As ND kicks off season 134 tonight, 5 storylines are dancing in my head. Here’s what they are and here is what I predict will happen.
1. Notre Dame debuts a new defensive coordinator. Marcus Freeman’s defenses at Cincinnati were stellar during his tenure from 2017 through 2020. Last season he was named the Defensive Coordinator of the year by 24/7 sports. What I predict: Freeman’s style is less regimented than Clark Lea’s. Compared to a Lea defense expect multiple looks, and a scheme that adapts to personnel’s strengths. Higher risk, potentially higher reward. I Expect to see a few more big plays against the Irish but even more big plays for the defense.
2. Dillan Gibbons we hardly knew ye. Expected to be a top back up on the Irish offensive line Gibbons transferred to Florida State after spring practice concluded That openied the door for the transfer of Cain Madden to ND. So, now he will start at left guard tonight for the Seminoles. One thing Gibbons brought with him is a zillion practice reps against Kurt Hinish, Myron Tagovailoa Amosa and company, which makes for an interesting on field dynamic tonight. What I predict: Gibbons is a good player and experience against the Irish defenders will help. But that is a 2-way street. ND knows Gibbons, and Gibbons will not have Jarrett Patterson next to him, in fact, the rest of the Seminole oline has no where near the pedigree of ND’s. Advantage, Fighting Irish.
3. Jack Coan fulfills his dream. Coan grew up an ND fan, tonight he gets to live that dream. Coan has pocket presence and a quick trigger. What I predict: Anyone who has spent 5 minutes with Coan knows how calm and confident he is. He will rise to the moment, and I think he will find some open receivers downfield.
4. Florida State’s QB situation. McKenzie Milton or Jordan Travis? We don’t know for sure who will be at QB for FSU, but the guess here is the dual threat guy, Jordan Travis. Last year against the Irish, Travis threw for a TD and ran for one while racking up 204 yards passing and 96 running. What I predict: If it is Jordan Travis that gets the start tonight, look for Marcus Freeman’s defense to lock him in the pocket and make him throw the football. Good luck, last year on the season Travis totaled 6 TD passes and 6 interceptions.
5. The Louisville effect. In 2019 the Irish started on the road at Louisville at night against a team that was rebuilding. The crowd that evening was raucous and the Irish started slowly. ND fell behind 14-7 in the first quarter, before steadying the ship and pulling away to a 35-17 victory. This week Brian Kelly mentioned the Louisville game as a situation similar to what his team faces tonight. What I predict: The Irish are likely to start slowly. 70,000 fans will be NUTS and the Seminoles will be jacked up.
But culture usually wins out and it will tonight. ND 30 Florida State 14