Three straight wins to start the 2023 season was what the Notre Dame Fighting Irish were hoping for with a home date on tap against Ohio State set for September 23. However, the danger of looking past this week’s opponent, Central Michigan, is something that Marcus Freeman and his staff are emphasizing this week.
In their first competitive battle of the season last Saturday against North Carolina State, the Irish managed to rack up 456 yards of offense and again play solid defense. In their matchup this week against Central Michigan, the statistical comparisons below should present clear evidence of why Notre Dame enters this clash as five-touchdown favorites.
Running in Different Directions
The Irish may have seen their rushing season average dip below 200 yards per game, but they’ve quickly established the sort of depth required to make a championship run. Audric Estime leads the way again and has made a habit of breaking off one long run per contest. He’s been given a breather by players like Jadarian Price and Jeremiyah Love, who’ve been a part of a unit that’s averaging 5.7 yards per carry.
The Chippewas have something of a balanced offense, though Central’s running game is managing a decidedly lower 3.9 yards per carry. Against Michigan State earlier this month, that average was just three yards per carry, a number that should provide a more accurate barometer on Saturday. As presently constituted, running back Myles Bailey and quarterback Bert Emanuel Jr. are the main contributors when it comes to the run.
Despite being on the receiving end of four sacks, Sam Hartman had another strong game last Saturday. He’s thrown for 731 yards and 10 touchdowns and has yet to throw his first interception in a Notre Dame uniform. Yet, his two fumbles while being sacked didn’t escape Freeman’s mild admonition to do better in holding onto the ball. Yet, Hartman is no doubt salivating at the prospect of facing a pass defense that was shredded by New Hampshire for 493 yards through the air last Saturday.
Emanuel has thrown for 280 yards in the first two games for the Chippewas, though his three touchdown passes have been countered by the three interceptions he’s coughed up. His running skills need to be neutralized on Saturday since his receiving talent is limited. Wide receiver Chris Parker is his top receiver with a mere five catches for 142 yards and one touchdown.
Sacks in the Making
In Monday’s press conference, Freeman expressed no concern about the fact that the Irish have only four sacks this season. In truth, there was little opportunity to bring down Navy’s quarterback in the opening game, given their run-happy philosophy. However, Freeman’s reasoning was based on the fact that Notre Dame does have 18 quarterback hurries to its credit as well as 12 pass breakups and five interceptions.
Central has played one less game than the Irish. Yet, even accounting for that results in much lower pass rush numbers for the Chippewas, with only three sacks, four quarterback hurries, nine pass breakups and one interception. All four of those hurries were courtesy of left defensive end Michael Heldman, something that Irish right tackle Blake Fisher needs to know.
Moving the Chains
Until last week, Notre Dame was clicking on both sides of the ball when it came to success on third down. That 14-for-18 success on offense changed when the Irish struggled in that situation and managed to get a first down on just five of 14 third-down opportunities. Following consecutive four-of-14 efforts for third-down defense, the Notre Dame defense managed to stop 11 of 19 North Carolina State third-down attempts.
As much struggling as Notre Dame might have done on third down against the Wolfpack, it’s no worse than Central’s luck in this department in 2023. On 31 offensive tries, the Chippewas have only succeeded eight times when third down arrives while the defense has made 16 stops in 27 opposing efforts on third down.
Notre Dame: Concussion protocol should be giving the go-ahead to RB Devyn Ford, who was taken out against Tennessee State after being injured. Less certain is linebacker JD Bertrand, who left last Saturday’s game with a head injury and could be a gameday decision. Defensive lineman Gabe Rubio will again be out with a knee injury while tight end Eli Raridon’s return from his second ACL injury is being carefully managed to ensure that he’s fully ready to contribute.
Central Michigan: The Chippewas don’t appear to be suffering from injury woes, barring a late-week practice injury. Of course, given the depth that Notre Dame has shown off in the first three weeks, Central needs as many healthy bodies as possible simply to make this game a competitive one.
Unlike last Saturday, this week’s Notre Dame clash should be able to escape any raindrops or lightning possibilities. The contest is expected to be played under overcast skies, though any rain is not expected until the evening hours. Temperatures will be in the mid-70s, with mild winds of no more than 10 miles per hour and humidity of about 60 percent.