With the Massachusetts Minutemen in a nationally televised game on Saturday against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, and coming off a heartbreaking loss to Temple, we checked in with One Foot Down's Eric Murtaugh to find out if UMass can pull off the upset, what this Notre Dame team looks like, and if Eric is getting too old for this s%&#.
Hustle Belt: Notre Dame recently lost their starting quarterback, Malik Ziare. How have the Fighting Irish responded?
One Foot Down: Just about as well as can be expected so far. Redshirt freshman DeShone Kizer had to come in late against Virginia and threw one of the more clutch game-winning touchdowns in recent memory and he followed that up with a solid all-around effort against Georgia Tech last week.
It's helped that the Irish running game has been very good early in this season so Kizer has been able to keep things on the simple side and gain more experience without having to do as much as Zaire.
HB: Who are some key players on offense the Minutemen should look out for?
OFD: Most definitely receiver Will Fuller and running back C.J. Prosise.
Fuller exploded onto the scene last year and is picking up where he left off. He's among the national leaders in several categories and has officially thrown his hat in the ring as a candidate for the best wideout in college football.
Prosise was recruited as a safety, then briefly moved to linebacker, then he was switched to offense to become a wide receiver. It took a while but Prosise finally emerged as a dependable slot receiver but proved to be too good with the ball in his hands on jet sweeps that he was moved to running this past off-season.
That proved to be a revelation and crucial decision as Notre Dame's starting running back tore his knee in the opener, the backup transferred in the summer, and now Prosise has blossomed as an outstanding running back.
HB: How about on the other side of the ball?
OFD: There are 3 at each level of the defense.
On the line defensive tackle Sheldon Day is a fast penetrating 3-tech who Notre Dame likes to move on the edge in pass rush situations. He's been injury riddled throughout his career but has been healthy and very good in 2015 as a senior.
At weak-side linebacker junior Jaylon Smith is an absolute freak who really does it all. He's a potent edge rusher, he's a strong run blitzer, he can defend passes 30 yards downfield, and there may be no one in the country at linebacker with his sideline-to-sideline speed.
At corner the Irish have redshirt junior KeiVarae Russell who is back after a season-long academic suspension. He's been a little rusty so far after the long layoff but should start to round into form soon and become one of the top draft eligible corners.
HB: What can the Minutemen do to make this a competitive game?
OFD: Rattling and confusing DeShone Kizer would be a good start. Making the young quarterback have a bad day, or a let down after the big win against Georgia Tech has to be a priority for UMass.
On the other side of the ball, I'd really test Notre Dame's secondary early and often--and that's exactly what everyone is expecting the Minutemen to do. The Irish have two good corners who have struggled at times this year and the safety position is kind of a mess right now. The nickel and dime players are now out of the year with knee injuries, plus starting safety Max Redfield has a broken thumb and may not play for the second straight week. There's definitely something to take advantage of in the back end of the Notre Dame defense.
HB: What's your final prediction?
OFD: You'll have to read my preview on Thursday at One Foot Down to find out my official prediction!
I will say that the game opened up in the neighborhood of Notre Dame being favored by 27.5 to 28.5 points. Typically, the Irish struggle to really crush the weaker teams on their schedule and this game has a lot of let down factor sandwiched in between Georgia Tech and an upcoming night game at Death Valley against Clemson.
A nice easy win is probably in the cards but something under that spread feels about right to me.