Bearcats Football: 3 Keys to Victory – Notre Dame

After resting and game planning over the bye-week, the #7 Cincinnati Bearcats will travel to South Bend, Indiana to take on #9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Here’s what the Bearcats need to do in order to win Saturday’s football game.

Don’t Start Slow on Offense

Simply put, the Bearcats cannot go six drives without a first down again. Notre Dame is a better team than Indiana and will take advantage if the Bearcats shoot themselves in the foot. My frustration with Mike Denbrock is well-documented via my twitter feed. His offense has been the one thing holding the team back from being truly elite. He plays for third down too often putting too much confidence in his team to convert on 3rd & 4. Denbrock’s play calling and offensive schemes can be rote and elementary far too often. Having said that, Desmond Ridder missing passes and offensive line issues in the opening frame of the Indiana game did not help things either.

When Brian Kelly and Tony Pike led the offense in 2008-09, there was very little consternation that the offense would get it done. Everything seemed automatic. I understand that was a different time, but a lot of great coaches and coordinators will have their first drives somewhat scripted with plays they know will work because it gives their players confidence.

The Bearcats offense have to be themselves. To start the Indiana game, the offense huddled up and Ridder was reading off the wristband. Fickell mentioned they change things up in order to combat the crowd noise, but it only hurt them as evidenced by multiple procedure penalties. Why? Because they were trying to be something they were not. You’re a top 10 team. You got there by doing what you do well so play to your identity.

Dial Up Pressure 

Mike Tressel has continued using Marcus Freeman’s vaunted 3-3-5 defense that was first unveiled against UCF in 2019, but Tressel is starting to make it his own. Freeman deserves a ton of credit for transforming the Bearcats defense into one of the best in the nation through recruiting, scheme, and creative use of personnel. With that credit comes the coveted defensive coordinator position at Notre Dame.

During his time at UC, Freeman did not blitz a lot. He trusted his lineman and a linebacker to get pressure while putting even more trust in his defensive backs to effectively get coverage sacks. Tressel is more aggressive. As the tide began to turn in the Indiana game, Tressel frequently sent extra rushers to make Michael Penix Jr. uncomfortable which forced turnovers. I always prefer when a DC that has the better athletes sends consistent pressure. With athletes like Myjai Sanders, Malik Vann, Jowon Briggs, and Darrian Beavers, Coach Luke Fickell and Co. need to make their presence felt in the backfield and against a young and mistake-prone Fighting Irish offensive line.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – SEPTEMBER 25: Jack Coan #17 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish passes against the Wisconsin Badgers at Soldier Field on September 25, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. Notre Dame defeated Wisconsin 41-13. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Win the Turnover Battle

I have no doubt in guaranteeing that if the Cincinnati Bearcats win the turnover battle, they will win the game. Freeman’s Notre Dame defense is opportunistic and their ability to force turnovers has gotten them to 4-0 thus far. Notre Dame beat Wisconsin 41-13, but their offense only scored 20 points with the other 21 coming from two pick 6’s and a kickoff return touchdown. Luke Fickell is a student of Jim Tressel and his patented “Tresselball” which includes strong defense and special teams play combined with limiting turnovers and penalties. While Tresselball does not win national championships in today’s modern game, Tresselball can certainly beat this Notre Dame team.

JUNCTA JUVANT

CINCINNATI, OHIO – SEPTEMBER 11: Ahmad Gardner #1 of the Cincinnati Bearcats celebrates after making an interception in the second quarter against the Murray State Racers at Nippert Stadium on September 11, 2021 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)