We’re six games through analyzing the Notre Dame X-factors for the 2022 schedule. If you missed the first part of the series, here it is. The rules are simple enough. A player is picked as the most critical player for the Irish in that particular game to help boost them to victory. Or in some cases, it’s about helping Notre Dame not only to win but set themselves up for future success in the season.
Once a player is picked, they cannot be picked again. That means, for this edition, Isaiah Foskey, Jack Kiser, Tyler Buchner, Clarence Lewis, Josh Lugg, and Rylie Mills are off the table. Here’s a look at the rest of the Notre Dame X-factors in the second half.
UNLV – Tobias Merriweather
Frankly, this is going to be among the easiest games of the season for Notre Dame. After a bit of chaos traveling all over the country in the first month, the Irish are at home for two consecutive weeks. The second of those games is against the Rebels. UNLV finished last year with a 2-10 record. Their offense ranked 112th in points per game, and their defense finished 107th.
So this one shouldn’t be a contest. The focus on this one should be a comfortable win, and unlocking a new piece (or at the very least an inexperienced piece) in the offense to prepare for the stretch run. Enter true freshman wide receiver Tobias Merriweather. With a significant lack of depth, the Irish’s ceiling is way higher if Merriweather develops into the third-best receiver behind Avery Davis and Lorenzo Styles. So if Merriweather hasn’t gotten going to this point, now is a great opportunity to establish him in this offense and get him cooking in the second half.
Syracuse – Michael Mayer
Syracuse has a sneaky good defense. Like Cal, this is a game that could get uncomfortable if the Irish are sputtering offensively. In particular, the Orange have some very strong linebackers, easily their biggest defensive strength.
Thankfully, the Irish have the linebacker neutralizer in tight end Michael Mayer. The All-American is a matchup nightmare. Even if he doesn’t post a massive stat line, the Irish just need Mayer to be disruptive and draw Syracuse’s top linebackers toward him. The Irish can still exploit matchups when Mayer gets them, and if he gets a tough defensive draw, the Irish have the depth and talent elsewhere to punish the Orange.
Not to mention, Mayer’s run-blocking prowess can open up some big lanes for Logan Diggs, Chris Tyree, Buchner and whoever else wants to run behind Notre Dame’s offensive line.
Clemson – Lorenzo Styles
This is the most anticipated Irish home game since the last time the Tigers visited, back in 2020. The Irish are going to need another big effort, particularly offensively, to unseat a preseason top-five team. In big games, Notre Dame’s offensive explosiveness has frequently been lackluster at best. So that’s why Lorenzo Styles gets the nod here.
In 2020, the Irish got a big-time touchdown run from Kyren Williams and a couple of long receptions, including a big one from Avery Davis to set up the game-tying touchdown. The Irish stretching the field is an absolute must, and that’s a quality that the speedy Styles brings to the table. Davis is great but thrives as a possession receiver. Styles – and Merriweather if he’s having a strong freshman season – provide outside speed and great hands to stretch Clemson’s secondary and open up other offensive touchdowns. A breakout season from Styles is one of the biggest Notre Dame X-factors season, and a big game here is pivotal.
Navy – Jayson Ademilola
Navy is only a tricky game if you let it be. The triple option is frustrating if a team is unprepared. If prepared for it, then a defense forces Navy to be one-dimensional and easily defendable. So no reason to go overly complicated here. Jayson Ademilola, playing on the interior defensive line, is in a key role to disrupt the triple option. He’ll often be tasked with disrupting plays at the line of scrimmage and sniffing out any misdirection.
Navy is not a good team. If the Irish get a solid performance out of their talented and veteran defensive lineman, this game becomes a breeze. If Navy gets the triple option and keeps possession of the ball for 35-40 minutes, things get a little dicier.
Boston College – Cam Hart
Overall, Boston College is not a particularly scary team. That being said, quarterback Phil Jurkovec and wide receiver Zay Flowers have an established connection, and they’re one of the better duos in the country. The Irish would do well to put their best and most physical cornerback on Flowers here. Cam Hart is their best pro prospect at the cornerback position and equipped to limit Flowers.
Notre Dame should score plenty on BC – they’ve scored 40+ against the Eagle in three straight Holy War clashes. But when Jurkovec took on his former squad in 2020, he led BC to 31 points, tied for their highest total since 1993 and their only time cracking 20 points since 2007. He’s good enough to make this game close, and if Flowers explodes, the upset is there in the making for Boston College. The Irish need Hart to shut down Jurkovec’s top option and make him win with talent that is far inferior to what the Irish boast.
USC – Brandon Joseph
Finally, we arrive at the regular season finale and the most awaited edition of this rivalry in a while. The series has been dominated by Notre Dame recently, but the storylines are refreshed this time around. Now it’s Lincoln Riley versus Marcus Freeman in a battle that has the potential to turn into a great coaching rivalry. USC has Oklahoma transfers Caleb Williams quarterbacking and throwing to his former teammate Mario Williams…and also 2021 Biletkinoff winner Jordan Addison. Along with a vastly improved offensive line, this could be an absolute for grind for the Irish.
Enter transfer Brandon Joseph. The Irish are going to need the former Northwestern star all season. But they need him to probably put together his best effort of the season in this one. Barring some vast improvement from Lewis, the Irish are going to have some matchup issues in this one. Having Joseph patrol the secondary and muddle Williams’ downfield reads is absolutely pivotal. USC’s defense is not going to be much of a strength. If Notre Dame limits the Trojans’ offense, this game remains very winnable. To do that, they need Brandon Joseph to be out in full force in Los Angeles, breaking up passes and maybe creating a big turnover.