Notre Dame opens their home slate on Saturday with technically their second “home” game of the season after last weekend’s game in Dublin counted as a home game. The Irish return to the House that Rockne Built for the first time this season while hosting their first-ever FCS opponent – Tennessee State. This one shouldn’t be overly interesting other than seeing who scores all of the touchdowns the Irish should score this weekend.
What Worries Me This Week
Jetlag from traveling back from Ireland
It’s no secret that the last time Notre Dame played in Ireland, they looked sluggish and nearly lost to a pretty bad Purdue team. Marcus Freeman was asked about this multiple times this week, and the Irish head coach said they planned accordingly this week and made adjustments they’re hopeful will keep the team fresh. Freeman went so far as to say that this week’s Wednesday practice was one of the best Wednesday practices the team has had in a while.
It’s possible that Notre Dame comes out sluggish and takes a little while to get going. If that happens, hopefully, they knock the rust off quickly and get to work. Notre Dame missed multiple opportunities last year to get their reserves quality reps in games that should have been blowouts.
In a game like this, the biggest concern is always injuries. Hopefully, Notre Dame gets some good work done in this one for their starters and gets them out early and unscathed. Notre Dame should score a ton of points and get their backups plenty of reps in this one. If they do both things and avoid any injuries, it’ll be a very successful afternoon at the office for this squad.
What To Watch For
Wide Receiver Snaps / Opportunities
Jaden Greathouse and Deion Colzie made the most of limited reps last week against Navy. I’ll be interested to see how the reps at receiver get split up this weekend and how the receivers make use of them. It seemed like Notre Dame tried to get Chris Tyree involved a bit last week, but given his skillset, there’s a lot more they can do to get him involved. Do they start that this week to give Ohio State more to prepare for? Tobias Merriweather had a deep shot that just missed being a touchdown, and one screen called his way that wasn’t complete. Does Greathouse get more run? Does Colzie? It appears Notre Dame has a multitude of options at wide receiver, so it’s going to be fun to see how they are deployed each week.
Notre Dame’s Pass Rush
We didn’t see much of Notre Dame’s pass rush, with Navy attempting just six passes last week. Still, Notre Dame managed two sacks – one from each of Rylie Mills and Josh Burnham. How the pass rush replaces the production of Foskey and the Ademilola twins was one of the biggest question marks for the defense in 2023. We should start to get an answer to that this weekend. I wouldn’t expect Golden to bust out any exotic looks or crazy blitzes given the opponent, but Notre Dame should be able to generate a pass rush against an FCS foe without the need of dialing up much pressure.
Specifically, it’ll be fun to watch who Notre Dame sends on the EDGE on obvious passing downs. The Irish have several raw pass rushers who need reps, so this could be a good opportunity for them to gain some experience.
Notre Dame relied on many of their most experienced players against Navy defensively since there is no substitute for experience when it comes to defending the option. DJ Brown, for instance, was third on the team in defensive snaps at 37. It will be interesting to see if Brown’s role in the rotation is as prominent as Notre Dame faces more traditional offenses. Brown led all safeties in snaps in 2022, but there was some thought that ascending players like Ramon Henderson and Xavier Watts could cut into those snaps.
Where transfer Thomas Harper fits into the mix against more traditional defenses will also be worth watching. Will he just play as the nickel, or will he get snaps as a safety as well? Harper and fellow transfer Antonio Carter only combined for 19 total snaps against Navy. I’d expect that total to increase over the next few weeks.
Notre Dame’s Kicking Game
Notre Dame did not punt once in the season opener against Navy. Will that streak continue? It’s certainly possible facing an FCS opponent. If the Irish do punt, we’ll see the debut of Bryce McFerson. Otherwise, it will have to wait another week. While you don’t want to necessarily see the debut of a punter since it means a drive failed, McFerson does need some real game action before the Ohio State game.
On the place-kicking side, it was not a promising debut for transfer Spencer Schrader. He missed his only field goal attempt – a 42-yarder. It wasn’t particularly close, either. Reports out of camp were mixed on Schrader’s consistency, so the miss on the only attempt was concerning. Hopefully, it’s just a blip, and Schrader settles in, but it’s worth watching.
Players to Watch
- Tobias Merriweather – Look for Notre Dame to call his number early. They want to get him cooking, too.
- Steve Angeli / Kenny Minchey – I hope we see at least one of them attempt multiple passes this weekend.
- Jordan Botelho – He gets his first sack of the season this week.
- Jeremiyah Love – He could get some extended run against Tennessee State. With his speed, we could see him bust a long one in the second half.
- Notre Dame tight ends – They were held off the stat sheet last week. I doubt we’ll see that happen again this weekend.
- Jaylen Sneed – I think we’ll see him unleashed a bit this weekend as a pass rusher.
- Donovan Hinish – With Gabriel Rubio out with a knee injury, Hinish should see more snaps this weekend.
Games like this are tough to predict because of how uncompetitive they should be and when the Irish decide to call off the dogs, so to speak. I see Sam Hartman leading the Irish to a huge half-time lead and then getting the entire second half off. The backups score a few points when Love busts a 60+ yarder against the overmatched Tigers. Tennessee State gets on the scoreboard late as Notre Dame clears the bench.
Notre Dame 52, Tennessee State 10