Notre Dame remained perfect with a 41-17 win over Central Michigan.

Navy-Tennessee State-NC State-Central Michigan to start the year isn’t exactly a murderer’s row of opponents. We’ll learn a great deal about this Fighting Irish team on Sept. 23, when Ohio State pays a visit to South Bend for a primetime matchup.

Player of the Game: Running back Audric Estime

We could mention Sam Hartman, but Audric Estime deserves a nod after his best game in a Notre Dame uniform.

Estime was sensational against the Chippewas, taking 20 carries for 176 yards and a touchdown. Those 176 yards were a career-high, surpassing his previous high-water mark of 134.

In 13 games in 2022, Estime had 920 yards rushing. He already has 521 yards through just 4 games in 2023. He could get well beyond the 1,000-yard plateau at this rate and continue to make his move up the NFL Draft boards.

Freshman of the Week: Wide receiver Rico Flores Jr.

Rico Flores is poised to be an integral part of the Irish’s wide receiver corps, and Saturday’s game gave fans a glimpse of why as he made 3 catches for 60 yards against the Chippewas.

The 4-star recruit was part of a Top 15 recruiting class for Marcus Freeman and his staff, with several top Power 5 programs on his offer sheet. It’s early, but Flores’ name will be one to focus on as the season continues.

Biggest surprise: No takeaways for the Irish defense

After forcing NC State’s Brennan Armstrong into 3 interceptions, the Irish defense didn’t come up with a single takeaway against Central Michigan. That’s the 2nd time that’s happened this season as Navy didn’t turn the ball over in the season opener in Dublin.

It’s probably too early to call this a major area of concern as the Irish offense has been holding up its end of the bargain, but we’ll see if the defense can grow a little more opportunistic in the turnover department in the coming weeks.

Biggest concern: Eight penalties

This one was a little too close for comfort in the 1st half: the Irish certainly didn’t do themselves any favors by committing penalties at some critical junctures. As the schedule begins to intensify, those mistakes will take greater significance and the margins grow thinner, so that’s sure to be a key talking point in practice leading up to the game against Ohio State.

Developing trend: Continued 3rd-down struggles

The Irish looked strong in this area in the early going, converting 5 of their 7 third downs against Navy and 9-of-11 against Tennessee State. However, like the game against NC State, this was an area of struggle: 5-of-12 this time despite 2-of-2 on 4th down.

So far, it hasn’t come back to haunt them. Eventually, it could unless they find solutions to get better in these situations.

Key Stat: 0 sacks allowed

The more time Sam Hartman has in the pocket, the more time he’ll have to make plays, and on Saturday, he didn’t get sacked a single time.

After Hartman hit the deck 4 times against NC State, having a clean pocket to work with was a pleasant experience. It’s part of the reason why he totaled 330 yards and 3 touchdowns while remaining without an interception for the 2023 season.

First impression about Week 4: No. 9 vs. No. 6, under the lights

This is the one Irish fans had circled on the calendar for a while: Ohio State, No. 6 in the country, in South Bend in a game that could have College Football Playoff indications. The Buckeyes have been a little shaky in the early going: they needed a little time to shake off challenges from Indiana and Youngstown State before torching Western Kentucky.

The big battle that will be worth keeping an eye on is how the secondary handles Marvin Harrison Jr., arguably the top wide receiver in the country and a near-consensus Top 5 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. A key stat that could work in the favor of the Irish: the Buckeyes have just 5.0 sacks this season through 3 games.