Three games into the 2023 season, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish remain undefeated. That status should remain intact on Saturday when they host the Central Michigan Chippewas from the MAC. They enter the game as heavy favorites and have yet to lose to any previous MAC opponent in six matchups.
Central Michigan is coming off their first victory of the season, a wild home clash against New Hampshire. The 45-42 win came on a 47-yard field goal as time expired. The Chippewas used a balanced attack to compile 440 yards of offense but gave up 538 yards on the other side. In their only meeting against a Power 5 school this season, Central only trailed Michigan State 10-7 at halftime. However, any thoughts of an upset faded when the Spartans ran off 21 unanswered points in the 31-7 victory.
Below are some of Saturday’s key matchups:
QB Sam Hartman vs. Central Michigan Defense
Hartman continues to provide consistency behind center for the Irish, with the Wake Forest transfer throwing for 731 yards and 10 touchdowns thus far in 2023. He’s yet to throw an interception, though he did experience his first pass-rushing onslaught on Saturday, getting sacked four times. Two of those sacks caused fumbles and led to one North Carolina State touchdown.
The Chippewas may be in for a battering by Hartman if their pass defense delivers a repeat performance from their New Hampshire effort. Central allowed 493 yards and four touchdowns through the air on Saturday, a drastic difference from the 279 they gave up to Michigan State the week before. With Hartman having a host of talented receiving options, the pounding should start early.
QB Bert Emanuel Jr. vs. Notre Dame Defense
Emanuel may be occasionally spelled by Jace Bauer, but he offers the Chippewas a player who’s a threat to run as well as pass. He’s the son of a former NFL receiver and has the size to handle what could be a rough afternoon. He currently leads Central in rushing and has thrown three touchdown passes but has also thrown a trio of interceptions.
Early on against North Carolina State, the Irish defense helped avoid putting the team in a huge early hole. As the game progressed, they managed to pick off three Wolfpack passes and showed that their easy work in the first two games wasn’t a fluke. Still, three costly penalties on one series led to a score, a situation that has to be avoided down the road.
TE Holden Staes vs. SS Trey Jones
Joining the long line of great Notre Dame tight ends is a prospect that Holden Staes may someday enjoy. That’s especially true if he keeps delivering as he did on Saturday against North Carolina State. Staes led the Irish with four catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns, with 68 of those yards coming on two plays in a three-play scoring drive. Staes has plenty of competition at his position but has taken the early lead among that contingent.
Jones figures to have a busy day, regardless of which tight end lines up for Notre Dame. That’s nothing new for the junior, who finished second in tackles last year for Central with 85 stops and has 11 in the Chippewas’ two games this year. He’s got good size and is quick enough to make stops in the backfield but will have his hands full on Saturday.
MLB JD Bertrand/Jaylen Sneed vs. RB Myles Bailey
Bertrand left Saturday’s game with a reported head injury and his status for Saturday is a question mark. Before the injury, he contributed to five stops, collected two quarterback hurries and also broke up a pass. He’s a leader on the defensive side and if he’s not able to go, Sneed will need to maintain his level of production. The sophomore did well in relief against North Carolina State.
After two quiet years at Central, Bailey could be emerging as a key member of the Chippewas’ backfield. He’s already gained 127 yards this season after collecting 176 all of last year. He only saw limited duty in the opener at Michigan State but could help team with Emanuel to give Central a quality running game.
RB Audric Estime vs. MLB Kyle Moretti
Estime continued his strong season by rushing for 134 yards on just 14 carries on Saturday, with his 80-yard scoring burst the jolt the Irish needed after a sluggish start. He’s a runner who never goes down easily, which helps explain why he’s averaging eight yards per carry. He’s already well on his way to surpassing last year’s breakout season numbers.
Moretti led Central in tackles last year and is near the top in that category this year with 19 stops. He’s not a big player but that obviously hasn’t stopped him from bringing down ballcarriers. He has his stiffest challenge of the season since he not only has to stop Estime but the remainder of the Irish’s talented backfield.