The Notre Dame Fighting Irish were coming off of a disappointing last-minute loss heading into Week 5. It would have been easy for the team to head to Duke and overlook the Blue Devils, but the Irish got it done.

The Irish came away with a 21-14 win in Durham, knocking off the previously undefeated Blue Devils. On offense, the Irish passing attack struggled to get anything going. Sam Hartman had a 2nd consecutive underwhelming game but ultimately did enough to position his team to win.

Audric Estime contributed 2 of the team’s 3 TDs and the Irish pass defense was once again stellar. Now, let’s take stock of the team heading into Week 6.

Player of the Week: Howard Cross III

Cross had a fantastic game on the defensive line. The nose tackle led the team with 13 total tackles, 1 sack, 3.5 tackles for loss, and 2 forced fumbles. Cross had no sacks or forced fumbles before this week, and his game-high in tackles was 6.

Cross was a disruptive force all night on the interior. If the fifth-year player can continue to be a force in the pass rush, this Irish defense will only get scarier.

Freshman of the Week: Rico Flores Jr.

Flores is the only freshman to factor in against the Blue Devils, so he gets the honors. The receiver contributed 2 catches for 28 yards. Flores has played in 5 games as a freshman and has multiple catches in 4 of those 5 games.

It’s certainly a positive sign that the receiver is already playing a role in the offense as a true freshman. Flores’ role will likely only get bigger as the season progresses.

Biggest surprise: Howard Cross III’s emergence as a pass rusher

Cross not only got his 1st sack of the season, he also forced 2 fumbles and had 3.5 tackles for loss. The performance came out of nowhere, and the defender dominated against the smaller Duke linemen.

For an Irish defense that has struggled to get sacks this year, it was nice to see Cross deliver in that area. The big nose tackle just probably wasn’t who we expected to be a force for the pass rush.

Biggest concern: The offense failing to score against quality opponents

Notre Dame had no problem scoring against lesser opponents. The Irish scored 42, 56, 45, and 41 points to start the season. Against Ohio State, however, the team mustered just 14 points. Against Duke, the team scored 21.

Through 6 games, the Irish have the No. 44 passing offense in the nation. We know the Irish will score against bad teams, but they need to prove they can do it against the top teams as well. With games against USC, Louisville, and Clemson coming up, the team will need to figure out how to improve its efficiency.

Developing trend: Mitchell Evans becoming the top target

Evans leads the Irish in both receptions and receiving yards. The big tight end collected 6 catches for 134 yards against Duke just one week after pulling in 7 catches for 75 yards against the Buckeyes.

It’s becoming apparent that Hartman loves the reliability of Evans. The tight end runs great routes and finds ways to get open.

Key stat: 20%

The  Irish converted just 3-of-15 third-down opportunities for a 20% conversion rate. This is simply not good enough to win against the opponents the Irish have coming up.

Thanks to the Irish’s tough defense, it didn’t end up biting the team this week. However, the team will have to convert third downs more efficiently against the likes of Clemson, USC, and Louisville.

The Blue Devils have a tough defense, but it is not encouraging that the Irish couldn’t convert more of these chances.

First impression about Week 6

The 5-1 Irish will travel to take on the 5-0 Louisville Cardinals in Week 6. Per ESPN’s FPI, the Irish have a 70.5% implied win probability.

The Cardinals are averaging just shy of 500 yards per game and are led by veteran QB Jack Plummer. The Louisville passing attack will be a tough test for the Irish defense. If the Irish play like they have been, the Louisville offense could be in for a long night. The Irish have the No. 4 passing defense in the nation and are allowing just 146.8 yards per game.

However, the Cardinal rushing attack is nothing to take lightly. The team is averaging 200 yards per game on the ground behind Jawhar Jordan.

If there’s one area that should worry Irish fans, it’s Louisville’s ground game. The Irish lock down opposing passers, but they do give up quite a bit of yardage on the ground. The Irish currently have the No. 52 rushing defense and are allowing just under 125 yards per game.

The game plan should be simple for Notre Dame: shut down Louisville’s rushing attack and the game should be a win. Notre Dame needs to control the time of possession and make Louisville pass the ball. Getting an early lead will be critical in this game.