A top-10 matchup between two undefeated teams will go down Saturday when No. 9 Notre Dame hosts No. 7 Cincinnati at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.
The Irish (4-0) opened with two close wins then scored 31 points in the fourth quarter to pull away from then-No. 18 Wisconsin 41-13 at Soldier Field. With the victory, coach Brian Kelly surpassed Knute Rockne for most wins all-time at Notre Dame with 106.
Notre Dame lost starting quarterback Jack Coan, a Wisconsin transfer, to a left leg injury in the third quarter. With freshman Tyler Buchner (sore hamstring) out, Kelly turned to Drew Pyne behind center the rest of the game. If healthy, Coan will start against the Bearcats (3-0) otherwise Pyne will start behind center. Buchner, the most mobile option among the trio, could also rotate in for some plays. Left tackle Michael Carmody (ankle sprain) could return to help the offensive line, which allowed five sacks on Coan against Wisconsin.
Notre Dame defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, who left Cincinnati for the Irish, saw his unit grab four interceptions against Wisconsin’s Graham Mertz. The Irish will have a more complete quarterback to face this weekend. Desmond Ridder has 748 passing yards, seven touchdowns, and two interceptions this season, including 284 yards and three scores on passes of at least 20 yards. Ridder is also much more mobile compared to Florida State’s Jordan Travis, Toledo’s Dequan Finn, and Mertz. How Notre Dame responds to Ridder’s ability to scramble from the pocket will be vital to the Irish’s success against the Bearcats. The Irish’s performance last week along with Freeman’s familiarity with Ridder could give Notre Dame a boost of confidence.
Notre Dame also has a 26-game home winning streak to keep intact.
Ridder will be focused on throwing to speedy wide receivers Tre Tucker and Tyler Scott, but tight ends Josh Whyle and Leonard Taylor could also be used more. The Irish have a future top-10 pick in Kyle Hamilton at safety, but Houston Griffith and D.J. Brown have faced some issues opposite him. Ridder can go vertical with Tucker and Scott, but going underneath with Whyle or Taylor could present some issues for Notre Dame’s secondary.
Mike Tressel, who replaced Freeman at Cincinnati, will look for the Bearcats defense to get after Notre Dame’s shaky offensive line. The Bearcats have forced four turnovers, but haven’t generated as many sacks as they did under Freeman. All-American defensive end Myjai Sanders, a legitimate NFL prospect, has struggled against double teams this season and doesn’t have a sack to his name. The Irish faced a similar game-wrecker earlier this season in Purdue’s George Karlaftis, and despite double-teaming him he still had an impact. The Irish will likely deploy a similar approach against Sanders, and potentially use running back Kyren Williams as an extra blocker.
It’s only the second meeting between the two Midwest programs, and the first since 1900 when Notre Dame won 58-0.
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How to Watch
What: No. 7 Cincinnati at No. 9 Notre Dame
When: 1:30 PM CT, Saturday
Where: Notre Dame Stadium; South Bend, IN