Notre Dame Football Midseason Analysis

Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Nine weeks into the 2023-24 college football season, Notre Dame has managed a 6-2 record with their best win being against USC, who was ranked 10th and undefeated at the time. Led by quarterback Sam Hartman, the Irish started the season in Dublin, Ireland where they were dominant in a 42-3 win over Navy. That big win in “week zero” had Irish fans hopeful of a return to the College Football Playoffs (CFP) conversation. Through the first four games, the Irish outscored their opponents 184-47 and held both Tennessee State and Navy each to only three points. 

The team’s confidence stayed strong into week four when the Irish hosted sixth-ranked Ohio State in the national game of the week. Despite the 17-14 loss, most Irish fans believed they outplayed Ohio State until the final minutes of the game. Post-game,  there was still hope that the Irish could finish the season strong and with only one loss. That dream was dashed after a 33-20 loss at Louisville, where the Irish just could not seem to get anything going on offense. The running game was non-existent and while the defense made some big plays, Hartman struggled and the Irish headed back to South Bend with a second loss and their CFP dreams officially done. 

Despite having a disappointing game against Louisville, quarterback Sam Hartman has brought the veteran leadership and skill that the Irish need at his position. After four solid seasons at Wake Forest, Hartman has transitioned smoothly into the Irish system, throwing 18 touchdowns in eight games.  Despite not being known as a dual threat quarterback, he has rushed for two touchdowns and made big plays with his legs, including a seventeen yard scramble that secured a first down for the Irish on the winning drive of the game against Duke. 

Staying on the offensive side of the ball, Audric Estime has been critical to the Irish running game. Averaging 6.7 yards a carry, he has also run the ball into the end zone nine times this season, only two touchdowns away from matching his total from last year. While at times the Irish and Estime have struggled to establish the run game, when they do, it becomes a major part of the offense’s success. A key to the rest of the season will be establishing the run game early and often, something that has been a clear sign the Irish are in control of a game. 

On the other side of the ball, Xavier Watts has slowly but surely had a bigger impact on the Irish defense. He had a rough game in Notre Dame’s loss to Ohio State but bounced back well, picking up an interception against Duke the next weekend. Then, just two weeks later, he played the game of his life, securing two critical interceptions against USC. He finished his night picking up a fumble at the USC 15-yard line and crossing the goal line with the scoop and score, officially shutting the door on the Trojans, giving the Irish a 48-20 lead. 

Additionally, Jadarian Price will continue to be another important piece to Notre Dame’s finish to the season. While he has not had the same type of year as Estime at running back, he has provided a spark for the Notre Dame special teams, especially in the game against USC. After giving up a touchdown to Caleb Williams and the Trojan offense, the game was getting closer as USC had pulled within 11 points to make it just 31-20 still in favor of Notre Dame. Fear that the Irish would cough up another game was erased from fans’ minds as Price returned the kickoff  99 yards into the north end zone in Notre Dame Stadium. It was also a much needed special teams play that had been missing in most of the games the Irish played so far. If the Notre Dame special teams unit and Price can come through with more big plays in the remaining games, the Irish are sure to see success. 

This weekend, coming off of their first of two bye weeks for the season, the Irish are set to host Pitt, a seemingly harmless 2-5 team. Despite the subpar record, Pitt does hold one thing over the heads of Marcus Freeman and the entire Notre Dame football team: they beat Louisville. Just a week after the Irish were dealt their second loss of the season by the Cardinals, Pitt then 1-5, handed undefeated Louisville their first loss. 

While a CFP appearance may be off the table, the Irish still have the chance to play in a “New Year’s Six” Bowl game like the Peach, Fiesta or Cotton Bowls, but that will require a few other teams to lose a second game. If the Irish fail to win out and finish worse than 9-2, they could end up in a bowl game like the Gator Bowl, the Pop-Tarts Bowl or Holiday Bowl. In that case they could be matched up with opponents such as Utah, Florida, Kansas or Kansas State.  Marcus Freeman has led the Irish to consecutive bowl appearances to start his tenure under the Golden Dome. Playing and winning a major bowl game to conclude the 2023 season is the needed next step for the Irish.

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