense, however this might be their best (and only) option. With Kyle Hamilton still being ruled as day-to-day, I would not expect to see him on the field unless absolutely necessary on Saturday. Although a significant loss for the Notre Dame defense in the short term, I still expect the Irish to be able to take care of business despite his absence. In my opinion, there should be no need to rush him back unnecessarily; this extended time off can be used to get Junior Houston Griffith additional reps at the safety position.
On the Notre Dame side of the ball, I am hoping to see improvements both offensively and defensively. As the Irish have now had a game under their belt as well as additional practices throughout the week, I am hoping that the offense comes out settled and focused. Ian Book still looked to have “happy feet” even though he has returned for his fifth year with the program. Granted, it was the first game and I imagine his adrenaline was very high, but I look for those jitters to have settled come game time on Saturday. He is in his third year as a starter after all. As we all saw, the Irish offense looked to find its rhythm as the game progressed last week and I think they will be able to pick up where they left off. With Book still learning and adjusting to his new receiving corps, Kyren Williams and the abundance of Notre Dame running backs should look for another solid performance. Head coach Brian Kelly has ruled transfer wide receiver, Ben Skowronek, out this week, however all signs are pointing up for the return of Braden Lenzy. With Lenzy being a bit more injury and concussion prone, I wouldn’t expect for him to see a great deal of touches, however used wisely, I feel that his speed could be a great contributing factor on Saturday. If Book is able to settle down and get into a rhythm, I expect the Irish offense to put up better numbers than last week and cruise to the second victory of the season.
Although shaky at some points, we saw the benefit of returning an entire offensive line last weekend and I expect their presence to be felt again on Saturday. With nerves being settled, film being studied, and preparations being made, I fully expect a better showing from the Irish this weekend; if not, we might be in for a very interesting season. My score prediction last week was on the ambitious side for the first game, but as mentioned, I do expect better numbers to be put up this week. With that being said, I will go with a 35-10 Notre Dame victory, moving the Irish to 2-0 on the season. Go Irish. Beat Bulls.