Another week, another big-time match for Notre Dame football. This weekend the Irish host #7 Cincinnati; after spending a week hearing about their 28 point victory over Wisconsin, barely counts because they were “lucky” according to the national media – and even some on the beat. The subplots are aplenty with the Bearcats, owners of a resume that only includes victories over Murray State, Indiana, and Miami of Ohio, certainly feeling themselves too, with a lot of trash talk. Will the Irish do the walking tomorrow, though?
What Worries Me This Week
Cincinnati treating this as more than their own Super Bowl
Notre Dame has wisely kept from providing Cincinnati any of their own bulletin board material. You know, since the Irish have been there before. Notre Dame is used to playing in big games like this. Cincinnati isn’t. And therein lies one of my worries for this week. This is bigger than a game to Cincinnati. It wouldn’t just make their season to win at Notre Dame; it would be a program-defining victory for them. That is how they are treating this contest.
Notre Dame just played a big game last weekend, on the road, against a traditional powerhouse program. Cincinnati spent the week on a bye daydreaming of what it would be like to win at Notre Dame Stadium. There’s no way around it. This game means more to Cincinnati. It doesn’t mean Notre Dame isn’t taking it seriously. It just means that to Notre Dame, this is just another big game. It’s much more than one game to Cincinnati, and that worries me.
Possible explosive plays from Cincinnati
Notre Dame has done a great job limiting the explosive plays the last two weeks, but they were a problem weeks one and two. Cincinnati has a quarterback that can deliver some this week if given a chance. Graham Mertz had an opportunity to make some plays downfield on Notre Dame last week that he missed because he was just not very good. If Ridder hits those same plays, things could get dicey.
Marcus Freeman knows the Cincinnati personnel well, and the defense has been playing really well, but the system is still risk/reward, and Ridder is a good quarterback. With the Notre Dame offense struggling to sustain offense, big plays from Cincinnati could be tough to overcome without many big plays of their own.
I love what I am seeing out of the Notre Dame defense right now, but right or wrong, the margin for error for the defense is thin because of the offense. That said, I fully expect the Irish defense to deliver their own big plays.
Until proven otherwise, the offensive line
It looks like Notre Dame will get Michael Carmody back this weekend, but I don’t think anyone thinks that will suddenly cure all that ails the Irish offensive line. This week, I said on the pod that I think Notre Dame will try to run up the middle and might just have some success since that is where the Bearcats are a little vulnerable. I even think it might just work. However, that doesn’t mean I’m not worried about the offensive line as a whole or concerned that they could try and fail at this.
There is also the matter of pass protection. Notre Dame’s OL hasn’t been good at it even though the QB hasn’t helped much. We very well could find out if it’s all the line or a combo of the line and the QB this week. Regardless, until we see some improvement, the offensive line worries me.
What Doesn’t Worry Me This Week
Notre Dame’s quarterback position
On this week’s preview pod, both Greg and I speculated that we expected to see Drew Pyne in at QB1 for Notre Dame, given the vagueness with which Brian Kelly answered questions about Jack Coan this week. Regardless of who starts, though, I am not worried about who is back as much as I am about how the line will protect whoever it is. If it’s Pyne, it opens up some things for Tommy Rees and the Notre Dame offense that they couldn’t do with Coan in the running game.
I say this knowing that I could regret this, but I am genuinely intrigued with what Pyne could do with this offense after seeing him in the 4th quarter last week.
Notre Dame’s pass rush
Notre Dame’s defensive line is straight-up nasty. Cincinnati’s offensive line isn’t great. Combine those two, and I think Notre Dame gets enough pressure on Desmond Ridder to rattle him and make him rethink his trash talk from earlier this week. Notre Dame got pressure on Graham Mertz without having to send extra blitzers. They should be able to do that this week too.
Ridder can escape pressure with his athleticism, so wrapping up will be critical, but I think the pressure will be there without Marcus Freeman having to call for a lot of exotic blitzes. The defensive line is that good.
A let down from Notre Dame after a big game
Usually, after a big game, you worry about a letdown, but that usually happens when the next game is against a lesser opponent. That isn’t what Notre Dame has this weekend, and if you listened to this week’s Inside the Garage podcast, the Notre Dame players talked about how excited they were that they had another big game coming off of last weekend.
A lot has been made about all of the teams coming off a bye week and then playing Notre Dame, but the Irish desperately needed some momentum after their early season struggles. Well, they got that and then some in the 4th quarter against Wisconsin, and I think that carries over to this week.
Players to Watch This Week
- Braden Lenzy – Please, for the love of God get this kid the ball on a jet or a pop pass
- Avery Davis – The captain chould have a sneaky good game – especially if Cincy gives extra attention to Michael Mayer
- Jordan Botelho – He didn’t appear on the stat sheet last week, but he was definitely on the tape. I’m intrigued to see how his role changes against a very different offense
- Tyler Buchner – If he is indeed available, he will play. He’ll have a chance to make plays with his RPO package if he makes the right reads
- Howard Cross / Jacob Lacey – They filled in great for Kurt Hinish last week and will be needed again tomorrow
- Joe Wilkins – With Cincy’s talent at CB, Notre Dame could look to run some more four receiver sets and Wilkins could be the recipient of more targets this week
- C’bo Flemister – He is back this week after a convenient four game stretch of being unavailable.
- Kevin Austin – Yes, Sauce Gardner is good, but guess what, so is Kevin Austin. He will still have a chance to make plays tomorrow.
I didn’t feel that great about this game to start the week and didn’t really have any feelings towards Cincinnati then either. But, both of those have changed. Cincinnati’s talking certainly has the team’s attention, and hearing the Notre Dame players talk about how they’re excited about a big game after last week makes me feel more optimistic. It all comes down to the offensive line for Notre Dame. If they are just average, Notre Dame wins. If they aren’t, we might have to hear fans of a program that has never produced a consensus All-American that wasn’t a kicker/punter continue to chirp.
Well, I said it on the pod, and I’ll repeat it here. This team turned a corner last week, and while Cincinnati made the headlines with their words all week, Notre Dame will make them with their play tomorrow. Just expect the national media to immediately downplay it if it happens because “well maybe Cincinnati wasn’t all that good, to begin with.”
Notre Dame 34, Cincinnati 21