Sam Hartman’s typically efficient performance propelled No. 9 Notre Dame (4-0) to a decisive 41-17 victory over Central Michigan on Saturday. Hartman once again displayed remarkable efficiency, made astute decisions throughout the game, and effectively guided the Irish to their fourth consecutive victory.
The sixth-year signal-caller threw three touchdown passes on the day and added another on the ground to pace the Irish at home. Notre Dame’s fourth straight win sets up a highly anticipated showdown with No. 6 Ohio State (3-0) in South Bend on Saturday night.
Against Central Michigan, Hartman struck early and often. He wasted little time getting rolling. On the fourth play of the game, he connected with Tobias Merriweather down the sideline for a 75-yard touchdown pass. In the second quarter, he showcased his arm once again with a 76-yard touchdown pass to Chris Tyree. Later in the fourth quarter, Hartman completed a 4-yard pass to Holden Staes for another touchdown. Hartman concluded the game with 330 passing yards, connecting on 16 of 26 attempts. He also executed a one-yard quarterback sneak into the end zone behind Joe Alt in the third quarter.
Sam Hartman’s Record-Setting Precision
Hartman’s performance in the first four games of the season stands out. He has already thrown an impressive 13 touchdown passes. The achievement is unmatched in the storied history of Notre Dame’s quarterbacks. No other quarterback has accomplished this feat in the opening four games of a season. Jimmy Clausen managed 10 touchdown passes in the first four games of the 2009 season, while Brady Quinn had nine touchdowns during the initial four games of the 2006 season.
In his career, Hartman has now thrown a total of 123 touchdown passes, surpassing the records held by Aaron Murray of Georgia and Ty Detmer of BYU. He currently shares the seventh spot in the all-time rankings with Oklahoma’s Landry Jones. In total touchdown count since 2021, Hartman is equally remarkable. He has thrown for 90 touchdowns, more than any other Power Five quarterback during that span. As a graduate transfer from Wake Forest, Hartman has maintained a streak of 38 consecutive games with at least one touchdown to lead the FBS.
Audric Estime Runs Wild
Notre Dame’s success against Central Michigan can be attributed to a balanced offensive attack. The Irish combined a quick strike passing game with a methodical ground game. Running back Audric Estime made a significant impact once again. He rushed for a career-high 176 yards on 20 carries and scored a touchdown. Estime showcased his impressive athleticism by hurdling two defenders on consecutive carries, with the latter run covering 41 yards and setting up a first-and-goal for the Irish. Unfortunately for his stat line, Estime had a 72-yard toss sweep would-be touchdown negated by a Holden Staes holding penalty in the third quarter. All told, the Irish outgained the Chippewas, racking up 578 yards, compared to 268 yards for head coach Jim McElwain’s overmatched squad.
Overcoming Inconsistency on Defense
The Irish defense endured a challenging outing against Central Michigan. The unit, playing without senior linebacker JD Bertrand, wrestled with inconsistency throughout the game. The missed tackles, costly penalties, and coverage mistakes came as a surprise. The Chippewas lacked significant firepower and were without their starting quarterback Bert Emanuel Jr. Emanuel didn’t make the road trip because of illness, and backup Jase Bauer got the start at quarterback for the Chippewas. Despite the winning effort and the defense making key stops when needed, it is imperative that the Irish address the inconsistency on defense before facing the Buckeyes.
Notre Dame deployed an array of blitz strategies against Central Michigan. The Chippewas still scored 14 points in the first half and accumulated 160 yards of offense in the opening two quarters. The Irish cornerbacks showcased their excellence all afternoon, preventing big plays downfield. They tightly covered wide receivers, directing plays toward the center of the field. The Irish seemed to struggle with securing the edge, however, giving up too many positive runs. A better team will exploit the inconsistencies that the Irish have gotten away with against lesser opponents.
Score to Settle
Irish head coach Marcus Freeman has some added inspiration against Ohio State. Freeman’s debut game as Notre Dame’s coach a year ago resulted in a 21-10 loss against his alma mater. Freeman’s football journey began at Ohio State, where he played as a linebacker from 2004 to 2008. He later returned to the Buckeyes as a graduate assistant in 2010. Heading into a revenge game, Freeman and the coaching staff will have Sam Hartman and company ready for their most significant challenge of the season.
The Irish have ample room for improvement on both sides of the ball. They do, however, enter the clash against Ohio State with momentum. Like Notre Dame, Ohio State comes into Saturday’s test flying High. The Buckeyes are fresh off a 63-10 drubbing of Western Kentucky. With both teams on a roll, Saturday’s game is a must-watch.
One thing is certain through Notre Dame’s first four games. The Irish go as Sam Hartman and Audric Estime go. All eyes will be on the Irish’s standout performers on Saturday. The Irish’s fate in the critical matchup rests heavily on the shoulders of Hartman and Estime. Hartman’s precision and Estime’s dynamic playmaking and explosiveness will dictate success for the Irish. A victory over the Buckeyes in the epic clash will keep Notre Dame’s College Football Playoff aspirations alive. It would also send a resounding message that Notre Dame is a formidable title contender.
Photo courtesy: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports