Notre Dame (3-3) will try to get back on track against UNLV (4-3) on Saturday in South Bend. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. EST at Notre Dame Stadium and will be televised exclusively on Peacock. Here are five keys to an Irish win.
UNLV’s health on offense
UNLV brings an offense to South Bend that scores 29 points per game, good for 70th in college football this season. But over the last few weeks that unit has been dealing with injuries at key positions. The Irish need to take advantage of that attrition.
Quarterback Doug Brumfield is in concussion protocol and is considered day-to-day, according to reports by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Starting running back Aidan Robbins is also questionable after leaving UNLV’s last contest against Air Force with a knee injury.
Tales of the tape:Who has the edge when UNLV football visits Notre Dame Stadium Saturday
Brumfield has accounted for 1,231 passing yards and eight touchdowns. If he can’t go, the Rebels’ likely replacements will be Cameron Friel, whos completed 25 passes for three touchdowns and Harrison Bailey, a transfer from Tennessee, who has only attempted 13 throws.
Robbins has accounted for more rushing attempts (125) than the rest of UNLV’s ball carriers combined, for 591 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. He also has a receiving score.
His and Brumfield’s health will have a lot to dictate how UNLV’s offense can operate against Notre Dame.
Don’t let UNLV’s passing game get confident
The Rebels have a balanced offense, throwing 202 times and attempting 238 rushes through seven games. Their success depends on that blend.
The key number for UNLV seems to be around 215 passing yards. Above that they win. Below that the lose — Cal, San Jose State and Air Force. In its last two games against the Spartans and Falcons, The Rebels have been outscored 82-14 and combined for 279 passing yards, granted Brumfield didn’t play against Air Force.
In its four wins, UNLV has averaged 266 passing yards per game, though that number is a bit skewed by a 400-yard passing game in a win against Idaho State.
The top receiver for the Rebels is Ricky White, a Michigan State transfer. Six different pass catchers have more than 100 receiving yards this season. It will be Notre Dame’s job to not let that unit get confident.
Notre Dame should find success with its inside run game
Notre Dame’s rushing attack against Stanford was on par for the rest of its season, rushing 34 times for 150 yards, an average of 4.4 yards per carry.
Within that performance, Notre Dame’s interior offensive lineman had success blocking up to Stanford’s defensive second level. Zeke Correll and Josh Lugg both rated amongst Notre Dame’s top five offensive starts last week, per Pro Football Focus. As did Joe Alt and Blake Fisher, both of Notre Dame’s starting tackles. Almost half Notre Dame’s rushing yards (67) came between the tackles.
It is any offensive line’s goal to block through a defense’s initial line of defense. If the Irish do that Saturday it will be a long day for UNLV. Two of the Rebels’ worst run stoppers are starters at linebacker and safety in Kyle Beaudry and Jordyn Morgan, respectfully.
UNLV has allowed over 165 rushing yards per season, so the Irish should be able to find some success.
Irish offensive line needs to give Drew Pyne time
Up until Stanford, Notre Dame’s offensive line kept Drew Pyne clean since he became the starting QB in Week 3. The Cardinal got to Pyne twice, including a forced fumble that led to a crucial field goal to end of the first half.
UNLV ranks 55th in college football for pass rush, per PFF. The Rebels have recorded 17 sacks in seven games, with four players — Adam Plant Jr, Darius Johnson, Austin Ajiake and Elijah Shelton — all with two.
The Irish’s passing game has its own problems, so keeping Pyne on his feet would be a big help.
Something has to click in Notre Dame’s passing game
Halfway through the season it is clear where Notre Dame’s offensive strong suit isn’t. The Irish have shown glimpses in its passing attack, but not enough to put fear in opposing defenses.
Too much confusion. Not enough results.
Eventually, teams will throw more bodies into the box to stop the Irish run attack and daring Pyne to make plays with his arm. It is the same reason why All-American tight end Michael Mayer only had five catches for 60 yards on Saturday — a solid day’s work, but far short of his standards.
If Notre Dame doesn’t utilize its full allotment of weapons its offense will continue to struggle.
What does that mean for Saturday’s game against UNLV? Maybe more freshman wide receiver Tobias Merriweather — who had is first career catch and touchdown last week — or junior running back Chris Tyree in the slot or screen game. Both would help make running the ball more affective.