Fiesta Bowl Sixer: A Six Pack of Questions with for Insight on Notre Dame

By Eric Seger on December 31, 2015 at 1:00 pm
A Q & A on Notre Dame with
Jaylon Smith

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Fiesta Bowl matchup between Ohio State and Notre Dame is nearly here, but with the final preparations being made between the two programs for the game New Year's Day, joins us once again for insight on the Fighting Irish.

Frank Vitovitch was kind enough to send some responses to our inquiries, helping us get a sense of what Irish fans are feeling about the game. Let's get to it. (For my responses to Frank's inquiries, click here.)

Eleven Warriors: DeShone Kizer has played well this season in place of Malik Zaire, making big plays when Notre Dame needed them most. How do you see him combating the presence of All-American Joey Bosa, especially if Bosa moves to the inside in place of suspended Adolphus Washington? Ohio State's linebackers have been stout all year as well. How much will Kizer's legs factor into the outcome of the game?

UHND: Watching where Bosa lines up will be interesting, given Ohio State's losses on the inside because Notte Dame is stronger on the ends than it is on the inside of the offensive line. Bosa's quickness could give Notre Dame problems on the inside if he lines up opposite Steve Elmer. Even Quenton Nelson who has been really strong in his first year playing could be a tough matchup because he is a better run blocker than pass blocker at this point in his career. 

As for Kizer, I expect his legs to be a major factor in this one. If he moves the chains on the grounds, Notre Dame will have a great shot. If he isn't able to do so, the Irish offense will struggle to keep up. In Notre Dame's win over Temple and its last second loss to Stanford, Kizer's legs are what had the Irish in the ball game all game long. His running game improved steadily over the course of the year and as a result the read option became more of a weapon. Notre Dame will need it to be effective again on Friday to neutralize the OSU linebackers.

11W: What must Ohio State do to take away Jaylon Smith? He won the Butkus Award, but at times this season has gotten out of position in over pursuit. Is that the key to neutralizing him?

UHND: It's been a challenge for anyone to really neutralize Jaylon Smith or to even stay away from him because he can cover so much ground in a short time. The key to really neutralizing him is plugging up the Notre Dame defensive line. With Jarron Jones returning, the Irish will have another cog in the interior defensive line they haven't had all season, but if Ohio State can prevent the Irish defensive line from getting a push and opening lanes for Smith to knife through, he can be neutralized some. Even still, Smith has shown that he can run through offensive linemen on the way to the ball ball carrier.

11W: Name one player offensively and defensively from Ohio State who you would think best fits on Notre Dame's team. Why?

UHND: On defense, I think that's easy: Joey Bosa. Notre Dame has gotten some better production out of its defensive ends in 2015 but the Irish haven't had an end like Bosa in many years. The offensive side of the ball is a little tougher because where Ohio State has it's stars, Notre Dame is strong as well. For instance, who wouldn't want Ezekiel ElliotT after the last two seasons he's had? But at the same time, Notre Dame's running backs have all played extremely well this year. And who wouldn't want a consensus All-American like Taylor Decker? Notre Dame has a consensus All-American tackle of its own on the left side (Ronnie Stanley) and a budding star on the right side (Mike McGlincheky). So with all of that in mind, I'd say offensive guard Pat Elflein. He earned All-American honor from the AP and and Notre Dame could use some help on the interior of the line. 

11W: Ohio State fans seem to believe a repeat of the 2006 Fiesta Bowl is on deck, where the Buckeyes beat Brady Quinn and Charlie Weis in a game that wasn't really close. Why won't it be like that?

UHND: That's a great question because the similarities in Notre Dame teams are a little tough to ignore - dynamic offense with a suspect defense prone to giving up big plays. The difference in those two squads, however, is in the depth that Notre Dame has in 2015 as opposed to 2005. Notre Dame is deeper at every single position in 2015 and that depth is what allowed the Irish to sustain as many injuries as they did this year.  

In 2005, Notre Dame didn't have nearly as many injuries but still showed up in Tempe in worse shape - specifically on the defensive line. Notre Dame played a couple of defensive ends (Ronald Talley and Justin Brown) who were lightly recruited 3-star players who were no where near ready for playing time let alone on that stage. I still have nightmares of both having Troy Smith in their sights and being left behind in the dust. This year Notre Dame is in the reverse position - they are getting players back from injury in time for the game.  

For the Irish to pull this off though, the offense will need to execute better than the Quinn-led Irish did in 2005. Notre Dame had some chances in that game to make big plays - specifically that early deep bomb to Jeff Samardzija that they missed on - and for a different outcome this time around, the Irish can't miss those.  

11W: Notre Dame lost two games by a combined four points. What was it that kept them from making the big plays at the right times to instead be on the right side of the scoreboard in those contests?

UHND: Notre Dame has actually made big plays in both losses, but still came out on the wrong side of the scoreboard. Against Clemson, mistakes did in the Irish over the final few minutes. Everyone remembers the missed two point play, but people forget Notre Dame also fumbled the ball away at the 1-yard line with Chris Brown trying to force his way into the end zone. If Brown scores there, that final three minutes changes completely. Even on that missed two-pointer, Kizer made a solid read but a whiff on a block allowed Clemson to penetrate and shut down the play. 

Against Stanford, Kizer made a couple of huge plays on what could have been the winning drive. He converted a 4th-and-10 with a back foot throw in the face of the Stanford pass rush. Then, he scored the go-ahead touchdown with 30 seconds to go on the ground. That 30 seconds proved too much time as the Irish let the Cardinal march down into field goal range.  

The two losses by four points is another similarity of that 2005 team too as the Irish lost by a combined six points that season.  

11W: There are some college football fans that root for both Ohio State and Notre Dame. What are your feelings towards them? Should they just stick to one or the other?

UHND: Personally, I don't know how anyone can really have two teams they root for in any sport. To me, you have one team and stick with them and they are your team through thick and thin no matter what.   

BONUS: Score prediction: Who wins and why, and who is your MVP?

UHND: My head tells me that Ohio State will win this game, but my heart rarely lets me predict anything other than a Notre Dame victory. I like Notre Dame's focus and preparation leading up to the Fiesta Bowl and I think the returns of Jarron Jones and Durham Smythe give Notre Dame and edge coming in given the loss of Washington and Schutt.  

Score: Notre Dame 37, Ohio State 34
MVP: Deshone Kizer

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