After a season-defining victory over the Wisconsin Badgers, Brian Kelly will not have long to celebrate as the Irish welcome #7 Cincinnati this weekend. The Bearcats are fresh off a bye-week and bear the burden of every non-power five program in the country in this heavyweight matchup. With the Irish struggling on offense, can Brian Kelly secure another top-10 victory at Notre Dame Stadium? We’ll find out this Saturday afternoon.
Essential Game Info:
- Game Time: Saturday, October 2nd at 2:30 PM ET on NBC
- Location: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Indiana
- Matchup History: The Irish are 1-0 all-time against the Cincinnati Bearcats (Last Meeting 1900: Notre Dame won 58 to 0)
- Current Odds: Cincinnati -2.5
The current forecast for GameDay shows a 24% chance of rain with a high of 74 degrees and a low of 55.
- Conference: American Athletic Conference
- Head Coach: Luke Fickell
- 2021 Record: 3-0 (0-0)
- 2020 Record: 9-1 (7-0)
Can a non-power five team make the playoffs? Cincinnati has the best chance of becoming the first program outside the power-five conferences to make the College Football Playoffs. Although not the official playoff poll, the Bearcats are ranked #7 in the AP Poll and show a willingness to travel to power-five opponents.
Luke Fickell went on the road to Bloomington and knocked off the Hoosiers. An impressive win, but Indiana is not the same team from a season ago. So now the Bearcats march into Notre Dame Stadium and face the #9 Fighting Irish.
Quarterback Desmond Ridder headlines the Cincinnati Offense. Through three games, Ridder is 54 for 83 (65%) for 748 yards with 7 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. In addition, the Bearcat Quarterback has 20 attempts for 72 yards (3.6 yards per carry) and 2 rushing scores on the ground. Desmond Ridder has played in 39 games for Cincinnati and brings a heap of experience to this matchup.
Key Bearcat players. The rushing attack is led by running back Jerome Ford. Ford has 50 attempts for 300 yards (6 yards per carry) and 6 rushing scores this fall. In addition, Cincinnati has a plethora of receivers, and six players have 5 or more receptions on the season.
Wide Receiver Tyler Scott leads the Bearcats with 2 receiving touchdowns on the year. The 5’ 11” sophomore also has 7 receptions for 172-yards.
Notre Dame Storylines:
Irish ace first major test against the Wisconsin Badgers. Chris Tyree’s kickoff return helped spark a 31-point 4th quarter and likely changed the course of the 2021 season. If Notre Dame can “upset” Cincinnati this week, the Fighting Irish will be right back in the College Football Playoff hunt.
Yet again, the Irish can thank the national media for portraying them as the underdogs this week. There are undoubtedly areas of concern for Notre Dame Football, but this game is being played at Notre Dame Stadium, and Brian Kelly can prove the doubters wrong for a second straight week.
The Notre Dame Offensive Line struggles considerably. The Irish had 32 carries for 9-yards against the Wisconsin Badgers. Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree have elite talent at running back, but they have not had running lanes to operate. At the same time, Irish Quarterbacks were sacked six times last week.
Half of the blame is on the line, and the other responsibility is on the quarterback. Coan needs to throw the football away more than he has this season. Too many times, sacks have ruined drives, whereas throwing the ball away gives the Irish more manageable opportunities.
Marcus Freeman faces his former team. One can imagine the Bearcats will have added incentive to beat Notre Dame this week. Most players on the defensive side of the ball played under Coach Freeman.
The Irish Defense has totally transformed into a top defense by wreaking havoc in the last two weeks. Facing Purdue and Wisconsin, Freeman’s unit tallied four sacks and seven turnovers. The Notre Dame Defense must play at this intensity against Cincinnati because who knows how many points the Irish Offense can score.
Notre Dame Offense vs. Cincinnati Defense: The Irish Offense has struggled with the lack of a dual-threat quarterback and rushing game throughout the season. Jack Coan has been sacked 19 times in only four matchups. Conversely, the Bearcat defense has been impressive through their first three contests and was one of the best units in the country under Freeman last season.
Luke Fickell’s defense has the advantage in this category.
Cincinnati Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense: The Notre Dame defense held Purdue and Wisconsin to 13-points the last two weekends. Marcus Freeman has an advantage in this matchup and knows what to expect from the Cincinnati offense. While the Bearcats bring experience with Desmond Ridder and have already knocked off the Hoosiers on the road. This will be one of the biggest games in the history of Cincinnati Football.
If the Irish Defense can continue to play as they have, Notre Dame has the advantage in this matchup.
Advantage: Notre Dame
Special Teams: Cincinnati’s kicking game is led by kicker Cole Smith who is 1 for 3 on the season, with a long of 32-yards. Conversely, Jonathan Doerer is 7 for 10 on the year, with a long of 51-yards.
Last week, Chris Tyree was able to use his speed with a kickoff return against Wisconsin. Similarly, Tre Tucker also had a game-changing kickoff score facing the Indiana Hoosiers in week three of the season.
There is no distinct advantage in this matchup.
The Notre Dame Offensive Line continues to terrify me every week. Nevertheless, the Irish were able to pull away from Wisconsin despite only nine rushing yards. Jack Coan has been sacked 19 times this season, and I think the burden is on a combination of poor line play and his inability to run or throw the ball away.
If healthy, Coan will likely start this weekend. But I think Tyler Buchner and Drew Pyne could drastically help the offense with their running capabilities and mobility in the pocket.
Nevertheless, Cincinnati is a hungry football program coming to South Bend. The Irish may not have a better offensive line than the Bearcats, but they have the better overall team. Like last week, Notre Dame showed they have weaknesses, but they can overcome them with a total team effort.
Regardless of who is in at quarterback, I believe Brian Kelly will find a way to win this matchup in South Bend.
Prediction: Notre Dame 27 Cincinnati 20