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Welcome Home – Football Returns to South Bend

For the first time since the end of the 2019 season, a full capacity crowd will be present at Notre Dame Stadium this Saturday as the eighth ranked Irish take on the Toledo Rockets.  Toledo comes in 1-0 with a win last week against the Norfolk State Spartans in a 49-10 contest.  After a very physical battle against the Seminoles, the Irish will look to turn the national perception around and show their true amount of talent against this MAC opponent.

The story of the Rockets this year revolves around Covid, and not in the sense that their team has been plagued by this illness.  Instead, the additional year of eligibility granted by the NCAA has allowed for the Rockets to return 20 of their 22 starters from last year, including all 11 defenders and all five of their offensive linemen.  This Rockets team is filled with veteran experience who will be ready for the challenge against the Irish.  Under head coach Jason Candle, the Rockets have gone a combined 37-21 since 2016 finishing the abbreviated 2020 season with a 4-2 record.  Toledo’s only two losses last year came by a combined six points and the Rockets offense was cooking last weekend, putting up a very balanced scoring attack – including 14 points in each of their first three quarters and seven in the fourth quarter. 

The Rockets offense seems to be built around the run game and was able to put up a total of 441 yards of total offense against Norfolk State.  Freshman quarterback DeQuan Finn completed four of five passing attempts and added another nine carries for 82 yards while Sophomore quarterback Carter Bradley completed eight of eleven passing attempts for 183 yards through the air.  Bradley did spend most of the time at the helm of the Rocket’s offense this past week and will likely be who the Irish prepare for the most at the quarterback position.  Toledo’s lead back, Bryant Koback is a junior who accounted for 52 rushing yards and two of the Rocket’s touchdowns last week.  Koback and the Rocket’s rushing game is nothing that should be overlooked; there is a chance that they could be a top five ground game that the Irish face this season. 

Against the Seminoles, the Irish defense looked very aggressive, causing a good deal of havoc, but will need to remain disciplined in coverage to not allow any gashing from the Rockets offensive attack.  Notre Dame defensive lineman Isaiah Foskey was asked in a mid-week press conference about the Irish defensive mentality coming into this week’s game when Foskey responded, “we’re ready to dominate every game.”  Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly added to this saying that he expects Toledo to “play fast, free, and physical” in the upcoming matchup.  Something for the fans to look out for as well came from “Inside The Garage”, a podcast co-hosted by Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton, where some sort of new audio/visual effects will be present inside the stadium when the Irish defense is on the field for third downs. 

Offensively, Notre Dame was able to put up 41 points against Florida State last week, which at first glance, seems like a dominating performance.  Upon a closer look, the Irish offense could have put up a lot more and will look to clean up some of the offensive mistakes that were present last week.  Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer spoke to how the Irish offense has built a lot of trust and chemistry throughout the off-season as well.  Is Notre Dame a more talented team than their opponent this week?  In short, yes, but for the offense to have more success, I believe that they will need to put together some more long and sustained scoring drives, rather than relying on the single big plays to put points on the board.  I still have quite a few questions revolving around Notre Dame’s offensive line which will need to be a key factor in establishing an effective and respectable run game.  Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree are two of the best backs in the country and need to find more success on the ground than what was present against the Seminoles.  Unfortunate news surrounding the Irish offensive line is the injury sustained by Blake Fisher on Sunday night.  Fisher was not listed on the two-deep depth chart for the upcoming matchup against the Rockets and rumors have begun to swirl about the time that could be missed, but nothing has been confirmed as of the time of writing this article.   The Irish offense in general needs to (and should) get off to a faster start, making the Rockets climb out of a whole early in the game.  If this can be done, I have full confidence that the Irish will be 2-0 come Saturday night.

Notre Dame has opened up as a 16.5 point favorite and with an expected full capacity crowd rooting them on, I think the Irish should cover this spread.  If you have the ability to be at the game, my simple request to you is to be loud and show the Irish players the support they need after not playing in front of a full crowd in over a year.  With all that being said, I think both the Irish offense and defense will come out with a fire lit under them and take care of business with a rather dominant 42-17 victory.  Go Irish.  Beat Rockets.

A Look at Notre Dame’s Opponents:

Florida State: 0-1 overall, lost to Notre Dame in OT

Toledo: 1-0 overall, beat Norfolk State 49-10

Purdue: 1-0 overall, beat Oregon State 30-21

Wisconsin: 0-1 overall, lost to Penn State 16-10, currently ranked #18

Cincinnati: 1-0 overall, beat Miami (OH) 49-14, currently ranked #7

Virginia Tech: 1-0 overall, beat North Carolina 17-10, currently ranked #19

USC: 1-0 overall, beat San Jose State 30-7, currently ranked #14

North Carolina: 0-1 overall, lost to Virginia Tech 17-10, currently ranked #24

Navy: 0-1 overall, lost to Marshall 49-7

Virginia: 1-0 overall, beat William & Mary 43-0

Georgia Tech: 0-1 overall, lost to Northern Illinois 22-21

Stanford: 0-1 overall, lost to Kansas State 24-7