Here are five keys for No. 9 Notre Dame (3-1) when it hosts Bowling Green (1-3) on Saturday (3:30 p.m. EDT on NBC).
Most possessions for the Notre Dame offense have lately resulted in either a score or three-and-out. Extended stretches of stalled drives have been a concern. That shouldn’t be the case against a Falcon defense that ranks second-to-last nationally in pass efficiency defense. Quarterback Ian Book has a chance to work out the kinks before the biggest remaining games of the season, which come this month in USC (Oct. 12) and Michigan (Oct. 26). Having wide receiver Michael Young shake off the rust in his return last week from a broken collarbone should help.
NEXT MAN IN
The Irish lost two important pieces to their defense in defensive end Daelin Hayes (torn labrum) and cornerback Shaun Crawford (dislocated elbow). It looks like Jamir Jones will displace Hayes for the rest of the season. TaRiq Bracy will operate as the starting field corner until Crawford returns in three to four weeks. Flashes from Jones and Bracy are needed for an Irish defense that will face talented playmakers in the coming weeks. A strong performance against Bowling Green may give them the confidence and experience to hold their own against better competition.
FIX SPECIAL TEAMS
Replacing place-kicker Justin Yoon and punter Tyler Newsome was expected to be a challenge. But through the first three games, the Irish special teams were not a problem. Then last week happened. UVA recovered an onside kick, Chris Finke muffed a punt that resulted in a turnover and place-kicker Jonathan Doerer missed a 47-yard field goal. Those concerns now seem to be back in full force. A clean game from the special teams and better play going forward can help absolve that performance against UVA. Doerer and freshman Jay Bramblett have otherwise had solid seasons.
Starting running back Jafar Armstrong may return to the lineup for USC. That would restore Notre Dame’s offense to full health for the first time this season. The Irish offense can’t afford another setback before USC and Michigan, especially against a Bowling Green team that’s a 46-point underdog. Less time on the field means a lesser chance of injury. Obtaining an insurmountable lead early would result in more rest for the Irish offense. Inspired play and no funny business ensures that happens.
WORK ON DEVELOPMENT
Sophomore quarterback Phil Jurkovec received some first-team reps this week. Notre Dame’s intention for that move was not to replace Book with Jurkovec. It was about helping advance Jurkovec’s development. That’s how Notre Dame will approach the second half against Bowling Green. Reps for Jurkovec and even freshman quarterback Brendon Clark are considered meaningful for the Irish. The redshirt rule permits players to receive action in four games without burning their redshirt. Look for an array of inexperienced players to see the field once the game reaches blowout status.