Notre Dame battles Cincinnati at home this weekend in the toughest remaining game on their schedule. It’s a green-out at Notre Dame Stadium, usually resulting in the loudest crowds of the year.
“They’re not going to be very loud for long”.
Desmond Ridder is a confident man entering a top-10 clash against Notre Dame at the Irish’s home stadium on Saturday. That particular quote was leaked earlier this week as Ridder’s response to a coach’s warning about the loud atmosphere in South Bend.
Ridder’s confidence and borderline disrespectful rhetoric give the Irish some bulletin board material. It’s not something the Bearcats’ quarterback wants to give Marcus Freeman’s unit, which has been playing with a vengeance. Notre Dame’s struggles defensively have largely disappeared. Outside of poor fourth quarters against Toledo and Florida State, the Irish have given up 55 points in 14 other quarters (excluding a pick-six thrown by quarterback Jack Coan). Against Wisconsin, Notre Dame forced five turnovers and scored two defensive touchdowns en route to a 41-13 victory. What can the Irish do to make Ridder eat his words in a critical home showdown?
Turnovers the key as Notre Dame battles Cincinnati
Cincinnati’s offense is averaging 43 points per game, but they haven’t played the stiffest of competition so far. And even more concerning for the Bearcats, they’ve turned the ball over six times in three games. The Irish have forced eleven turnovers in four contests, including nine interceptions.
Cincinnati will almost certainly score and have some successful drives against the Irish defense. As against Wisconsin, forcing field goals will be a key to victory for Notre Dame. But with a sellout crowd at their backs, Notre Dame should also want some momentum-swinging plays to raise the decibel levels. Turnovers have been their method of doing so in 2021, and the Bearcats are certainly suspect to giving up the ball.
As Notre Dame battles Cincinnati, the Irish will have the luxury of looking to a number of key players for big plays. With some questions about their depth entering the season, Notre Dame has answered the bell. Against Wisconsin, cornerback Cam Hart recorded his first two picks of his career. Fellow corner Clarence Lewis notched his first in the season opener. All-American safety Kyle Hamilton has been all over the field, making fourth-down stops and intercepting three passes.
Linebackers Jack Kiser and Drew White joined the interception squad on Saturday, taking passes to the house to ice the Shamrock Series win. On the defensive line, Jayson Ademilola, Kurt Hinish, and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa have been menacing, terrorizing opposing offensive lines. Whether it’s forcing Ridder into poor decisions, or coughing up the ball on a sack, Notre Dame will seek to get the ball on the ground or into the hands of their secondary, pumping up a sellout crowd.
Deep Defensive Line Looks To Keep Up Contributions
The defensive line was an absolute force at Soldier Field. Despite missing starting nose tackle Kurt Hinish, the Irish turned in their best effort of the year. Against a Wisconsin rushing attack averaging nearly 250 yards per game, the Irish defensive front was stifling. The Badgers mustered just 74 yards on the ground.
With Hinish out, Howard Cross and Jacob Lacey stepped up. Cross was a force all game long, drawing numerous double teams. Lacey delivered a key stop on fourth down, halting a dangerous Wisconsin drive. Ademilola had a big game as well, recording five tackles and forcing a fumble. The Irish have a new challenge against Cincinnati in Ridder, who is a solid dual-threat quarterback. He’s completing 65% of his passes and takes off 6-7 times per game. While the rushing numbers don’t pop off the page, he’s a good complement to running back Jerome Ford, and he can extend plays. The Irish defensive line has to finish plays on Saturday and force Ridder to either make poor decisions or throw it away.
Three Defensive Player X-Factors
JD Bertrand has been an unexpected stud. He has 42 tackles in four games, and he recovered the game-sealing fumble against Toledo. In a top-10 battle, the Irish need Bertrand at the top of his game. Last year, the Irish had a bevy of unexpected contributors step up in a victory against #1 Clemson. As Notre Dame battles Cincinnati, the Irish will need their unexpected star to shine once more. Bertrand will be key in closing out Ridder when he escapes the pocket. Between rushing Ridder, stopping any intermediary-length passes, and containing Jerome Ford, Bertrand has a key role in this one.
Against Cincinnati’s balanced receiving corps, the Irish need their whole secondary operating at their A-level. Alec Pierce and Michael Young may draw some more attention from the cornerbacks, but Tyler Scott has been the Bearcats’ most explosive receiver. He has just seven receptions, but he’s averaging 24 yards per catch with two touchdowns. Hamilton needs to be his usual rangy self, preventing any big plays. The Irish gave up four plays of 60+ yards in the first two games, leading directly to 24 points. They’ve given up none of those plays in the last two games, leading to much more consistent defensive success. Hamilton will be key if the Irish are to contain the Bearcats.
Isaiah Foskey has possibly one of the highest ceilings of any player on the Notre Dame defense. But his inconsistent production has been a bit of a problem. Foskey had eight tackles and two sacks in the season opener versus Florida State. In three games, he has 10 tackles and 1.5 sacks. They’re not bad numbers, but against the Seminoles, Foskey was a game-changer. The Cincinnati offense is good enough that the Irish want that game-changing type of player on defense. Foskey can be that guy and take a little less pressure on Hinish coming back from injury, plus apply more pressure to Ridder in the pocket. If Foskey gets after Ridder – the Cincinnati quarterback may regret those confident pregame words.