How does No. 8 Notre Dame beat Toledo? By following these four keys to the game.
1. Run with a purpose
Notre Dame’s offensive line can’t be pleased with clearing a path for only 65 rushing yards against Florida State. The Irish need to rebound with an impressive performance against a defense the Irish offensive line should be able to control. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees should prioritize establishing a running game against the Rockets.
Notre Dame has a size advantage against Toledo’s front four with two starting defensive tackles weighing 255 and 290 pounds and two outside linebackers weighing 250 and 235 pounds. Left tackle Michael Carmody is Notre Dame’s lightest starting offensive lineman at 290. Give running backs Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree a little space to operate and let them go to work.
2. Don’t let the Rockets lift off
Florida State took advantage of Notre Dame’s defense blowing assignments and missing tackles in defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman’s Irish debut. ND must clean up its act against Toledo. The Irish allowed two 60-plus-yard touchdowns against Florida State on Sunday. Only two FBS defenses (Western Michigan and Minnesota) allowed more than the Irish in their season openers.
Toledo’s offense, led by quarterback Carter Bradley and running back Bryant Koback, isn’t known for being explosive, but Notre Dame needs to make sure this isn’t the week Toledo discovers its big-play ability.
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3. Protect the football
Perhaps lost in quarterback Jack Coan’s four-touchdown, 366-yard performance on Sunday was the fact that his only turnover came on a failed Hail Mary attempt at the end of regulation. But two botched snap exchanges between center Jarrett Patterson and Coan could have been disastrous if Coan didn’t successfully recover the loose ball.
Notre Dame has to continue to protect the football against upset-minded Toledo. A turnover could be a momentum changer and give the Rockets the confidence they need to knock off the Irish.
4. Talent trumps experience
If you haven’t heard by now, Toledo returned players with starting experience at all 22 positions on offense and defense from last season. That experience should be valuable for the Rockets as they enter MAC play. It can even be valuable Saturday against the Irish.
But Notre Dame’s talent, regardless of experience level, should be a significant advantage. Toledo’s roster isn’t loaded with future NFL players, otherwise it wouldn’t have so many fifth- and sixth-year players.
Because Toledo has so much experience, the Irish shouldn’t look past the Rockets. That doesn’t mean Toledo should be able to cover wide receivers Kevin Austin Jr. and Braden Lenzy or block defensive end Isaiah Foskey and linebacker JD Bertrand.
Follow ND Insider Tyler James on Twitter: @TJamesNDI.