The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are picking up the pieces after a disastrous loss to Stanford and are once again setting their sights on Las Vegas. In this case, it’s the 4-3 UNLV Rebels who are facing an Irish team looking to start up another winning surge.
UNLV is also reeling after getting routed 42-7 by Air Force on Saturday night. That continues a 2022 trend of the Rebels lighting up the scoreboard when winning and getting shut down in their defeats. In their last two contests, UNLV has lost by a combined score of 82-14, a stark difference from their three wins in which they averaged 41 points per game.
Below is a look at some of the key matchups for this game:
QB Drew Pyne vs. UNLV Defense
Despite facing a Stanford team that had allowed over 38 points in their defeats this season, Pyne had problems dealing with Cardinal defenders all night. Part of the problem in his play this season has been a tendency to rely too heavily on tight end Michael Mayer. Pyne is taking cautious steps when it comes to expanding his receiving options but needs to either avoid or simply reduce having his passes blocked at the line of scrimmage.
As previously noted, the Rebel defense is a mixed bag that’s vulnerable enough to get hammered against a quality opponent. Right now, that designation is a question mark when it comes to Notre Dame. However, UNLV’s defenders have not kept an opponent under 20 points this season, which at least offers the Irish offense the opportunity to have a big day.
Notre Dame Defense vs. QB Doug Brumfield
Irish defenders only allowed one touchdown against Stanford but still had problems stopping the Cardinal offense. One of the reasons why Stanford kept the ball for more than 36 minutes was the weak tackling effort by Notre Dame. In addition to that flaw, the continuing inability to force turnovers remains a season-long problem.
Brumfield sustained a concussion against San Jose State on Oct. 7 and then sat out the loss to Air Force. He should be behind center for this contest, with the 6-foot-5 southpaw having the mobility to get out of the pocket, if necessary. He’s put up average numbers this season and has eight interceptions with only two interceptions. If he’s not able to go, the Rebels will likely use Cameron Friel, who threw one interception and fumbled twice in Saturday’s loss to Air Force.
MLB J.D. Bertrand vs. RB Aidan Robbins
Bertrand finally played a full game against Stanford after sitting out portions of the past two contests because of targeting flags. He had a big night with a career-high 13 tackles to take over the team lead in that department. However, he’s seen his numbers dip when it comes to getting into opposing backfields and, for this game, needs to keep Robbins in check.
Robbins arrived during the offseason from Louisville, where he was used sparingly for two years. At UNLV, he’s the team’s leading rusher with 591 yards, scoring eight touchdowns and also serving as a receiving outlet with 14 grabs on the year. He’s built more like a fullback at 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds and should offer something of a challenge to the smaller Bertrand.
RB Audric Estime vs. MLB Austin Ajiake
Estime is Notre Dame’s leading rusher but his fumble against Stanford proved to be devastating to the Irish comeback effort. He’s part of the backfield triumvirate that includes Chris Tyree and Logan Diggs, both of whom will also have their share of carries against UNLV. Estime’s aggressive running style can often pay dividends but he needs to pay more attention to holding onto the ball.
Ajiake is far and away the leading tackler for the Rebels this season, collecting 80 stops that include eight stops behind the line. He can also quickly get back into pass coverage, which is something that will be needed when Tyree is in the backfield. Regardless of whether he’s dealing with a pass or run, Notre Dame fans should expect to hear his name often during Saturday’s contest.
WR Lorenzo Styles vs. CB Nohl Williams
After Mayer, Styles has the most catches among any Notre Dame receivers. He’s been under the radar in recent weeks, with freshmen Jayden Thomas and Tobias Merriweather making their presence felt during the past two games. Styles is just three receptions away from matching his numbers from last year and has the size and speed to make an impact in this game if Pyne focuses more closely on him.
Williams has the ability to get up in the air, knocking away four passes this year for the Rebels. He’s also around the ball frequently, collecting a pair of interceptions and delivering jarring hits to force two fumbles this season. In addition, he also has the speed to get into the Irish backfield.