After the Sept. 9 game against NC State, Notre Dame’s starting middle linebacker JD Bertrand entered concussion protocol. Forced to sit out the victory over Central Michigan a week ago, Bertrand has been cleared to play for the No. 9 Irish on Saturday. That’s welcome news for Notre Dame ahead of their Top 10 Showdown in South Bend with No. 6 Ohio State.
The Irish’s leading tackler the last two seasons, Bertrand is a two-time team captain and three-year starter. A fifth-year graduate player, Bertrand amassed an impressive 184 tackles over the last two seasons. He continues to excel this year. Despite missing a game, he has already recorded a total of 13 tackles. Sidelined in the third quarter of the NC State game, Bertrand had already made his presence felt. He recorded five tackles, had two quarterback hurries, and a pass breakup in the Irish’s 45-24 victory over the Wolfpack.
JD Bertrand a Respected Leader
Having played a wealth of snaps in his collegiate career, Bertrand is an asset to the defense, especially on the communication front. Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman said of Bertrand prior to the Central Michigan game, “Linebackers are problem solvers. They have to be an extension of the coordinator to fix problems on the field.”
Bertrand’s leadership and production will be key if the Irish are going to slow down Ohio State’s explosive offense. There is a renewed sense of confidence in the Buckeyes’ backfield. Quarterback Kyle McCord is coming off a strong outing. While running back TreVeyon Henderson is rediscovering his 2021 form. There are uncertainties, however, for the Buckeyes. Despite coming off their best performance of the season against Western Kentucky, this Ohio State team is untested in a challenging away game environment.
McCord takes the reins from two-time Heisman finalist C.J. Stroud. McCord struggled against Indiana’s pass rush, but he demonstrated greater composure against Western Kentucky. He will need to continue to make progress by performing on the road in one of college football’s most renowned stadiums that is certain to provide a raucous atmosphere on Saturday night.
Bertrand said earlier this week of the primetime matchup with Ohio State, “It’s always fun to be home, especially those night games. It’s just different when it’s a night game. We know the crowd will bring the noise, that energy. And we’ll do our part as well.”
At Full Strength
Welcoming back Bertrand and starting safety DJ Brown (hamstring) from injuries bolsters Notre Dame’s already effective defensive unit. With Benjamin Morrison and Cam Hart holding down the cornerback position, the Irish have the coverage talent to contain the Buckeyes’ receivers Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Eqbuka, a pair of potentially high NFL draft picks. Harrison is the son of Hall of Fame receiver Marvin Harrison, who spent his entire career with the Indianapolis Colts.
Despite recording just six sacks, the Irish have held opposing quarterbacks to a pass efficiency rating of 84.3. The unit has notched 40 pass breakups, which is six more than their total for the entire 2022 season. According to Pro Football Focus, Notre Dame has 70 pressures this season. Opponents have completed 44.3 percent of their throws for just 5.2 yards per attempt and two touchdowns. That ranks Notre Dame in the Top 15 of the 133 FBS teams in all three categories.
In addition to Bertrand, Jack Kiser is a dynamic force at linebacker. His recent standout performances include a career-high 10 tackles against Central Michigan. A graduate student, Kiser is just one tackle away from reaching 150 career stops. He leads the Irish this season with 26 tackles. Linebacker Marist Liufau has also played a big role in the Irish’s success. He has made 17 tackles this season. In team defense this season, Notre Dame ranks fourth in the country, surrendering just 234.2 yards per game. The unit allows just 3.82 yards per play.
Blue and Gold On a Mission
Ohio State spoiled Freeman’s coaching debut for the Irish last year. But Notre Dame will unquestionably present a different challenge on Saturday. With last year’s defeat still fresh in their minds, Notre Dame’s formidable defense, led by Bertrand, is on a mission to avenge that loss and demonstrate their dominance by grounding a high-flying Buckeye offense.
Photo courtesy: MATTIE NERETIN / USA TODAY NETWORK