2008 Hawaii Bowl Preview - N. Dame vs. Hawaii

Posted Dec 20, 2008

Notre Dame vs. Hawaii - The 2008 Sheraton Hawaii Bowl Preview & Prediction

2008 Sheraton Hawaii Bowl

Notre Dame (6-6) vs. Hawaii (7-6)

Dec. 24, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

$750,000   Location: Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, HI

- 2008 Hawaii Bowl Player Profiles, Histories, & More

National Rankings
Hawaii Notre Dame
Total Offense
74th  344.85 ypg 75th  344.83 ypg
Total Defense
57th  351.85 ypg 38th  327.5 ypg
Scoring Offense
69th  24.92 ppg 86th  22.67 ppg
Scoring Defense
72nd  27.31 ppg 43rd  22.25 ppg
Run Offense
107th  99.31 ypg 99th  113.42 ypg
Run Defense
72nd  148 ypg 64th  142.67 ypg
Pass Offense
33rd  245.54 ypg 46th  231.42 ypg
Pass Defense
54th  203.85 ypg 30th  184.83
Turnover Margin
83rd  -0.38 85th  -0.42
at Florida L 56-10
Weber St W 36-17
at Oregon St L 45-7
SJSU L 20-17
at FSU W 32-29 OT
La Tech W 28-14
at Boise St L 27-7
Nevada W 38-31
 at Utah St L 30-14
NMSU W 43-20
Idaho W 49-17
Wash St W 24-10
Cincinnati L 29-24
Notre Dame
SDSU W 21-13
Michigan W 35-17
at Mich St L 23-7
Purdue W 38-21
Stanford W 28-21
at UNC L 29-24
at Wash W 33-7
Pitt L 36-33 4 OT
at Bos Coll L 17-0
Navy W 27-21
Syracuse L 24-23
at USC L 38-3
Position Ratings
relative to each other
H 5 highest
1 lowest
3 Quarterbacks 4
1.5 RBs 3
3 Receivers 4
2 O Line 3
3 D Line 2.5
4 Linebackers 3
3 Secondary 4
2 Spec Teams 3
3 Coaching 3.5

By Pete Fiutak   

Either this is the stepping stone to the big turnaround that’s over two years in the making, or it’s the first leg of the Charlie Weis Goodbye Tour. Either way, the Hawaii Bowl, which had a far better matchup last year when Chris Johnson and East Carolina beat Boise State in a classic, is a dream come true for the organizers and for anyone looking for a reason to duck into the den on Christmas Eve. 
Notre Dame might have been a train wreck over the second half of the season, but at least there was progress after the bar was set and an all-time low last ear. The offense moved the ball a little bit, the passing game showed tremendous promise with a great young receiving corps and the emergence of Jimmy Clausen as a decent passer, and the line actually blocked someone. However, the Irish got worse as the season went on and had an interesting and inconsistent mix of close losses (four overtimes to Pitt and in the final minutes against Syracuse) and total disasters (the losses to Boston College and USC). It all added up to Weis being on the hottest of hot seats, but he got a reprieve. 

The 2009 season starts now for Weis, who was put on the equivalent of double secret probation with the edict of BCS-or-Bust from the higher ups. To Weis’s credit, he has put as much pressure on himself and his team as anyone else, but if the program is going to take a big leap forward next year, it has to show that this core group of players can get the job done against a plucky, but flawed Hawaii team.       
The Warriors were left for dead after getting blasted by Georgia in the 2008 Sugar Bowl, and with all the key parts jumping off the apparently sinking ship. Head coach June Jones left for a bigger payday at SMU, and led the way to a 1-11 season with the lone victory coming against Texas State. Heisman finalist Colt Brennan was off to the NFL, and the receiving corps, hurt by a few early exits, had to be completely revamped. New head man Greg McMackin had his work cut out for him, but he and his team overcame the adversity, and a lousy start, to put together a nice year.
There was an inexplicable 30-14 loss to Utah State, but that was offset by a nice overtime win on the road at Fresno State. The losses, for the most part, were acceptable, getting blasted at Florida and Oregon State, losing at Boise State, and dropping hard-fought home games to San Jose State and Cincinnati. As always, the team played tough at home, giving the Big East champion Bearcats a nightmare of a time and beating Louisiana Tech and Nevada, but it took a while for the pieces to come together.
While the offense was hardly the steamroller is way in the Brennan era, it finally started to click once Greg Alexander settled in at quarterback. The defense, while mediocre at times, was ultra-aggressive and was strong against the weak. A three-game winning streak over the dregs of the college football world, New Mexico State, Idaho and Washington State, allowed the Warriors to stay at home for the bowl season, and now they have to take advantage of the opportunity and the national stage.

These are two very flawed, very entertaining teams, for both good and bad, with each struggling to run the ball, each struggling to find any semblance of consistency, and each looking to come up with a big win to cleanse the palate.

Notre Dame has lost nine straight bowl games, and no, Weis wasn’t the coach for all of them. The last post-season win was over Texas A&M in the 1993 Cotton Bowl. Since then, there have been plenty of high-profile blowouts like the disastrous 41-9 loss to Oregon State in the 2001 Fiesta Bowl, the 28-6 embarrassment against NC State in the 2003 Gator Bowl, and the 41-14 loss to LSU in the 2007 Sugar Bowl.

The Warriors have won the last three times they’ve been in the Hawaii Bowl, and this will be the fifth time in the seven years since the bowl’s reemergence that they’ve gotten the home post-season game. All the Hawaii Bowls have been shootouts, with the inaugural game in 2002, a 35-28 Tulane win over Hawaii, the lowest scoring of the bunch. This year, it’ll be worth watching for what should be a 60-minute thriller, or for the car crash.
Players to watch: Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen looked like he was turning a corner on his way to being the superstar he was supposed to be as one of the nation’s top recruits a few years ago, and then he regressed. Having to press a bit early on, he threw two interceptions in each of his first three games. And then came the problems late with eight interceptions in his final four games with only two touchdown passes; both came against Syracuse. Notre Dame can’t win by just pounding away with the ground game and will need Clausen to not only be efficient and effective, but smart. Hawaii, at home, has a way of getting under the skin of teams and forcing mistakes. Clausen will have to quickly put the bad plays in the past before they snowball into a big Hawaii run.
Hawaii’s offense didn’t start to click on until junior Greg Alexander, a top JUCO transfer, started to figure out what he was doing. On the bench for the first half of the year after a disastrous outing against Florida, he took over the full-time gig against Nevada and completed 17-of-22 passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns. Since taking over, he has thrown 12 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. He’s just good enough as a runner to be a regular part of the ground game, and while he’s not putting up Brennan-like passing numbers (he only has one 300-yard game this year), he’s effective at closing out drives with touchdown passes.
The strength of the Warriors is the linebacking corps led by WAC Co-Defensive Player of the year Solomon Elimimian. The team’s leading tackler, with 112 stops, and a good pass rusher when turned loose into the backfield, he’s a disruptive force who makes plays all over the field. His name will get called every time the anemic Notre Dame ground game tries to establish itself. 
For Notre Dame to win, the young receivers, Golden Tate and Michael Floyd, have to shine. Tate, one of the star recruits of a few seasons ago, had a breakout season using his great speed to catch 52 passes for 903 yards and seven touchdowns. A home-run hitter, he exploded for 146 yards and two scores on seven catches against Syracuse and has come through big against some of the better teams on the schedule like North Carolina and Pitt. Floyd was this year’s star recruit, and he showed why with 46 catches for 702 yards and seven touchdowns, highlighted by a 10-catch, 100-yard, two touchdown day against Pitt. He missed the last two games hurt, but he’ll be back for the bowl.

Hawaii will win if... it can protect Alexander. The Hawaii offensive line has been a disaster this season in all phases. John Estes is a special blocker, but he hasn’t been able to do everything. The line is among the worst in the nation in pass protection and isn’t good enough to blast away with the running game, but fortunately for the Warriors, Notre Dame doesn’t do much in the backfield. Despite all the issues, Alexander hasn’t made too many mistakes under the pressure. Since Notre Dame doesn’t have a great pass rush, the Hawaii line has to do just enough to allow Alexander time so he won’t have to hurry his throws and for him to get into a bit of an early rhythm.
Notre Dame will win if
... get Armando Allen and the running game going. Hawaii’s run defense is fine, but nothing special, and it will wear down late in games. While Notre Dame’s bread is usually buttered by the passing attack, it’s the ground game that has led the way to the easier wins. The Irish ran for 200 yards or more in three games this year, and all three (Purdue, Washington, and up until the frantic end, Navy), turned out to be the easiest of the six victories. The Irish didn’t run well on Michigan, but that game was over early thanks to Wolverine turnovers, while the win over Stanford came on the arm of Clausen, who bombed away for 347 yards and three touchdowns. Notre Dame is 5-1 this year when it has a rushing touchdown, and 1-5 when it doesn’t.
What will happen: Hawaii will be pumped up, it’ll be flying all over the field, and it’ll ride a few mini-momentum swings to keep this close, but Notre Dame will get an effective, balanced performance out of the offense while the underappreciated defense will force three turnovers, allow fewer than 50 yards rushing, and will come up with one big stop deep in its own territory that’ll all but win the game.

Line: Hawaii -1.5 ... CFN Prediction: Notre Dame 28 … Hawaii 20      

- 2008 Hawaii Bowl Player Profiles, Histories, & More