As a reminder, I’m posting one thought per day in a series of 15 posts over the course of 15 days until we get to game day.
With five days left until kickoff, this is the eleventh post of the series.
If you missed the other posts, the links are below
Post #1 - “The Youth Movement Continues”
Post #3 - “Texas Needs To Score More”
Post #4 - “Offense Part 1: The Trenches”
Post #5 - “Offense Part 2: The Supporting Cast”
Post #6 - “Can the Texas defense improve enough?
Post #7 - “Where will Texas land in the final B12 standings?”
Post #8 - “Texas is set to get a great quarterback in 2017 in Sam Ehlinger”
Post #9 - “Seven questions for the 2016 Longhorns football team”
Post #10 - “Ten predictions for the Texas Longhorns 2016 season.”
We made it everyone. We’re finally making our way through game week with kickoff just days away.
As we begin to start taking a serious look at the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, let’s compare the Texas Longhorns to the visitors position by position to get a better idea of what this match-up could look like, starting with the offense today.
If you’re keeping score at home, offensively, I have Notre Dame leading in two categories while sitting even in three others. Those two advantages, though, could be the difference in this game.
Regardless of which quarterback is on the field for the Fighting Irish, DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire have the clear advantage at the position over the ‘Horns heading into this match up.
Both Notre Dame quarterbacks can make plays with their legs and arms, both have experience, both are proven.
The hope is that at least one of the two Texas quarterbacks will take hold of the new offense that’s installed. But at this point, especially without seeing any real games yet, Notre Dame has the advantage heading into this one.
Advantage: Notre Dame
Both Notre Dame and Texas will lean on their strengths at running back this season.
Notre Dame returns senior Tarean Folston, who rushed for 889 yards and six touchdowns before missing almost the entire 2015 season with a knee injury, and sophomore Josh Adams, who rushed for 835 yards and six touchdowns respectively in Folston’s absence last season while backing up the departed C.J. Procise (currently a Seattle Seahawk).
The Longhorns return the two-headed monster of D’Onta Foreman and Chris Warren. The tandem combined for 1,151 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground last season.
Though the Texas defense may be more suspect against the run than Notre Dame, I’m expecting both teams to lean on the running backs Sunday evening.
When it comes to wide receiver, both Texas and Notre Dame have talent at the position but lack proven production throughout.
We know who the top receivers likely will be for each team. Texas returns sophomore John Burt, who had 28 receptions for 457 yards and two touchdowns last season (man, it feels like Burt scored more than that), as well as junior Armanti Foreman, who has 370 yards and four touchdowns during his time at Texas so far.
Notre Dame will look to feature senior Torii Hunter Jr., who had 28 receptions himself for 363 yards and two touchdowns as well, as the top replacement for the monster season the departed Will Fuller had in 2015 (1,258 yards, 14 touchdowns).
Beyond those two guys is a lot of talent with little production to go with it for each team.
With Hunter Jr., the other receivers Notre Dame has listed as starters for this game (sophomore Equanimeous St. Brown and sophomore CJ Sanders) along with reserves sophomore Miles Boykin and junior Corey Holmes were all rated as four-star prospects coming out of high school by at least one of the main recruiting websites.
Maybe I’m biased, but I like what Texas is working with a bit more than what Notre Dame has. And I like the Texas secondary better than Notre Dame’s secondary (will dive into the defense more tomorrow).
Until we see these Texas guys out there, though, especially Collin Johnson, Devin Duvernay, Lil’Jordan Humphrey and Jerrod Heard (none of which have experience at wide receiver at this level), I’m leaving this as a push. Plus, quarterback play will greatly determine how involved each group of receivers get to be.
Over the past decade or so, Notre Dame has always been more than solid at tight end. Guys like Anthony Fasano, Tyler Eifert, Troy Niklas and a former Pro Bowl MVP in Kyle Rudolph have come through the program.
This season, many thought sophomore Alize Jones (13 receptions for 190 yads as a true freshman) would emerge as the next weapon at tight end. Jones, however, ran into academic issues and will be out all season.
Without Jones, Notre Dame will likely have two tight ends that see action against Texas in junior Nic Weishar and senior Durham Smythe. (Ironically, Smythe was committed to Texas back in 2012 before jumping ship to Notre Dame amid the uncertainty of Mack Brown’s future at Texas).
The combo of Smythe and Weishar combined for six receptions, 37 yards and one touchdown last season, though Smythe also missed a big chunk of last season due to an injury.
The tight end position for Texas will likely feature a committee approach as well. Senior Caleb Bluiett is probably the guy that goes out first with the offense. Junior Andrew Beck should see snaps as well.
To add to the depth, the ‘Horns have freshman Peyton Aucion and recently converted defensive end Quincy Vasser now at tight end.
Of all those guys for the Longhorns, I’m actually of the opinion that thinks Bluiett could easily end the season with four or five touchdowns after finishing with 167 yards and two touchdowns in his debut season at tight end last year.
Interestingly enough, returning three starters compared to Notre Dame’s two, the Texas actually have more starters coming back.
Even with one less starter returning, Notre Dame still has the advantage across the offensive line in this game, especially when you consider the defensive line that will be lining up across each offensive line unit.
The left side of Notre Dame’s offensive line will be its strength. Standing at almost 6’8, senior Mike McGlinchey will start at left tackle after making the move from right tackle to fill the void left by Ronnie Stanley (Stanley was drafted sixth overall by the Ravens earlier this year).
Next to McGlinchey, 6’5 junior Quenton Nelson returns as the starter at left guard. Beside those two will be three new starters in 6’2 junior center Sam Mustipher, 6’4 senior right guard Colin McGovern, and 6’6 junior right tackle Alex Bars.
It should be a big group with a good push up front.
The strength of the ‘Horns line will be on the left side as well with returning starters Connor Williams and Patrick Vahe, both sophomores, at left tackle and left guard, respectively.
Making the transition from right tackle to right guard, senior Kent Perkins is the other returning starter across the Longhorns’ offensive line.
At center, either freshman Zack Shackelford or converted defensive lineman Jake McMillon will see action for the first time at the position. At right tackle, junior Tristan NIckelson will get his fourth start.
It should be noted that Vahe, Shackelford and Nickelson have all been dealing with ankle injuries leading up to this game, with Shackelford’s sprain considered the most significant.
When you compare these units, there’s reason to be optimistic for the group the Longhorns have up front. It has talent and actually has some decent experience coming back. But it’s a group that also still needs to develop and grow to really take that next step.
If this game were at the end of the season, I bet I’d have this as a push. With it being the first game, Notre Dame has the advantage here.
Advantage: Notre Dame
We’ll hit on the defense and special teams tomorrow.