Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 12, 2016

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

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Page 36 of 55 SEPT. 12, 2016 37 BY BRYAN DRISKELL NEVADA RUNNING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME RUN DEFENSE During his 28 years at Nevada, Hall of Fame head coach Chris Ault created one of the nation's pre- mier non-option rushing attacks. Known as the father of the "Pistol" offense, Ault developed an offensive system that wreaked havoc on defenses for almost three decades. Over the past nine seasons, Nevada has rushed for at least 179 yards per game in each season, with its best mark coming in 2009 when the Wolf Pack led the nation with 344.9 yards per contest. Under head coach Brian Polian, who is entering his fourth season in charge, Nevada has continued building its offense around the ground game. De- spite injuries and inexperience up front last fall, Polian's offense still managed to rush for 210.6 yards per game while producing a pair of 1,000- yard rushers. Nevada's top running back — junior James But- ler — returns after racking up 1,342 yards and 10 touchdowns. Graduate transfer Akeel Lynch, a fifth-year senior who rushed for 1,318 yards (5.0 per carry) the past four years at Penn State, will join Butler in the backfield this fall. The Wolf Pack returns four offensive linemen that have combined for 74 career starts, which should help improve the run game that ranked 25th nationally in rushing a season ago. Notre Dame finished the 2015 season ranked 72nd in rushing defense, giving up 175.6 yards per game. Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder's unit has allowed at least 170 rushing yards per game the last two seasons, the first time since 1957-58 that Notre Dame had back-to-back sea- sons with such futility with its rush defense. Expectations for improvement are high thanks to the Irish defenders having yet another year of experience running VanGorder's complex scheme, and a defensive roster loaded with talented — al- beit inexperienced — players. Advantage: Nevada NEVADA PASSING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME PASS DEFENSE New offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey was brought over from Montana State to carry on the "Pistol" offense tradition. His first priority is to im- prove a passing attack that proved to be an anchor to the 2015 offense. Nevada will never feature an offense that makes its living throwing the football, so its average of 164.5 yards per game last season is not really an issue. What is problematic is the fact Nevada aver- aged just 11.5 yards per completion and 6.5 yards per attempt, which ranked 91st and 99th nation- ally, respectively. During Ault's final three seasons in Reno, Nev., the Wolf Pack averaged 5.5 yards per rush. In Po- lian's three seasons, the offense has averaged just 4.5 yards per rush. A big reason for that has been its inability to throw the football down the field, which allows opponents to load the box with extra defenders with less fear of getting beat in the pass game. Fifth-year senior quarterback Tyler Stewart re- turns after passing for 2,139 yards, 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions last season. He will have a pair of experienced playmakers to throw to in seniors Jerico Richardson (68 receptions for 750 yards and five touchdowns in 2015) and Hasaan Henderson (52 catches for 741 yards and four scores). GAME PREVIEW: NEVADA On PaPer Junior running back James Butler racked up 1,342 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground last year. PHOTO COURTESY NEVADA FOOTBALL

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