Notre Dame hits the road for their first true road game of the year on Saturday with their first trip to Raleigh, North Carolina, since the ill-fated hurricane game in 2016. A lot has changed for both programs since then, and the Irish will ride in tomorrow on the heels of back-to-back blowout wins to start the season. Neither of those wins came against a team like NC State that can beat them. Will the Irish continue taking care of business? Let’s dive in.
Worries Me This Week
Weather. As of Friday night, there is still a chance of thunderstorms during the game. That’s enough to give any Notre Dame fan PTSD from that 2016 game in a hurricane where Brian Kelly decided it was a good idea to air it out. This year’s Notre Dame squad is much more balanced with a better offensive line, so if there is inclement weather, they are better equipped to adjust accordingly. Still, in-game thunderstorms could muck up any game.
The good news is that the forecast is only 42% at kickoff for scattered thunderstorms and then in the mid-60s for the rest of the game. That could easily change in either direction by kickoff.
Brennan Armstrong Scrambles. In their opener, Brennan Armstrong didn’t do all that much damage with his arm but was dangerous with his legs. He led NC State with 96 yards rushing on 19 attempts. The one way I see NC State really making this interesting is if Armstrong goes off on the ground. Passing-wise, he looked more like the 2022 version of himself than the 2021 version that threw for 4,449 yards and 31 TDs.
Armstrong is no Caleb Williams, but the Irish defense did have trouble containing Williams last November – then again, so did everyone else. Still, look for Notre Dame to spy on Armstrong and make him beat them with his arm.
What to Watch For
Vertical Passing Game from Notre Dame. Notre Dame hasn’t had to be too creative with its offense over the first two weeks, given the level of competition they’ve faced. Most notably, we haven’t seen Notre Dame stretch the field vertically, even though Sam Hartman was one of the best deep ball passers in all of college football last year. I suspect we’ll see that change on Saturday.
This isn’t an “empty the playbook” type of game, but it is the first time this year that Notre Dame can’t just be basic in their looks and hope to overpower them. Assuming the weather allows, I could see Notre Dame come out a little pass-heavy before turning the game over to the ground game.
A lot has been said this week about Hartman’s past troubles against NC State, but in neither of those contests did he have a rushing attack or offensive line like he’ll be playing with tomorrow.
Audric Estime Taking Over the 2nd Half. This has the feel of a game that stays close for a while before Notre Dame’s offensive line and Audric Estime take over. NC State struggled to stop the run in their opener against UConn, with the Huskies averaging over 6.0 yards per carry. If UConn did that, Estime could be in line for a big day.
The one thing to watch with Estime and the forecast for rain is ball security. It was a problem for him last year, and he put one on the turf in the opener. Estime looked much better in that department last week against Tennessee State in terms of having the ball protected, but it’s still something to watch for. Rain might be the only thing that could slow Estime down tomorrow, though.
Players to Watch
- Tobias Merriweather – He’s been quiet to start the season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few deep shots called for him as the Irish work the vertical game.
- Jaylen Sneed – If Notre Dame spies Armstrong, Sneed would be a perfect candidate for the role.
- Jeremiyah Love / Jadarian Price – They’ll be on kickoffs with Devyn Ford out. Both have looked dangerous with the ball in their hands so far this year.
- Sam Hartman – He’ll exorcise some demons in Raleigh.
- Benjamin Morrison – He’s been quiet to start the season. Almost too quiet. Maybe he gets his first pick of the season off Armstrong.
Earlier in the week, I felt a lot better about this one and talked about Notre Dame winning by double-digits on the podcast with Greg, but as the week’s progressed, I’m not quite as confident in that. Notre Dame should win this one without it being too nerve-racking, but the combination of the forecast and the first true road game of the year has me a little less confident that it’ll be as easy as I felt it would earlier in the week.
Notre Dame 34, NC State 24