2015 Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football Preview
Head Coach: Brian Kelly (6th at ND: 45-20; 26th overall: 216-77-2)
2014 Record: 8-5
Bowl Result: Music City Bowl: 12/30/14- Notre Dame 31 LSU 28
The 2014 campaign was almost like two seasons within the season in South Bend.
Behind the solid play of Everett Golson, Notre Dame started strong and carried a 6-0 mark into its mid-season showdown at #1 Florida State.
Following a frustrating 31-27, fourth quarter loss to the Seminoles, the Fighting Irish managed just one more regular season victory and took a four-game losing streak into the postseason.
Golson’s inability to protect the football during the second half of the year and the poor play of the Notre Dame defense—which allowed an average of 37 points over its final six regular season games—were the primary causes of the drastic decline in success.
Golson, who threw for 3,445 yards and 29 touchdowns in 2014, led the program to a berth in BCS National Championship Game as a freshman in 2012 before being dismissed prior to the 2013 season because of academics. After losing his starting to job to Malik Zaire at the end of ’14, Golson was unable to solidify his hold on the position during spring ball and opted to transfer to Florida State.
Zaire, a 6’0”, 222-pound junior, was one of the top dual threat quarterbacks in the nation coming out of high school and we saw a snapshot of what he brings to the table in Notre Dame’s 31-28 victory over LSU in the Music City Bowl. The left-hander, who attempted just 35 passes in the seven games that he saw action, was 12-for-15 for 96 yards and also ran for 96 yards against the Tigers. However, Zaire’s ability to throw the football successfully with consistency is a work in progress.
Zaire, who will be operating behind an offensive line that will feature four returning starters, will have the benefit of throwing to a plethora of talented, experienced receivers.
Will Fuller (6’0”, 180) led the team with 76 grabs for nearly 1,100 yards and 15 touchdowns as a sophomore. Fellow junior Corey Robinson (6’4 ½”, 215), who provides a large target, caught 40 balls for 539 yards. Seniors Chris Brown (39-548) and CJ Prosise (17.8 yds/rec. on 29 rec.) also return. Prosise, who stands 6’5” and 220 pounds, actually worked at running back this spring and ran for 64 yards on 12 attempts in the spring game.
With the veteran offensive line and the return of top rusher Tarean Folston—who ran for 889 yards (5.1 ypc) and six scores last year, it should take some pressure off Zaire and the aerial attack.
Ten starters return on the defensive side of the ball, which should result in desperately needed improvement for a unit that allowed nearly 30 points and 404 yards per game in 2014.
The Irish could start by doing better at stopping the run after surrendering over 170 yards per game on the ground a season ago.
Safety Matthias Farley and corner Cole Luke, who were tied for the team lead in interceptions (4), are back to help lead the secondary.
The kicking game is a question mark, as the Irish will be without Kyle Brindza. Brindza handled all of the kicking and punting duties a year ago. Sophomore Tyler Newsome, who was the back-up last season and All-State in Georgia during high school, could take over those duties.
Greg Bryant, who returned eight punts and had a long of 61, is back and Amir Carlisle—who averaged nearly 22 yards per return on 35 kickoffs—also returns.
Brian Kelly’s club will tangle with Texas under the lights in the season opener in South Bend and five of their first seven games are at Notre Dame Stadium. After the night game with USC on October 17th, the Irish will only play one game (November 14th versus Wake Forest) under the Touchdown Jesus’ watch the last month and a half, as four of their final five are away from home—including its Shamrock Series game against Boston College at Fenway Park on November 21st.
While Notre Dame returns a wealth of experience, it is tough to see the Golden Domers winning more than eight or nine games given their difficult schedule, a quarterback with limited experience and a defense that needs to show significant improvement.
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