A pair of top-10 teams will put their unbeaten records on the line Saturday afternoon when No. 7 Cincinnati visits No. 9 Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.
Notre Dame (4-0) is coming off a dominant 41-13 win over then-No. 18 Wisconsin in Chicago. The Fighting Irish climbed three spots in the rankings after the victory, in which they scored 31 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.
Now comes another difficult challenge against Cincinnati (3-0), which is coming off a bye week after a 38-24 win over Indiana. That followed blowouts of Miami-Ohio and Murray State and sets up the American Conference team as a slight favorite over the traditional powerhouse.
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly coached at Cincinnati from 2007-09 and still holds the program in high esteem.
“They are deserving of where they are ranked,” Kelly said. “From our perspective, this is the best team we’ve played to this point.”
Part of why Kelly believes that is the performance of Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder, the reigning American Athletic Conference offensive player of the year. Ridder has passed for 748 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions in his first three games this season.
“He’s a playmaker,” Kelly said. “He’s very talented in all phases offensively. He’s very athletic, he makes plays with his feet, he’s accurate with a strong arm. He’s a really good quarterback with lots of experience. He’s played a lot of winning football.”
Bearcats head coach Luke Fickell is intent on keeping his players focused before they head to one of the iconic venues in all of college football.
“It’s big, we’re not going to lie to you,” Fickell said. “Once the thing is kicked off, you can’t let all of the emotions about what was going on affect you. You can’t let it drain you. …
“It’s a big game any time you play Notre Dame. They’re a top-five program, not just all-time but over the past five years. This just happens to be the year that both teams are really good and ranked high, but you can’t spend all of your emotions worrying about what’s going on.”
Notre Dame listed Jack Coan as No. 1 on the depth chart at quarterback, offering a strong signal that he should be able to return after sustaining a leg injury last week against Wisconsin. The Fighting Irish listed sophomore Drew Pyne as the backup signal-caller and Tyler Buchner at third string.
Coan has passed for 986 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions on the season. He has been helped by a productive ground game led by Kyren Williams, who has 244 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Yet, the Notre Dame offense has been balky, and the Irish trailed Wisconsin 13-10 in the fourth quarter before Chris Tyree ran a kickoff back 96 yards for a touchdown. The Irish padded the score with two late pick sixes.
Previously, they had to go to overtime to fend off Florida State (41-38), rally with a late touchdown to overcome Toledo (29-23) and needed 10 fourth-quarter points to put away Purdue (27-13).
As for the Bearcats, Ridder’s top target through the air has been wideout Tyler Scott, who has seven catches for 172 yards and two touchdowns on the season. He is averaging 24.6 yards per reception. Alec Pierce leads Cincinnati with nine receptions.
Running back Jerome Ford, who transferred from Alabama before last season, leads the Cincinnati rushing attack with 300 yards and six touchdowns. He is looking for his third game in a row with multiple rushing touchdowns.
This is the first meeting between the programs since 1900, when Notre Dame won 58-0.
–Field Level Media