Notre Dame schedule X-factors

Notre Dame schedule
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The Notre Dame schedule is definitely a tough one. Many pundits predict the Irish’s ceiling to be around 10-2 (maybe 11-1). With a handful of trap games, plus preseason top-10 teams Clemson and Ohio State, the floor could easily be four to five losses. So how do the Irish navigate this?

Notre Dame Schedule Game-by-Game X-Fact0rs

We took a different approach to looking at the schedule. If they are to win each game on the schedule, which player needs to have a big game, maybe their best of the season, to boost the Irish. The rules are simple, one player can get picked for each game. And, once picked, that player cannot be picked again (essentially, we can’t just say Tyler Buchner for every game, since he’s the obvious X-Factor for the ceiling).

So with that being said, let’s look at the first six games on the Notre Dame schedule.

Ohio State – Isaiah Foskey, Edge

Starting with the most difficult game on the Notre Dame schedule, the Irish need more than one standout performance in this one. But let’s start with someone who is possibly their best professional prospect. Vyper Isaiah Foskey is one of the best edge rushers in the country, and his strip-sack abilities are second to none. Last year, Ohio State scored 26+ points in every game. However, they gave up 27+ on five occasions, losing in two of those. So the key is minimizing, not stopping, the Buckeye offense. And then scoring 30 or more is an achievable goal against a defense that surrendered that much in nearly half their contests. 

So, what’s the key to minimizing the Ohio State offense? With the secondary being the weakest point, don’t bank on shutdown coverage. Rather, look to Foskey to generate a lot of pressure on quarterback C.J. Stroud. It’s how Michigan, alongside a strong run game, beat the Buckeyes in 2021 and it’s a similar route to success for the Irish. If Foskey can notch a couple of sacks and maybe cause a key turnover, that boosts the Irish’s odds tremendously. Ohio State’s offensive line projects to be the weak spot of this roster and where Notre Dame must attack. Success in Columbus starts with Foskey. 

Marshall – Jack Kiser, Linebacker

This is a pretty straightforward home opener for the Notre Dame schedule. Marshall is a pedestrian Group of 5 opponent that shouldn’t pose a huge challenge. They finished 7-6 last season, ranked 31st in points per game and 44th in points allowed. The biggest key here for the Irish? Don’t let Marshall’s top player beat them. The Thundering Herd can’t win on depth or superior talent. But if they get a big game from one or two players, combined with a middling effort from the Irish, they could pull a stunner. Just look at Toledo last year, which received 100-yard rushing and receiving performances and nearly shocked Notre Dame. 

So for the Irish, stop Rasheen Ali, who piled up over 1700 all-purpose yards last season. He does most of his damage on the ground, but he’s a solid receiver in the passing game. So that’s why Jack Kiser gets the nod here. He’s excelled in the rover linebacker and if he’s doing his job and making a few key open-field tackles, the Irish are in great shape. Stop Ali, and beating Marshall should be a walk in the park.  

Cal – Tyler Buchner, quarterback

Cal has a sneaky good defense that could pose some issues for the Irish. The Golden Bears gave up 25 or less points in nine of 12 games. Only one team surpassed that total after September. That was UCLA, which got an exceptional dual-threat performance from Dorian Thompson-Robinson. In three of their final four games, Cal surrendered 14 or less points. Is it risky to tap Tyler Buchner for a big game here? Maybe, but this game could get unnecessarily stressful if the Irish aren’t on point offensively. 

UNC – Clarence Lewis, Cornerback

The Irish get a UNC team that might be 3-0 at this point, but the Tar Heels are far from an elite team. They replace a program legend in Sam Howell at quarterback, and they must build up a defense that was horrendous in 2021. For UNC, this is their first Power-5 game of the year. For the Irish, break their will early and often and roll to victory. 

UNC’s key to success in this game is Josh Downs, one of the best receivers in the country. Clarence Lewis doesn’t need to blanket Downs. However, limiting him is key. It feels similar to how Notre Dame approached Drake London last year. London was a fantastic talent, but easily the biggest threat on the Trojans’ roster. 

London reeled in 15 catches for 171 yards, but no other receiver had more than 38. And London largely was held to shorter gains, rarely getting behind the defense. A similar approach can be taken to stopping Downs. As long as he’s not breaking free for long touchdowns, the Irish have the talent to stop UNC elsewhere. Look to Clarence Lewis to just have a solid game and keep Downs in check, giving Notre Dame what should be a straightforward win. 

BYU – Josh Lugg, Guard

The Shamrock Series clash comes in the fifth game of the Notre Dame schedule. BYU lost three games last season, and in the latter two, they gave up 193 yards and 188 yards to the opposing rusher. In the other loss, the leading two rushers combined for 36 carries and 135 yards. That loss was a 26-17 defeat to Boise State. Any team that scored 26+ against BYU got a minimum of 135 yards from their top two rushers. And frequently, it was much more. Running the Cougars into the ground is important, particularly because it allows the Irish to keep BYU’s biggest weapon, quarterback Jaren Hall, off the field. 

So rather than pick from Notre Dame’s stable of running backs (who are big keys in their own right in any game), we went to the offensive line. In particular, reviewing film from some of those BYU losses, their defense got targeted largely on off-tackle rushes. So we’re rolling with Josh Lugg, the likely starting right guard for the Irish in 2022. Lugg was the Irish’s highest-graded lineman last season and teams up with Blake Fisher on the right side. They can open up holes better than just about anyone. If they can do that, the Irish have a bunch of running backs who excel at running off-tackle and around the edge. So Lugg, complemented by Fisher, are X-Factors in this contest. 

Stanford – Rylie Mills, Edge

Stanford just isn’t really a particularly scary opponent right now, until they prove otherwise. Last year’s 45-14 regular-season finale was an absolute cakewalk for the Irish. Tanner McKee is a solid quarterback without much in the way of weapons. The defense got torn apart in last year’s contest in about every way imaginable. It’s hard to envision the Irish struggling here offensively. So this pick has two purposes. 

Firstly, get one of your best pass-rushers in McKee’s face, neutralizing Stanford’s top player. Secondly, get Rylie Mills going and ready to roll for the second half of the season. He and Justin Ademilola could be a fearsome duo to complement Foskey, and getting both involved in the defense helps the Irish tremendously.

Stay tuned for the part 2 of this series, looking at the final six games of the Notre Dame schedule.

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