Well y’all, it’s time once again for your Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team to get up for a big game against a ranked opponent.
Last weekend, of course, saw the then-12th-ranked Irish take on the then-18th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers at Soldier Field, in a game that was close until the 4th quarter, when ND rattled off 31 unanswered to blow the Badgers out of the water.
Now, after leaping back into the Top 10 at #9 in the AP Poll, the Fighting Irish play host to the #7 Cincinnati Bearcats in one of three games between top-12 teams on Saturday (#1 Alabama vs. #12 Ole Miss and #2 Georgia vs. #8 Arkansas are the others).
Considering Cincy is the the former employer of both Brian Kelly and Marcus Freeman, this game certainly has some extra juice to it as the Bearcats look to capitalize on an upswing in talent/development to pull off their biggest program win of all-time.
So, to ensure we know what we need to know entering Saturday’s battle, I reached out to Clayton Trutor, an editor at Down the Drive, SB Nation’s resident Cincinnati Bearcats site.
With help from a wide array of questions from y’all on Twitter, I was able to pepper Clayton with inquiries on a number of interesting topics. Let’s jump on in and learn some more about these Cincy guys, eh?
1. The Bearcats are 3-0, ranked 8th in the country, and passed their first real test of the season two weekends ago against IU. How are you feeling about the remainder of the season, and what do you think this Cincy team’s ceiling is?
Clayton Trutor: Cincinnati has proven to be a slow-starting team this season, which seems to be a predicament that Notre Dame has faced thus far in 2021 as well.
Cincinnati should fare well in the American, but I fear that this tendency to fall behind is going to be their undoing down the stretch.
2. Do Cincy fans harbor any ill will toward Notre Dame for taking Brian Kelly and now Marcus Freeman from them, or is that just the name of the game at a really good Group-of-Five program (albeit one that’s soon to be Power Five)?
Clayton Trutor: None towards Freeman.
Kelly has a lot of heat with the Bearcats fanbase. While Kelly led Cincinnati to its most successful season (arguably ever), he left the Bearcats high and dry right before the biggest game in school history. Yes, a lot of coaches have done this but that doesn’t make it any more honorable on either Kelly’s part or Notre Dame’s part.
Notre Dame holds itself to a higher standard and I think this was an instance of the institution falling short of its aspirations for itself.
3. What does Desmond Ridder do best at quarterback for the Bearcats, and does he have any weaknesses or less developed pieces of his game that the Irish defense may be able to exploit? Who is/are his go-to receiver(s)?
Clayton Trutor: Desmond Ridder is a versatile quarterback who excels as an improviser. Ever since his first season, he has shown this knack for getting himself into terrible down and distance situations and finding his way out of them.
The Bearcats have a cadre of fine receivers including the ever steady Alec Pierce, homerun hitter Tyler Scott, and former Golden Domer Michael Young, who has significant big play potential too.
4. The ND defense just did a fantastic job shutting down the Wisconsin running game, holding them to 78 rushing yards (2.8 ypc) last weekend. How are the Cincy offensive line and ball carriers looking this season, and do you think the Bearcats will be able to find success on the ground against the Irish?
Clayton Trutor: Bama transfer Jerome Ford has been steady at running back through the early games, if not entirely explosive.
Desmond Ridder, who typically runs like a deer, has been a little subdued thus far in 2021. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Cincinnati coaching staff let him loose as a runner this weekend.
5. How’s the Bearcats defense looking this year without Marcus Freeman in charge, and how do you see them matching up with this very inconsistent — but also quite dangerous, at least through the air — Notre Dame offense? Who are the defensive players to look out for on the Cincy side?
Clayton Trutor: Cincinnati has been sorely lacking in a pass rush thus far this season. Some of this is a matter of strategy and I think a desire to not put all their cards on the table in the early going.
Sophomore linebacker Deshawn Price has been a sideline-to-sideline wrecking machine thus far in 2021. In the secondary, it will be interesting to see how junior corner Arquon Bush, who has made several big plays in the early going, matches up with the Irish’s cornucopia of speed demons on the perimeter.
6. FAN QUESTION:
Did they steal Air Kelly's high octane playbook on his way out of town?— Andrew Callan (@acallan1) September 26, 2021
Clayton Trutor: No, they stole his improvisational skills in post-game interviews.
7. FAN QUESTION:
Probably too late but would love some thoughts on the Corryville Kroger store. It opened right as I left Cincinnati and seemed pretty nice but the Google reviews are really polarized. pic.twitter.com/hoXzBOlddZ— John Macke (@JohnPMacke) September 27, 2021
Clayton Trutor: The store is nice but their “to-go” grocery pickup system is a bit wonky.
They seem a bit short staffed in that department so you have plenty of time to catch up on podcasts in the parking lot.
8. FAN QUESTION:
Has UC shifted from being firmly a basketball school to being firmly a football school?— Kevin Laughlin (@Kevin_Laughlin) September 27, 2021
Clayton Trutor: No. Cincinnati’s heart is with basketball in large part because their primary rivalry is a basketball one.
The intensity of the Crosstown Shootout with Xavier is surprising to anyone outside of Hamilton County.
9. FAN QUESTION:
The Wisconsin site promised SOME cheese curds if Notre Dame won that game, but turned down Catholic guilt as their own hypothetical victory prize.— Hayden Adams (@HaydenAdamsZ) September 26, 2021
Can you promise Skyline Chili if ND wins the Marcus Freeman/Mike Denbrock/Michael Young Bowl? And if Cincy wins what do you want?
Clayton Trutor: Gold Star is the superior Cincinnati chili. I prefer sweatpants though.
I’ll bet you a pair of Cincinnati sweatpants for a pair of Notre Dame sweatpants.
10. FAN QUESTION:
Mine's a touch philosophical, but I'd like to know if they think contractual labor and itinerant work opportunities reflect a kind of modern liberty; I ask does the ability to trade up for a better job mark us "free", man?— Well, Now What? (@unhassledHoff) September 26, 2021
Clayton Trutor: I agree with John Locke. The freedom to make contracts is one of the fundamental liberties of a free society.
11. Alright, let’s get down to it: who do you think is going to win, what will the final score be, and why?
Clayton Trutor: I think Notre Dame wins 34-21 in a game that resembles the 1989 Fiesta Bowl with Drew Pyne playing the role of Tony Rice.
I wanna give a huge shout-out to Clayton for his time and all his responses to even our most inane questions about what’s going on with the customer reviews of specific Kroger locations.
Make sure you head over to Down the Drive before Saturday to ingest all the insights and analysis you’ll ever need about the Cincinnati Bearcats.
Additionally, I highly encourage you all to give both Down the Drive and Clayton some follows on Twitter for all the best tweets about Cincy sports you could ever hope to consume.
That’s all for this week, folks — as always, Go Irish!