Notre Dame Passing
Jack Coan solidified himself as the answer at quarterback against Florida State, bringing the downfield dimension to the offense that it needs to move like a well-oiled machine. The Wisconsin graduate transfer tossed for 366 yards and four touchdowns, finding four different receivers for scores. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees must have known he had something special and probably almost gave Brian Kelly a heart attack last week when he dialed up four straight pass plays on the opening drive to punch Florida State in the mouth. The Irish are going to have to throw the ball just as much as they did on Sunday against a stout Toledo run defense that gave up just 129 yards a game on the ground last season. The Rocket’s pass defense also has some confidence after giving up only 125 yards last week to FCS opponent Norfolk State, but I think that the Notre Dame head coach has learned that if he wants to bury opponents when the Irish grab the lead, he needs to let Coan throw the ball down the stretch. The Irish will overpower the Rockets in the passing game despite being limited in the run game.
EDGE: Notre Dame
Notre Dame Rushing
Notre Dame struggled to do anything on the ground in Week 1, which almost never happened in 2020. While the passing game thrived, the Irish couldn’t get Kyren Williams or Chris Tyree on track, as the duo combined for just 73 yards on under three yards per pop. Toledo faced a balanced Norfolk State running attack, but they gave up just 147 yards and a little over three yards per run. A week ago, this comparison wouldn’t have been close. But after the Irish offensive line struggled immensely in Tallahassee – and lost left tackle Blake Fisher to injury – it becomes a little closer. The Rockets had eight tackles for loss in Week 1, albeit against a far inferior opponent. Given Toledo’s fantastic effort in run defense, and the Irish’s lackluster performance, it feels wrong to give Notre Dame the edge solely based on the assumed talent gap.
Notre Dame Offensive Coaching
Tommy Rees once again displayed that he knows how to maximize his offensive weapons. Despite a couple of gut-wrenching drops, Michael Mayer was the focal point against Florida State, and he figures to be against Toledo as well. Mayer is the perfect weapon for Coan who can attack the middle of the field better than anyone in the country, and Rees will continue to scheme his tight-end open against Toledo. Rees also found a way to get Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree in space with swing passes and short dump-offs that allowed them to use their vision and athleticism to pick up big chunks of yardage. Toledo didn’t bring much pressure in their last game, picking up only three sacks against an FCS team. Rees might not be able to draw up as many big plays, but he will be more than content to let Jack Coan march the offense down the field with short and intermediate throws.
EDGE: Notre Dame
Notre Dame Offensive Special Teams
This one is a weird one to analyze. On one hand, Jonathan Doerer was a perfect 7 of 7 on kicks, including five PATs and a pair of field goals. But other parts of Notre Dame’s special teams didn’t look as sharp. The return game on punts and kicks was shaky at best, with Chris Tyree repeatedly calling for fair catches despite a bevy of returnable kicks. Kyren Williams looked somewhat unseasoned as a punt returner, never doing much in that area. Doerer was a bright spot amidst a questionable performance. Toledo, meanwhile, had about as good of a defensive special teams effort as you can get, as the Rockets blocked two punts and returned them for touchdowns. Toledo held Norfolk State punt returners to a 10-yard average return on four attempts and drilled their one kickoff return after just a 17-yard effort. In a game Notre Dame should dominate, their special teams will need to perform better against a strong Toledo unit.
In Toledo’s first game of the season against Norfolk State, starting quarterback Carter Bradley finished the day 8/12 for 183 yards and a touchdown. The most notable play of the game came on an 84-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Devin Maddox. The Rockets also utilized freshman quarterback Dequan Finn in the game. Finn is more of a dual-purpose quarterback, and he finished the game with 38 passing yards on four completions and 82 rushing yards on nine carries. Kyle Hamilton will anchor the Irish secondary, and he will be a nightmare for the Rockets on Saturday. Hamilton will arguably be the best player on the field, and the Rockets simply don’t have the talent to match him. While the rest of the Irish secondary was prone to giving up big plays at times against Florida State, I expect them to limit Toledo’s ability to pass the ball on Saturday.
EDGE: Notre Dame
Toledo’s top rusher in their win over Norfolk State was quarterback Dequan Finn. Whenever he is on the field, the Irish will need to account for his passing and running ability, which could prove to be difficult. In addition to Finn, the Rockets have two capable backs in Bryant Koback and Micah Kelly, who both had over 40 yards rushing in Toledo’s week one victory. The Irish run defense looked lackluster at times against Florida State, and they ultimately gave up over 250 yards on the ground. The Irish have no depth at linebacker and key veteran players on the defensive line need to play better going forward as well. There were too many missed tackles on Sunday for the Irish and they will need to clean that up. At this point, it’s too hard to tell who has the advantage.
Toledo Offensive Coaching
As coach of the quarterback room and offensive coordinator for the Rockets, Brian Wright may have the perfect weapon in his quarterback tandem to shake the Irish defense. If he was watching closely enough, he could easily use the pair to find gaps in the Notre Dame defense. Marcus Freeman has more knowledge than that. As the saying goes, fool me once, shame on you, but fool me twice… Freeman should have the Irish ready for both quarterback styles after last week’s brief but costly falter when Mackenzie Milton took the field. A change-up at any moment should be no problem this week especially since Wright has a slightly weaker tandem to work with. If it is a problem, then shame on the Irish.
EDGE: Notre Dame
Toledo Offensive Special Teams
The Rockets have a young and unproven group of kickers. Sophomore placekicker Thomas Cluckey went 11-12 on extra points last season and he is already a perfect 7-7 this year. Fellow sophomore placekicker Evan Davis went a perfect 11-11 last year but has not gotten the chance to kick any field goals this season. Senior punter Bailey Flint serves as the veteran anchor for the kicking squad. The Melbourne, Australia native was a nominee for the Ray Guy Award in 2020 and 2021, given annually to the nation’s top punter. However, with Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree leading the charge with punt and kickoff returns, the Rockets special teams squad will have their work cut out for them.
EDGE: Notre Dame