SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame should win this game. Of that, there is little doubt.
The Irish are better than visiting Bowling Green in every way. That would be the case in almost any year, but it's especially true this season, as the Falcons enter the first year of a multi-step rebuild under new head coach (and former Michigan quarterback) Scot Loeffler. Bowling Green is coming off a 62-20 loss to Kent State, which as I type this is trailing 35-0 to Wisconsin at halftime. It would be an upset if the Falcons stay within three touchdowns this afternoon.
Despite the seemingly lopsided distribution of talent on the field today, there is still plenty to learn for the Irish today. Coach Brian Kelly has said that Notre Dame can show him it wants to be great with a clean, dominant performance in this game. The Irish have been very good for most of this season, but there have been moments (the first quarter against Louisville and the second quarter against Virginia) that Notre Dame has been frustratingly inert on offense. This is the type of week the Irish can focus on playing a complete game, not going into any momentary lapses and settling the outcome early. If this game goes well for Notre Dame, the starters should probably play three quarters at the most and we'll see plenty of Phil Jurkovec today.
This is the type of week to get right before rivalry games against USC and Michigan later this month. The Irish can try to find some consistency on offense and really begin to work Michael Young back into the gameplan as a key piece on the outside. He was active against Virginia last week and had three catches for 19 yards, but this week he's back at the top of the depth chart at wide receiver for the first time since before he broke his collarbone in fall camp. Rebuilding the chemistry between Young and the rest of the offense will be important against the better teams coming on the schedule.
This game is also a homecoming of sorts for Bowling Green defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who held the same position with the Irish from 2014 to 2016, but was fired four games into the nightmare 2016 season after the Irish started 1-3. Notre Dame's defense has taken significant steps forward under Mike Elko and protege Clark Lea since VanGorder left and it appears as though cutting bait on him when Notre Dame did was ultimately the right decision. There probably won't be any extra motivation from Notre Dame's players to put up a big number against a VanGorder defense, but judging by social media, there's a segment of Irish fans who would find it very satisfying.
The only path I see to Bowling Green keeping this game close is if the Falcons are able to keep quarterback Darius Wade upright (Bowling Green ranks 14th in the country in fewest sacks allowed) and Wade is able to hit more than a few long passes to wideouts Quintin Morris and Julian Ortega-Jones. Seeing as Wade averages just 5.8 yards per attempt against lesser competition, I don't really see that happening.
This is a game the Irish should win easily. Fixing little details, getting the backups some snaps and building chemistry are the goals today. Regardless of the final score, we'll be able to judge Notre Dame's performance based on whether they meet those goals.