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Opponent Breakdown: Notre Dame Fighting Irish: Offense

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 30 Notre Dame at Duke Photo by Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Notre Dame enters the game this week with something to prove on the offensive side of the ball. After a fast start against poor competition, their schedule has beefed up a bit and the offense has had some struggles finding an identity as well as finding a way to create big plays in the passing game. However, the Irish are scoring enough to beat just about anyone and Ohio State is the only team to outscore them so far.

Marcus Freeman pulled off the coup of the transfer window after the end of last season. Sam Hartman was the top veteran quarterback in the portal and Freeman was able to bring him in after a season of spotty quarterback play last year. Hartman has been great for ND with 14 touchdowns on the season with no interceptions. Hartman has excelled in passes at all levels and he has been decisive when it comes to running the ball. So far, it seems like he has adjusted well to a different scheme than what he ran at Wake Forest.

The Notre Dame running game is the most obvious concern for Louisville’s defense. Audric Estime has been a perfect balance of big plays and efficient running. Estime is averaging 7 yards per carry but he is also among the national leaders in carries with 95. He has done a great job of mixing in big plays with his 4-6 yard runs that have helped the offense stay on schedule and build drives. Estime’s running ability has also opened the middle of the field for their tight ends in the passing game as linebackers have been tasked with defending the run. As much as Hartman gets the notice, this offense depends on Estime playing well.

The other main back that has been a handful for defenses is true freshman Jeremiyah Love. Love was a top-100 player in the 2023 class and a top-5 running back. He has track speed and he has already shown that he can run away from people if he gets room to stretch his legs. He’s an upright runner who does best when he is in space, but he also has a solid frame to break a tackle or two if he is not hit head-on. Notre Dame will use up to five backs but Love is the biggest threat outside of Estime.

The Irish will get a couple of receivers back for this game and they couldn’t be needed more than they are right now. Notre Dame only had four healthy receivers last weekend and Sam Hartman struggled to find guys open all game. Tight ends became the focus of the passing game and Duke was able to just tee off all game long.

I think the group of receivers the Irish have is fairly deep but they are very young and very unproven. Jaden Greathouse has been the player to stand out to me after two scores in the season opener. He has great size and solid speed but I think his ability to make contested catches is what stands out the most to me. Chris Tyree is the fastest receiver of the group as the former running back has been able to find some space in defenses and separate from coverage.

Tobias Marryweather and Jordan Thomas are the big targets outside and they have both shown flashes as go-to guys who can make big plays. The other guy that has stood out is Rico Flores who is a big-time recruit out of California who has been pushed into a bigger role and has responded well. There may not be a key guy in this offense but you do have to account for all of ND’s receivers.

Tight end has been a major bright spot for the offense as the untested receivers get more acclimated to their roles. Mitchell Evans leads the team in catches and yards and he is easily the favorite target for Hartman. Evans is 6-5/251 and he has consistently shown that he can make tough, contested, and highlight catches in the middle of the field. Holden Staes is also a capable pass catcher and blocker at tight end and Louisville will likely see a lot of him in the run game. I’ve been impressed by his speed with the ball in his hands.

Coming into the season, the Notre Dame offensive line was considered one of the best in the country. I’m not sure that can be said anymore with the way that Sam Hartman has had to scramble and doge pressure. The right side of the line seems to be the issue as Rico Spindler and Blake Fischer grade out as very average compared to the left side. Fischer has given up 6 pressures on the season and will likely be matched up with Stephon Herron for most of the game. Joe Alt is one of the top left tackles in America and his battle against Ashton Gillotte will be one of the best of the season.