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  • Irish in Beltway Battle

    by Mike Coffey

    Notre Dame continues its march through the ACC portion of its schedule as the Fighting Irish will face Maryland on Saturday evening at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. The 6-3 Irish are coming off a road victory against Wake Forest, while the 2-7 Terrapins have struggled of late and are riding a five game losing streak. The game will be televised on NBC starting at 7:30 PM EST.

    Injuries have been the story for Notre Dame as the regular season winds down. The offense had been healthy until last week, when center Braxton Cave was lost for the season. Coach Brian Kelly also reported this week that slot receiver Theo Riddick will not play on Saturday. Defensively, the Irish may get Ethan Johnson back along the front line but Aaron Lynch and linebacker Manti Te’o are hobbled by ankle injuries and will not be at full strength. End Kapron Lewis-Moore had earlier suffered a season-ending knee injury.

    The Terrapins have failed to stop anyone on defense and are particularly weak against the run. Coach Randy Edsall has deployed several young players in his first season at the helm, although Maryland players and fans have been subjected to more of a rebuilding year than either group had anticipated. The offense has also sputtered in recent weeks, and Edsall has begun to rotate quarterbacks in search of a spark. Incumbent Danny O’Brien is more of a pocket passer, while the more mobile C. J. Brown has seen enough playing time to become the team’s second leading rusher.

    The Irish would like to settle the issue early against Maryland and provide some rest for its key players. They will also be favored to win at home next week against Boston College, but have a date with national championship contender Stanford later this month that will require a maximum effort.

    NOTRE DAME’s OFFENSE vs. MARYLAND’s DEFENSE

    The Terps have surrendered yardage on the ground at a pace last seen during September of 1939 in Poland. While Notre Dame does not have an army of Panzers, the duo of Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood runs behind an offensive line that should be able to steamroll most everyone wearing a Maryland uniform in its path. The lone exception may be Joe Vellone, who is a surprising second on the team in tackles and leads all FBS defensive linemen in tackles per game with 7.8. Vellone is joined on the interior of the line by Maurice Hampton, who is one of only two seniors on the Terp defense.

    Middle linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield is a solid player in the 4-3 alignment, but sidekick Kenny Tate is injured and will not play against the Irish. To make matters worse, Edsall recently suspended pass rusher David Mackall, who was arguably the team’s most productive defender. Depth has become a problem with this group and Notre Dame should be able to take advantage by pounding the ball. Mike Golic, Jr. filled in seamlessly for Cave last week, but his battles with Vellone and Hampton may be interesting to watch.

    Quarterback Tommy Rees will not have Riddick in the passing game, but Michael Floyd and Tyler Eifert should be enough weaponry to achieve success through the air. Safety Eric Franklin is the team’s leading tackler, and the Irish will strive to make him respect the run so that Eifert can get open downfield. Senior cornerback Cameron Chism will try to contain Floyd, but he is only 5’10”.

    Kelly normally likes to score fast, but this may be a game in which ball control is the most effective recipe to keep his hobbled defense off the field. The war of attrition can be won with his offensive line and a few well-placed passes. Wood and Gray could each earn 100 yards if the Irish maintain balance, and the fourth quarter could become an opportunity for Kelly to clear the bench.

    MARYLAND’S OFFENSE vs. NOTE DAME’S DEFENSE

    Edsall’s teams have historically preferred to run the football, but Maryland has no seniors among its starting offensive linemen. Senior running back Davin Meggett is tough to bring down, but he has taken a beating lately. Freshman Justus Pickett has been brought along to gain experience and will take some of the workload on Saturday. The depleted Irish line performed well against Wake Forest by shutting down the run after the first quarter, and this same group should be able to do the job again this week. Johnson’s return would be a welcome development though.

    The Terps spread the ball around in the passing game and have no single receiver who can be classified as exceptional. Wideouts Kevin Dorsey, Kerry Boykins and Quintin McCree have roughly 30 receptions apiece this season and tight end Matt Furstenburg is right behind them with 25. O’Brien has performed well at times, but has not been consistent enough of late to keep Brown on the bench. He has thrown more interceptions (9) than touchdowns (6) but it is Brown’s running ability that has generated the small measure of excitement in Maryland’s recent games. Neither quarterback has impressive passing efficiency numbers, but Brown has a 77 yard touchdown run to his credit and a 7.4 yard average per rush.

    Notre Dame has struggled somewhat this year with mobile signal callers and the ankle injuries along its front seven don’t match up well with a scrambler, so Edsall will likely call upon Brown to take most of the snaps even if O’Brien starts the game. Brown appears the give the Terps a better chance on third down, where the team has struggled this season. Maryland’s success rate in the red zone is also below average.

    Maryland has a group of solid skill position players but does not deploy a real home run threat. The Irish should be able to stick with a basic defense and win the individual battles with better athletes, provided they are sufficiently motivated. Brown can cause problems but can also be forced into mistakes with pressure.

    SPECIAL TEAMS

    The Terps have struggled with kick coverage this season, and their return teams are also statistically below average. Pickett and Troy Logan share the return duties, and have managed only an average of 17.4 yards on kickoffs. Notre Dame should enjoy an advantage in this area with George Atkinson and Austin Collinsworth, although the Irish punt return performance is not likely to improve this season.

    Nick Ferrera handles both the place kicking and punting chores. Although his punts are adequate, he has struggled in the field goal department. Two of his attempts have been blocked and he has failed to convert from beyond 33 yards. Again, the Irish hold a distinct advantage in this category with David Ruffer.

    SUMMARY

    Both teams are depleted by injuries, but Notre Dame is clearly superior up front on both sides of the ball. Brown and Meggett are capable of causing problems early as Wake Forest was able to do, but the Irish defense should settle in and keep the Terps out of the end zone for much of the night. Kelly should play to his strength in low risk fashion, and the goal should be to escape with a comfortable win absent any additional injuries to his starters.

    Maryland will not be able to overplay either the run or pass without serious consequences, and Rees should have plenty of time in the pocket. Vellone, Hampton and Hartsfield are stout in the middle of the defense, but they don’t have much experienced help around them. One might normally be impressed that the Terps have surrendered only eight touchdown passes in nine games, but opponents have scored nearly three times per contest on the ground.

    Let’s look at a few questions that will shed light on the outcome:

    Will Brown create successful plays against Notre Dame’s conservative defensive alignment?

    Can the Irish rush for Maryland’s average yield of 233 yards?

    Will a receiver other than Floyd or Eifert have success in the Irish passing game?

    Can Golic and the interior of Notre Dame’s offensive line handle Vellone and Hampton?

    Which team will be able to pressure the quarterback?

    How long will it take the Irish to shut down Meggett and the Maryland ground game?

    Will Notre Dame take advantage of the Terps’ beleaguered special teams?

    PREDICTION

    The Irish may not roll up 50 points and win in a blowout, but the final score should only be a formality in what should be a convincing victory. Once again, the health of the Irish players and their level of motivation will determine the degree of success, but Maryland’s will can be broken relatively early in the game. Turnovers always loom in the background as a potential problem, but the Irish should not need exotic, high risk plays to complete their business in the Washington, DC area.

    NOTRE DAME 38 MARYLAND 16

     

    8 Responses to “Irish in Beltway Battle”

    1. Irish better win by at least 20 points. No reason not to. 38-18 Irish.

    2. Mark Napierkowski says:

      I think you’re on with yoir prediction, but your WWII reference is badly misplaced and a poor parallel, as the Poles needed to deal with both the Russians and the Nazis from opposing directions. 2 on 1 not good odds. Maryland just plain stinks.

    3. I just hope the team doesn’t get the idea all they have to do is roll the ball onto the field and it’s an automatic win. We have a bad habit of playing down to the level of our opponent, being careless with the ball and sloppy in our execution. If we play like that against Maryland, we can quite possibly lose.

    4. irishhawk50 says:

      I think all posters are still gun shy about predicting easy Irish victories and the thought of the close MD-Clemson game sits in the back of our heads, but we all hope ND is past the point of playing down to a team and will roll to an easy victory over MD.

    5. “The Wearin’ of the Green”
      Notre Dame will burst out on FedEx field tonight in their famous green jerseys, so I figured I should post a short blog on the history of Ireland’s green and how the color so well accompanies a university honoring the “Fighting Irish”. Irish green means so much more than the tacky commercialism that bombards St. Patrick’s Day; it is, in fact, the battle color of an ancient and proud nation. It would take a little more research on my part to cite the emergence of the green color in relation to Ireland, which has a strong national concept at least going back to the 5th century A.D. What I can say though is that green has been associated for centuries with Ireland’s resistance to British rule. It is undoubtedly the color of Ireland’s long revolutionary tradition. Let’s look at some of those revolutionary periods and the insurgents who made the Irish green famous throughout the world.
      - 1640’s Rebellion period- Famed military leader Owen Roe O’Neill, nephew of resistance leader Hugh (the Great O’Neill), returns from his exile and military service on the continent to lead the Irish in an epic resistance struggle. His flag was perhaps the first recorded instance of the gold harp against a green field.

