Irish defense to be tested by Nevada

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

One of the first things Notre Dame's players see when they enter the Guglielmino Athletics Complex every day is a statue of the famed Four Horsemen.

And when the Irish open their 2009 season on Saturday, they'll get an up-close look at the Three Horsemen.

OK, so maybe Nevada's Colin Kaepernick, Luke Lippincott and Vai Taua don't yet have the legendary status of Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden. But they've sure got the stats.

Taua rushed for 1,521 yards last season, while Kaepernick became one of only five quarterbacks in Division I history to rush for more than 1,000 yards and throw for 2,000 in the same season. And Lippincott ran for 1,420 yards two years ago before missing most of last season.

Throw in the Wolf Pack's confusion-causing pistol formations and their ability to throw the ball downfield, and Notre Dame's defense figures to have its hands full in the opener.

"It's a little bit different because it's not like anything we've ever seen before," safety Kyle McCarthy said. "There is obviously some option mixed in, so there's a little bit of Michigan and Navy in there. But they're more than capable of passing the ball with success, too. So we've got to be ready for anything."

Just how ready is the Notre Dame defense?

That side of the ball has gone through some changes since last season, most notably with the promotion of Jon Tenuta to defensive coordinator. Before coming to Notre Dame as linebackers coach, Tenuta shaped Georgia Tech into one of the top defenses in the nation annually. He's known for an aggressive style that heavy on the blitz.

"All you've got to to do is go watch some of my reels, and yeah, I'm going to be a pressure guy," he said last month.

Head coach Charlie Weis felt so comfortable in handing the defensive reins over to Tenuta that Weis decided to go back to being his own offensive coordinator. Still, Tenuta's preferred pressure system might have to be dialed back a bit against the Nevada option-based offense.

"We have to zero in on our reads and our keys and stay in position, not try to do too much," McCarthy said.

Weis said the Wolf Pack asks Kaepernick to do similar things that Vince Young used to do for Texas but from a different formation. Nevada likes to use a lot of pre-snap motions and shifts as well.

"You can say it's window dressing," Tenuta said, "but it's part of how they attack you."

Stopping the run, as always, is the first priority, especially because Notre Dame doesn't want Nevada to bleed the clock and keep Jimmy Clausen and his receivers on the sidelines. The Irish lived out that headache in last year's opener against San Diego State, whom they squeaked by for an unimpressive 21-13 victory.

Everyone is expecting a whole lot more out of this year's team, and it will have to slow down the Three Horsemen before accomplishing anything else.

"I envision the game going just the way we envision it," Weis said. "You're playing at home, you're playing against a formidable opponent. If we can come out and play really well right off the bat, it could set a good precedent as we go forward."