Perimeter Problems

Smith has four INT in his last five quarters

Thursday we identified three potential problem areas for the Irish in Saturday's matchup vs. South Florida. The Bulls have a trio of game-changing issues to tackle as well.

Click here for three matchups that could favor the Bulls vs. the Irish Saturday.

Michael Floyd vs. the World

That's likely overstating.

Instead: "Floyd vs. a pair of vertically-challenged cornerbacks that happen to coincide with his first game back from off-season suspension."

Notre Dame senior wide receiver Michael Floyd is going to have a monstrous final season, and South Florida's pair of cornerbacks represent the first helping of fresh meat for the leader of the Irish offense. Yes, "leader."

Rightly stripped of his captaincy by head coach Brian Kelly for off-field, off-season idiocy, Floyd remains the player the entire offense looks to for big plays, bigger blocks, and to serve as the great equalizer through the trials of a 12-game season. The Irish offense would struggle mightily in at least 10 games without him; with him, at least three other potential playmakers emerge: tight end Tyler Eifert, slot receiver Theo Riddick, and running back Cierre Wood – each shedding the dreaded "potential" designation from his playmaker status.

Saturday, Floyd will encounter junior cornerback 5'11" Kayvon Webster or 5'10" senior corner and three-year starter Quenton Washington. A pair of veteran safeties await as well, and the Bulls quartet (actually sextet, USF boasts solid nickel and dime defenders as well) is well-equipped to stop the pass. The group can contain the rest of Notre Dame's receiving corps, but Floyd is elite, and that will remain the case as long as the oft-dinged senior remains upright this fall.

Not all leaders are the face of their program. Not all of them are ideal poster children for modern college football. But all of them approach practice and game days with the same determination and will – the same desire to dominate – as does Michael Floyd.

Ethan Johnson, Darius Fleming vs. Quinterrius Eatmon

The senior Johnson will man the left defensive end spot throughout the contest; his classmate Fleming will flank him often, working as the boundary linebacker. Both will match skills with South Florida rookie Quinterrius Eatmon, the formerly massive redshirt freshman that shed nearly 60 pounds over the off-season in preparation for full-time right tackle duty this fall.

Two of the Irish roster's top 10 players entering the season, Johnson and Fleming hold a significant edge over the first-time competitor Eatmon. Additionally, Fleming's bookend outside Dog linebacker Prince Shembo has proven his pass-rushing wares off the edge as well, finishing with 4.5 sacks in a part-time role last fall. Set-up to the field side of the football (wide side), Shembo will be "activated" as a pass rusher (to use Kelly's terminology) far more often than was his predecessor Kerry Neal.

There will be precious few instances in which Eatmon isn't challenged by speed, power, and experience off the edge.

Rounding out Eatmon's quartet of opposing pass-rush challengers is freshman phenom Aaron Lynch who, like Eatmon, will taste his first collegiate action Saturday afternoon.

Lynch can be eased into the Fray – Eatmon's debut is likely to be much more challenging.

A veteran Irish secondary vs. Bulls QB B.J. Daniels

Daniels is the Bulls best player and when in good health, a difference-maker on the perimeter. But South Florida's complimentary north-south rushing attack is unlikely to stress Notre Dame's deep front seven – the result: multiple 3rd and medium or long-yardage situations for Daniels and the USF offense, a situation that removes a high percentage of scrambling options for the Bulls QB, forcing him to attack the Irish back seven with what has thus proven to be an inconsistent arm.

Further, that competing group of Irish could be the best combined secondary and linebacker units since the team's last top-tier defense in 2002. Five-deep on the back line and at least six, maybe seven solid performers populate the four-position linebacker corps – it's a difficult opening matchup for a quarterback that must use his feet to move the ball through the air.

The Bulls ranked 101st out of 120 FBS teams in passing last year and 105th in total offense – its 71st ranked rushing attack the highlight on an offensive side of scrimmage that struggled to score vs. five of the six decent defenses it faced last fall.

Daniels is an excellent athlete, but barring injury, there aren't holes in Notre Dame's secondary, where only depth on the corner is a concern for 2011.

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