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Behind Enemy Lines: Notre Dame game week preview

Can Malik Zaire and the Irish offense wreak havoc on Virginia the way they did to Texas?

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"Adult film star." "Hot and heavy." Phrases like that in a preview, and you'd think we'd be talking 1990s Miami, not the dear sweet Golden Domers. But this ain't your daddy's (or granddaddy's or great-granddaddy's) Notre Dame. Brian Kelly has brought his up-tempo offense to South Bend and rekindled the "Fighting" in Fighting Irish.

Pat Burns of One Foot Down, SB Nation's Notre Dame blog, was kind enough to answer our questions. Be sure to hit OFD for our answers over there as well.

STL: With Tarean Folston out, Notre Dame is having to turn to its deep roster of running backs. It looks like first man up is CJ Prosise. Who is likely to get the most run behind him? What are you expecting the Irish's run game to be like going forward?

OFD: Losing Folston is a huge loss to what this offense wanted to do. He was a true bellcow type running back, willing to take on the full load asked of him in an already thin position for the Irish. Luckily, CJ Prosise stepped up large against Texas and showed some flashes of real talent for the position after having flipped to WR earlier in his career.

Behind Prosise, Freshmen Josh Adams and Dexter Williams will see a lot of work this season. Josh Adams is currently the most ready of the two, and had two scores against Texas. Both guys showed some solid skills, but also some freshman mistakes. It will take some time for one or both of these guys to get fully up to speed, but at the moment, they're providing much needed depth behind Prosise.

Further down the depth chart is former walk-on newly minted scholarship player Josh Anderson. Hopefully he doesn't need to see the field in anything other than mop-up duty. The last man on the totem pole is Justin Brent, who just moved from WR and is expected to redshirt to pick up the position. You'll remember Mr. Brent from his cameo courtside at a Knicks game with an adult film star.

STL: Heck of a season debut for Malik Zaire. What were the most positive things you saw from him against Texas? Were there things the Longhorns did that looked like they frustrated or confused him?

OFD: What wasn't to love with Zaire's performance on Saturday? He threw well from the pocket and on the run, threw it short, middle, and long with accuracy, and got us into good plays.

If I had to nitpick, I would say he could have certainly improved his decision making on the zone read. Oftentimes it appeared he had made up his mind prior to the snap. Texas was able to blow up a few plays by running a LB scrape over the top of the DE being read, and I'll be interested to see how that is handled by ND should Virginia use that tactic.

Otherwise, I don't know that there's much Zaire can't handle based on his first game this season.

STL: Although hanging 38 on a Charlie Strong defense is impressive, the Irish also shut Texas down: 3 points and only 163 yards of offense. How do you expect Notre Dame to set up on defense against Virginia? Where could there be a weakness to exploit?

OFD: Come in hot and heavy with exotic blitzes, as is Brian Van Gorder's custom. What doesn't play into Virginia's favor is they don't play with any tempo, something that has been shown to slow down the complex Van Gorder defense. If the Irish defense has time to substitute and match packages, they'll likely find some success on getting home with the blitz.

The likely weakness that could be exploited is right in the center of the Notre Dame defensive line. After losing Jarron Jones to an ACL before the season started, we are rotating in a few young players to try and plug the hole he left. It was very successful last Saturday, with a great performance from Daniel Cage, but we'll see how it goes this weekend.

STL: Given that we aren't the players or coaches (and more's the pity for that), we have the luxury of looking ahead in the schedule. After such an impressive opening victory, it isn't hard to find people talking Notre Dame up as a team at the cusp of the College Football Playoffs. What's the biggest impediment you see to that lofty a postseason berth?

OFD: Other than themselves (i.e. losing to a team like Pitt out of nowhere), their biggest hurdles remaining are Georgia Tech next week, and Clemson/USC later in the season. If we can get through all of those we should be in the playoff. If we lose any of those, but have a victory over the ACC or PAC 12 champion, then we'd be in with a shout at 11-1 at the end of the season.

I unfortunately think that we drop two of those games and are out of the conversation, but in it for one of the NY6 bowls.

STL: My read on Notre Dame fans is a cautious optimism for Saturday's game, giving credit to Virginia for playing tougher at home than on the road. How do you see this one playing out? Bottom line: Who ya got?

OFD: Tough defense at home makes me pause a little bit. Texas's defense was supposed to be pretty strong, however, so I'm not positive how I see it playing out if ND comes out like they did against the Longhorns. I think UCLA put up a lot of tape on what can beat Virginia, and it's a lot of things that Notre Dame can do well. There's so many playmakers on the offensive side of the ball for the Irish, I don't know that anything other than huge mistakes will slip them up.

I'll go with Vegas and say the final score will be something along the lines of ND 31, Virginia 14. UVA's offense doesn't put much fear in my heart, and I think that will be the difference in the game.

Best of luck this weekend! Go Irish!