Notre Dame enters Saturday’s contest with Toledo more banged up than usual for the second week of the season. A rash of injuries, including significant ones to starters and key role players, has Notre Dame limping into their home-opener much more than usual. The good news for Notre Dame is that their opponent, Toledo, plays in a conference, the MAC, that Notre Dame is undefeated against lifetime.
Apologies for the late posting of this week’s preview, but the short week with the late Sunday night game combined with a hectic week at the day job kicked my butt this week. I consumed about two weeks worth of coffee over the last four days and am now really looking forward to enjoying some Notre Dame football.
REMINDER: This game is NOT on NBC this week. It is only available on the Peacock App. Earlier this week, we posted about how to watch Notre Dame on Saturday.
What Worries Me This Week
Injuries. They are mounting, and it is concerning because more are coming at some point. It’s football. Injuries happen. Having so many early in the season and then playing a game on a short week after going to overtime is probably not the ideal scenario for avoiding injuries. If Notre Dame can get out of this weekend with a comfortable win without any more significant injuries, that’s a huge win.
The short week of preparation. I said this on the podcast this week, but the short week isn’t great because none of these kids have played on a short week before, at Notre Dame anyway. When Notre Dame played on Sunday night in 2019 against Louisville, they had a bye week the following week. When they played at Texas on Labor Day Sunday in 2016, the Irish came out flat and sluggish the next weekend at home against a Michigan State team that turned out to be as bad as Notre Dame was that year.
Hopefully, Brian Kelly learned something from that 2016 experience – we know he learned from many other experiences in 2016.
The rushing game. It worries me not that I think it’ll struggle as much as last week. It worries me a bit that Notre Dame might try to overdo it with the running game this week more to work on it than anything else. Don’t force the bit, Tommy. This team most likely isn’t going to get close to last year’s production running the ball – but we knew that. Notre Dame shouldn’t abandon the run and go air raid, but the worry here is they spend too much time trying to “fix” something that probably won’t reach 2020 levels even with a lot more work.
What Doesn’t Worry Me This Week
Marcus Freeman’s defense. I mentioned the concerning aspects of Marcus Freeman’s debut at Notre Dame a couple of times, but at the same time, there’s no reason to panic and no reason to think he’s not still the same coach that had everyone excited for the last eight months.
Freeman isn’t going to overreact to how the defense broke down in the 4th quarter against Florida. Instead, he will keep attacking and against a team like Toledo that Notre Dame can overpower. As a result, we should see some pretty good results this weekend.
Given that the team is still learning Freeman’s system, we might see a big play here and there, but I don’t expect to see anything resembling what we saw in the 4th quarter on Sunday against Toledo.
Notre Dame passing attack. While the rushing attack struggled in the opener, the passing attack was more than solid, even though they left a few big plays on the field. Look for Notre Dame to hit on a few more of those big plays this weekend as Jack Coan and his receivers continue to get their timing down. Coan had chances for big plays that he missed a couple of times by either running or taking an underneath route. They’ll clean those up too.
This week, Notre Dame lost two wide receivers, with Lawrence Keys III deciding to sit the rest of the year out and Xavier Watts moving to ROVER, but if the two-deep stays intact, there is still a ton of talent there for an explosive vertical attack.
Players to Watch
- Xavier Watts – He moved to ROVER this week, and Brian Kelly said he would play. As a defender, he has a new number – #26 after wearing #82
- Kevin Austin – Think he just scratched the surface against the Seminoles.
- Braden Lenzy – Coan missed opportunities for big plays to Lenzy last week that he hits this week.
- Josh Lugg – For a 5th-year senior, he struggled against Florida State in the opener. He should be able to have his way with defenders from the MAC. But, if he struggles again, it won’t be ideal.
- Jack Kiser – He could get more time at WILL this week with all of the injuries there.
- DJ Brown – Brown probably didn’t have fun in the film sessions this week after the opener. It will be interesting to see if Freeman sticks with him in the rotation or if a young player like KJ Wallace gets a chance.
- Rocco Spindler – This is the kind of game that a freshman OL should get reps.
- Kurt Hinish – We didn’t mention him enough last week, but he was a BEAST against Florida State. Watch for the big man to be a menace again this week.
- Avery Davis – He didn’t have a single target last week. That should change this week for the captain.
This one will be close for a little while, causing many fans, possibly myself included, to overreact at the start, but this just seems like a game where we should almost expect a sluggish start. Lots of early injuries, team got home at 4:30 in the morning Monday, short week, first home game. But, all that said, the talent gap is too big here, and Notre Dame will start to pull away in the second quarter before ultimately putting it away in the 3rd quarter and getting some freshmen on the field in the fourth.
Notre Dame 45, Toledo 20