Recently, Notre Dame’s athletic director said they still plan to play Arkansas in South Bend, Indiana on September 12th. Great! Well, maybe.
There are two schools of thought on whether it would be better for the Hogs if the game is cancelled because of Covid-19, or if it’s allowed to proceed. There’s a HOG argument for both.
We’ll escape a loss in a shortened season.
Depending on the service you look at, Notre Dame’s preseason rank is between #9 and #13.
The Hogs have a new quarterback (Feleipe Franks), three receivers (Trey Knox, Treylon Burks and Mike Woods) who can play with or against just about anybody and a running back in Rakeem Boyd who CAN play with anybody. If our O-line, which includes a Notre Dame transfer in redshirt sophomore Luke Jones, doesn’t get coached up in a hurry, though, those players will have a tough time showing what they can do.
Other than that, most of our offensive talent is in the freshman class. It would just be the second game and they’d be playing on arguably the biggest stage in college football. Not to be too negative here, but chances are we could be walking out of the stadium with our tail between our legs, defeated and demoralized in front of a national audience.
There’s just a lot for Arkansas to overcome, after all.
As Notre Dame beat writer Patrick Engel points out in his Arkansas-Notre Dame preview, “Pittman and his staff have an entire team that still needs time to learn if it can trust them and several major defensive holes that need plugging.”
The pandemic has prevented Arkansas from practicing this spring. While all teams have suffered this fate, it’s especially tough on teams with first-year coaches that need extra time to adjust to new game plans.
Regardless of the outcome, those young players will gain a quick understanding of what big-time college football is all about.
If Sam Pittman and his squad somehow came out of this David and Goliath-like tussle with a win, it would create a momentum for this current team unseen in the first year of a Hogs head coach since Houston Nutt’s 1998 debut. We’d gain national recognition as a team on the rise, with likely a couple of the necessary Hog heroes on early-season All-America lists.
Just like David had a game plan to hit Goliath where it hurt, our coaching staff needs to come up with a game plan to hit Notre Dame where it hurts.
We’ve all got Covid-19 fatigue — or at least I do. But, ironically, what we need is for Notre Dame to take on a strong social distancing policy and only let a third of the 80,000ish fans attend.
We know that for sure the home crowds won’t be at capacity, unlike Arkansas where Hunter Yurachek said he’s wanting full capacity crowds. Fighting Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick said:
“”We haven’t yet gotten to the question of how big that audience is. We won’t be at capacity. We’ll do something less than that. And we’ll be very careful about maintaining social distance. How the facility works, how you enter it, how you exit it, all things to be determined. We’re working hard on them.”
Only allowing a third of the fans would reduce the crowd noise by about 54,000 fanatics, but the empty seats it would create would be a downer for the Irish and an upper for the Hogs.
That levels the playing field…….a little bit. Certainly, less Notre Dame fans can’t hurt. If that happens, it turns into more of a mano y mano test of athleticism, skill and coaching. It seems to me that the scales tilt just a bit towards Arkansas at that point.
HERE’S THE DEAL:
Can we win? The short answer to that question is “yes.” Anyone can win on any given day.
But, we need to run into a flat Notre Dame team who mails it in, and we need to play our hearts out. Sam Pittman, Barry Odom and Kendal Briles will have them playing at the highest level at which they can play. The question is — will it be high enough?
In terms of pure talent, Arkansas is much closer to Notre Dame in its freshmen and sophomore classes than many people aware. But it’s still raw and needs to be developed.
The X-Factor is the crowd size. Obviously, it’s far less intimidating to play in front of 26,000 fans than 80,000. Better yet, playing in front of 26,000 people all separated by six feet makes it even less possible to generate a lot of noise.
Let’s hope this strange COVID-19-altered season helps the Hogs. It would be good to see stadium attendance restrictions like these still in place for the road Mississippi State game so we can hear less cowbells. And here’s to hoping they lifted in the following three weeks, in time for the home Alabama game. It sure would be nice to hear Hog calls from a fully crowded Razorback stadium once again cascade through the Boston Mountains.
Below is a great breakdown of the Hogs’ chances against Notre Dame and the rest of their 2020 opponents: