Notre Dame vs. Cincinnati: Staff Predictions

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Brian Kelly is in his 12th season as the head coach at Notre Dame and this Saturday’s game will be just the third regular season contest his Irish have hosted as a top-10 team against another top-10 squad. The previous was a 38-17 win over No. 8 Stanford as Ian Book made his first Notre Dame Stadium start in 2018 while the other was last year’s double-overtime thriller that ended with an upset of No. 1 Clemson.

I’m not sure the odds you could have gotten when Kelly was hired that he’d win more games than any coach in program history, but the odds that he’d be taking on his former program in a 2021 top-10 matchup would have been even that much greater.

So what ultimately happens in this Saturday showdown between a pair of top-10 teams? Here’s what the Fighting Irish Wire staff sees:

Geoffrey Clark (3-1):

USA TODAY Networks

This is the toughest 2021 Irish game to pick yet, mainly because there is enough evidence to support a win for either team. That said, the defensive unit that mainly developed under Marcus Freeman appears to have picked up where it left off, and the Bearcats have the offense to support that unit. The Irish will get their yards through the air, but will they count for anything, or will they mainly be empty calories? As difficult as it is to say, the Bearcats simply have too much going their way on defense right now, and being familiar with Freeman’s defensive schemes will work just enough wonders for their offense.

Prediction: Cincinnati 28, Notre Dame 20

Michael Chen (3-1):

Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Last week the Irish proved me wrong, this week they have a chance to prove many others wrong as well. Wisconsin wasn’t as good as they were made out to be, but this week’s test, Cincinnati could be. The Bearcats haven’t been tested much this fall, Indiana is solid but not the same team as last year. The Irish are battle tested, they’ve won close games when things didn’t look their way. I’m not going to pretend that this game isn’t a big one, but the improvements we’ve seen on defense through the first four games is huge. This isn’t a revenge game for Marcus Freeman, this is a validation that he made the right choice to move on from the Bearcats. Jack Coan will find a way to keep the Irish in the game and Freeman’s defense will make plays late like they have in every game this season. It’s going to be another nail biter but the Irish pull this one out. Barely.

Prediction: Notre Dame 31 Cincinnati 27

Nick Shepkowski (4-0):

AP Photo/Phil Sears

Who will get the most snaps at quarterback for Notre Dame in this one? I don’t know the answer, nor do I care.

Notre Dame’s defensive line is one of the best in all of college football and that will be the difference in this showdown. Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder does a ton of things well but one he does not is handle pressure. He’s only been sacked five times in three games (nothing compared to the 20 Notre Dame has allowed) but he also the type of quarterback hates taking them more than almost anything. Where he and Cincinnati’s offensive are especially vulnerable are in that department and it just so happens it’s been a real strength of Notre Dame’s defense (pressure, turnovers, secondary play) so far this season.

Defense and turnovers continue to carry the Irish to victory while Michael Mayer has a huge day offensively..

Prediction: Notre Dame 31 Cincinnati 20

Notre Dame-Cincinnati Links:

USA TODAY Networks

Notre Dame releases depth chart for test with No. 8 Cincinnati

Gallery – Brian Kelly during his time at Cincinnati

5 things Luke Fickell said ahead of Notre Dame-Cincinnati

How college football experts are predicting Notre Dame-Cincinnati showdown