Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 24, 2018

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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8 SEPT. 24, 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED UNDER THE DOME Pitt Is My Odd Choice For Now By Lou Somogyi Everybody knows the five marquee games on the 2018 Notre Dame sched- ule: Michigan, Stanford, Virginia Tech, Florida State and USC. However, both Florida State and USC looked eminently average while scoring three points apiece in losses to Virginia Tech and Stanford, respectively. A sixth foe, North- western, also did not play well in a 21-7 home loss to Duke. So who is the most danger- ous "upset special" for the Irish in 2018? Ball State, the weakest foe on the slate, already gave the Irish all they could handle during a 24-16 win. In the preseason, my selection was Pitt (Oct. 13) — and still is despite the 51-6 clobbering from Penn State Sept. 8. The Panthers have a nasty history of playing their best when you least expect it. They shocked Big Ten champ Penn State and national champ Clemson (on the road) in 2016, and last year the 4-7 Pitt team stunned 10-0 and No. 2 Miami. This year's Pitt game comes after back-to-back emotional contests with Stanford and Virginia Tech. There are only so many times a team can be "up" during a season, and we saw the letdown the Irish had after the Michigan game. Pitt also happens to come during mid-term exams week at Notre Dame, never an easy time for the players. I give myself the right to change my mind as the season progresses — and Syracuse Nov. 17 could be a real pitfall — but for now it's Pitt, just because it is so odd. Don't Fall Asleep On Wake By Bryan Driskell I am of the opinion that pulling off an upset over a highly ranked opponent usually requires two key ingredients. One is having an explosive offense, and the other is having a special teams unit that can impact the game. Wake Forest has both of those, and that is what makes the Deacons dangerous. In last season's 48-37 Irish win, the Deacons lit up the board and had 587 yards of total offense. Despite the loss of John Wolford at quarterback, the Deacons have passed for 620 yards in their first two games. Wake Forest has legit playmakers at wide re- ceiver, and its offensive line is considered one of the best in the nation at protecting the quar- terback. Even with the season-ending loss of left tackle Justin Herron, the Deacons should still be able to protect freshman quarterback Sam Hartman. Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Greg Dortch returned two punts for touchdowns in Wake Forest's 51-20 win over Towson, and he's a threat to score every time he touches the ball, whether it is on offense or special teams. Notre Dame is just 6-12 in true road games against Power Five opponents since November 2013 and has lost its first true road game in three of the last five seasons. Plus, its 2015 road win over 4-8 Virginia required a last second touchdown pass from quarterback DeShone Kizer to star wideout Will Fuller. Add all of that up and the road contest against Wake Forest is the most concerning. Point ✦ Counterpoint: WHO IS NOTRE DAME'S MOST DANGEROUS 'TRAP GAME' IN 2018? This summer, Matt Sparks received the nod as the next head coach of the Irish track & field and cross country programs. Over the past four years, he has served as the associate head coach while also lead- ing the cross country program and Irish women's distance runners for both indoor and outdoor seasons. Sparks spent the previous 10 years before arriving in South Bend at Southern Illinois, serving as the head coach of the men's and women's cross country programs and the team's distance runners. BGI: What was running through your mind when you found out you were getting the promotion to head coach? Sparks: " That phone call from Jack Swarbrick was a little overwhelming at first. There was about an hour of celebra- tory time with my family. Then the reality hit of all the things you need to do. "The biggest thing to do is hire people to help make your job easier. That took about most of the summer to finally put the entire staff together." BGI: What have been the challenges in your new role so far? Sparks: "The daily administrative headache that we all have as you go through life. You get tired of looking at the papers on your desk at times. The thing I'm trying to do better is delegating some of the responsibilities to the great assistants we have. "When you get into coach- ing, you envision dealing with young people, and helping them grow as people and as athletes. I try to remind myself that's what I signed on for." BGI: What did you learn in your four years prior while at Notre Dame that you can apply now? Sparks: "The biggest thing is the character of the students here at Notre Dame, specifi- cally the student-athletes, and how passionate they are about everything they do. As a coach, I've tried to match that inten- sity, to always be available. " They are always working whether it is athletically, academically or socially trying to perfect their craft. As a coach, you need to mimic the passion the young people here have, but also nurture them through the process." BGI: What have you enjoyed most about your time in South Bend? Sparks: "For my family, this has become home very quickly for us. The community as a whole has really welcomed us, and the university com- munity as well. I've got three small children that have been quick to make friends, and a wife who loves teaching at St. Joseph High School. "That's been a big draw for us to stay here and make this home. The good nature of the students here has helped and makes my job easy. I don't have to harp on them about taking care of them- selves or working harder." BGI: What are your expectations for the cross country season? Sparks: "Two very different teams in the pro- gram. The men's team had the No. 1 recruit- ing class in the country, but that doesn't always translate to national-level success in year one. It may take a year or two for those guys to transi- tion from running 5K in high school to 10K in college. … They've had a good preseason and offseason of training. "The women have already been top 10 in the nation the last three or four years with Anna Rohrer leading the way. She's fit and healthy along with senior leaders Annie Heffernan and Rachel Dadamio. We've got two of the best fresh- men coming in, so we have a good balance there with senior leadership and young talent that can be a special recipe for success." — Corey Bodden Five Questions With … TRACK & FIELD AND CROSS COUNTRY HEAD COACH MATT SPARKS Sparks is set to begin his first year as head coach of the Notre Dame track & field and cross country programs after four years on the staff in South Bend. PHOTO COURTESY FIGHTING IRISH DIGITAL MEDIA

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