This isn’t a conference game, but that doesn’t matter. This game could still impact the playoffs, especially in the Big Ten, depending on the outcome of later games this week. Auburn’s playoff lives also hang in the balance of another game, but a win over their CFSL-bred rival would be stellar I’m sure. The Tigers and Fighting Irish first met in season one. Their second meeting was in the National Championship game of that season. Notre Dame won those meetings and the third, but Auburn has won the two meetings since. So, who gets the sixth meeting tonight? We’ll start with Notre Dame.
Heartbreaking loss a week ago, but quarterback Leo Asiata shouldn’t be faulted. Sure, he only had one touchdown pass, but he still drove his team down the field with 308 yards through the air and the help of Notre Dame’s Raging Bull. Halfback Joe Pantoja’s 28 carries totaled 125 yards and a score. Pantoja has been the workhorse we expected from last season and he isn’t slowing down any time soon. Receiver Albert Saenz was on point, three grabs for 95 yards and Asiata’s score, aided by receivers Ryan Hughes and Thaddeus Jefferson as well as some key grabs by tight end Alistair Kye. Hopefully, their kicker Pinto Ha doesn’t disappoint like he did a week ago, otherwise Notre Dame might feel better.
Speaking of feeling better, Notre Dame’s defense should be after watching back the tape. There were three receivers in the area of Notre Dame’s loan corner on Michigan’s game-ending hail mary. The defense played well, with defensive end Shane Razorback in the face of the quarterback to the point that Michigan signal-caller Dewey Ainge threw two interceptions. Linebacker Mason Miller snagged one and corner Jackson Stone snagged the other and ran it back 51 yards to allow Pantoja and Asiata to score. Still, to lose like that hurts.
Quarterback Griffin Jelkic and the Auburn Tigers haven’t been able to beat Clemson or Texas this season. Or, at all. The one prided fact they have is that Auburn has been able to beat Notre Dame before. Jelkic has improved, although last week’s score is deceiving. Two touchdowns and three interceptions aren’t good statistics, nor is Jelkic airing it out 47 times. That’s been one of the larger critiques against Auburn this season. The limits upon halfback Billy Carter have been unnerving. Carter hasn’t run for 100 yards since week one which isn’t good news. Receivers Cross Ferry III and Bubba Davis are playmakers, as is receiver Jacob Hill and tight end James Mattly, but the offense starts with Carter and from there goes play action.
Defensively, Auburn is strong. They’re giving up an average of 24.9 points per game, and safety Ollie P. Peters is looking to be an All-American. Peters snagged two interceptions a week ago, and coupled that with seven tackles. Linebacker Mark Calloway is a permanent resident of the opposition’s backfield, no matter who they face. Add in some strong outings by linebacker Micah Myers and safety Sky Taylor, and this defense can make waves, and the lives of an offense miserable. Now let’s see if they can contain an enraged bull.
WHAT TO WATCH
In mentioning the limits placed on Billy Carter, my understanding is that there’s been a change. As Auburn gears Carter up to return to the same player he was a season ago, Notre Dame better brace themselves. If they don’t, Auburn might run roughshod. If that happens, Jelkic can use his legs and run play action which could totally pull apart the Notre Dame defense at the seams.
Auburn is likely going to turn the keys back to Carter, but Notre Dame isn’t going to roll over for them. Razorback can contain as can defensive end Maur Rivers, meaning that Carter and Jelkic could struggle on the edge. Asiata has been cautious, but overt caution could be dangerous and if he takes that route tonight, then Notre Dame is in trouble. Pantoja can’t do it all against this defense, and if he does, I doubt Notre Dame wins. Auburn by seven.
NOTRE DAME 24, AUBURN 31