      -1798 rising. Catholics and Protestants join together under the common “United Ireland” movement to break the connection with England. These revolutionaries throughout the 1790’s hoisted the famous “green flag” with the gold harp and “maid of Erin”, with the words “Erin go Bragh”, “Ireland forever”. When famed Father Murphy and his rebels took their last stand against British forces at Vinegar Hill, it was under a green flag with the words, “Liberty or Death”. He was subsequently mutilated and beheaded, with his head impaled on a spike in Tullow village.

      - late 1800s- During the United Irishmen period, the British view green as a seditious emblem, and actually execute persons for wearing or hoisting green. This gives rise to the famous “Wearing of the Green” ballad. “ She’s the most distressful country that you have ever seen, for their hanging men and women for the wearing of the green” and so on.

      - 1803- Protestant leader, “Bold” Robert Emmet , and Irish rebels hoist the green flag over Dublin town in another tragic rising against British rule. Emmet was beheaded and his comrades either executed or sent to Australia as slaves, but his immortal words on the dock, “When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then and not till then, let my epitaph be written” still stir the hears of the patriotic and poetically-inclined worldwide.

      -1800s-Throughout the first half of the 19th century, Daniel O’Connell and his Repel movement hoist the Green flag against the hated union with Britain.

      -1840s- the revolutionary Young Ireland movement hoists the green flag, but creates the famed Tricolour flag of green, white, and orange, symbolizing the brotherhood of Ireland’s Catholics and Protestants. 1848: the Young Ireland rebels stage a rebellion during the starvation.

      -1860s American Civil War- the Irish regiments fight for their newly adopted nation, in part it has been recorded, to gain military training for eventual battle against the British in Ireland. Fr. Corby raised his hand in blessing and general absolution at Gettysburg. The Irish soldiers fought under their own green flag, and Fr. Corby’s statue is featured on Notre Dame’s campus.

      -1860s-1880s: the revolutionary Fenians explode on the scene, giving hope to the Irish nation decimated by British-enforced starvation and exile. In a failed yet symbolic uprising in 1867, the Fenians unfurl the green flag with harp, and various other green flags, including one with 32 gold stars symbolizing Ireland’s 32 counties, plus another green flag with “God and Country, Remember Robert Emmet”.

      -1866-1871, the Fenian Raids on British Canada- Ex-Civil War soldiers from north and south, accompanied actually by some Native Americans, initiate a series of raids on British-held Canada, in an effort to negotiate British transportation lines for Ireland’s sovereignty. Although the raids are viewed mostly as a footnote in American history, the raids of thousands of Irish troops on British-Canada caused great alarm in Canada. The Fenians of course hoisted the green flag, but also another custom green flag for the event. This flag flown at the Battle of Ridgeway had a gold harp and letters “IRA” (Irish Republican Army) emblazoned. The raids fail, but add to the powerfully symbolic Fenian tradition in Ireland that continued into the 20th century.

      -1906- Interesting but little known event, Irish long jump champion in Athens, Peter O’Connor, objects to hoisting the Union Jack, and instead hoists the green flap with gold harp, made by supporters for the occasion. Maybe this is the first time Irish-related athletics employ the green on a world stage!

      -1916- The Protestant aristocrat-turned Irish rebel, Countess Markievicz, works diligently in her home preparing the famous green flag with emblazoned gold letters, “Irish Republic”, for the Easter Rising in Dublin. She uses a mixture of gold paint and mustard for the gold-lettering!

      James Connolly, 1916, in reference to Ireland’s green, in an article in the Worker’s Republic on April 8th, just weeks before he helped lead the insurrection and before his subsequent execution:
      “ For centuries the green flag of Ireland was a thing accursed and hated by the English garrison in Ireland, as it is still in their inmost hearts…the green flag of Ireland will be solemnly hoisted over Liberty Hall as a symbol of our faith in freedom, and as a token to all the world that the working class of Dublin stands for the cause of Ireland, and the cause of Ireland is the cause of a separate and distinct nationality. “

      -1920’s-late 60’s- We’ve skipped a lot of important history, but it is important to note that for decades in the British Northern Ireland state, the Irish tricolor flag was banned, the hoisting of which was regarded as an offence against the state. The Irish nationalist villages and enclaves continued to fly the “green flag” in defiance, and still continue to this day.

      In sum, when the Fighting Irish take the field tonight under the lights a robed in Irish green, let’s remember the powerful significance of that battle emblem and hope the lads compete in worthy fashion!
      (special thanks to flagspot.net and crwflags.com)

      Seán Rielley, Kansas City

    6. These uniforms are horrible. They whole debacle is an embarrassment.

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