Four players to watch in Saturday's Top 10 clash between Cincinnati and Notre Dame
PLAYERS TO WATCH
CB CAM HART
A former wide receiver turned corner, Hart took a big step to becoming a legit college cover guy in Saturday’s win over Wisconsin. He shook off a pass interference call to record his first two career interceptions, which he returned for 32 yards.
Saturday was the first game this season that Hart didn’t tally a tackle, but he already has a career high 18, fifth most on the team. He also has three pass breakups and two tackles for loss.
Hart might be matched up Saturday with Cincinnati’s Michael Young. Once upon a time, Hart and Young were college teammates – wide receiver teammates – at Notre Dame. Hart was a great unknown at the start of the season as a first-time starter. He's since settled in and has become someone the Irish defense can count on. He’s embraced the free and fast attitude of coordinator Marcus Freeman’s scheme. He has a few more big plays in him.
LT – TBD
Included is a picture of freshman Joe Alt, who saw time in Saturday’s win over Wisconsin, but really, a dark, shadowy figure would be more appropriate at this spot. The ultimate mystery man.
Four Irish have played left tackle through four games. Freshman Blake Fisher opened at Florida State, but suffered a knee injury that will keep him out for at least another few weeks. Michael Carmody started against Toledo, then went down with an ankle sprain. He hasn’t played since. Sophomore Tosh Baker started the last two games at the offensive line’s most critical position. Alt spelled Baker for stretches against Wisconsin.
Notre Dame has survived with smoke and mirrors and everything else at left tackle, and hasn’t yet paid the price for such uncertainty. Can the Irish get away with it for another week?
Carmody is listed as the starter on the two-deep depth chart. That may change. It has through four games. A lot.
RB JEROME FORD
Only one running back to date – Florida State’s Jashaun Corbin – has run for at least 100 yards this season against an improving Notre Dame defense. Corbin had 144 in the opener, but that included a chunk run of 89 yards.
In his first full season as the starter, Ford, a 5-foot-11, 200-pound junior, is averaging a team-best 100 yards rushing a game through the Bearcats’ first three. If Cincinnati is going to run the ball – which the Bearcats do to the tune of 155 yards per game – odds are Ford’s going to do the work. No other Bearcat has more than 72 rush yards through the first three games. The ground game is his. He’s run 50 times for 300 yards the first three games.
A former four-start recruit out of Tampa, Ford spent two seasons at Alabama, and Alabama running backs have been known to give the Notre Dame defense the business.
CB AHMAD GARDNER
The former high school wide receiver and now junior corner with the potential to be a top-10 NFL draft pick in 2022 is known for his length (6-3) and his reach and his ability to burst on the ball and play with some serious swagger.
He’s also known for his nickname – “Sauce” – given to him when he was 6 years old. Gardner doesn’t quite know what it means, but he plays with some serious style. He loves to get right up at the line of scrimmage and challenge receivers. Opponents just can’t get anything past him down the field. According to Pro Football Focus, Gardner has been targeted by opposing quarterbacks 10 times through Cincinnati’s first three games. No play has gone more than 15 yards. Gardner’s not going to give receivers much room to breathe, much less work. He’ll likely be paired opposite Irish senior Kevin Austin in this one. Who makes more plays might help determine what team wins.
Gardner has five tackles, one interception and one pass breakup in three games. He’s a big play waiting to happen. Test him and you might learn the hard way.
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI