Three Things returns after a two-week absence due to my taking a vacation, and things continue to go relatively swimmingly for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. It was a relatively sloppy affair as the Irish took down the Central Michigan Chippewas 41-17 in a game that often felt much closer, but ultimately saw Notre Dame take care of business. With a massive home-turf battle that has the potential to define the season ahead, enjoy your Irish tune of the week:
In the meanwhile, let’s talk about three trends we saw in Saturday’s game and what they might mean for this undefeated Irish team.
This game always contained the potential for a lackluster effort from Notre Dame because it took place the week before the titanic clash with the Ohio State Buckeyes. And sure enough there was often a lack of edge and focus evident in Notre Dame’s play, particularly in a lack of aggressiveness and penetration on the defensive front that allowed the Chippewas to sustain long drives with the running game and stay in the game far longer than the Irish would have liked.
That lack of focus also showed up in a bevy of penalties that hurt Notre Dame on both sides of the ball and also contributed to the Chippewas’ staying in the game. The Irish were certainly hurt in this regard by the absences of J.D. Bertrand and DJ Brown, whose leadership would have helped maintain a higher level of energy and focus. The silver lining here for Irish fans is not only that both players are likely to return for the Ohio State game, but that the circumstances that made them so necessary will be far different in that contest.
Defensive Transfers Show Up
Among the bright spots on defense for Notre Dame were two veteran transfers, Javonte Jean-Baptiste and Thomas Harper. Jean-Baptiste was by far the most active and aggressive member of the Irish defensive front, gaining consistent pressure (three recorded hurries and one hit) on Jase Bauer and earning the line’s only TFL until the fourth quarter. On a day when the Irish were often lackluster in the trenches on defense, Jean-Baptiste brought needed energy - and one can only expect more against his former team next week.
Coming down from the secondary, Harper had a huge impact in the backfield and near the line of scrimmage. He recorded undoubtedly the play of the game on defense in a crushing sack of Bauer that forced a fumble. He was always around the ball against the run and against short passes, often forcing ball-carriers for the Chippewas into tackles and limiting what could have been longer plays.
The transfer portal era has often been difficult for Notre Dame to navigate, but in Harper and Jean-Baptiste Marcus Freeman succeeded in acquiring quality veteran depth that is already paying dividends.
The Big Guns Are Loaded
Headed into a matchup with an Ohio State team that boasts some of the most dynamic skill players in the country, it was always going to be important the Irish develop a stable that could match them. In this game, the Irish flashed big-play potential all over the field, from Audric Estime’s repeated long runs to deep passes on the perimeter and in the middle of the field that hit Tobias Merriweather and Chris Tyree, respectively.
Complimenting what we had already seen from the tight ends group and Sam Hartman’s proficiency in distributing to playmakers in the intermediate passing game, Irish fans have seen more than enough their team can keep up with the Ohio State team we have seen so far this year. Irish fans have been longing for some time for an offense that could put points on the board in a flash, and now they have it - the question is whether it now shows up on the biggest stage.