What They’re Saying: Notre Dame Fighting Irish 12, Louisville 7
A look at what the media is saying after Notre Dame's 12-7 victory against Louisville on Saturday.
It’s off the schedule for the first time in nearly 100 years, but in spirit, Notre Dame-Navy lived on.
A matchup of two top-15 SP+ offenses devolved into a triple option-paced game completed in just under three hours. The over was set at 62, but Notre Dame and Louisville didn’t even get a third of the way there.
Each team had just seven drives. Nobody threw for more than 130 yards. There were four drives that lasted at least seven minutes, three of them from Notre Dame – which had the ball for 36:15.
In short: Notre Dame Navy’d Louisville, 12-7.
It’s a win, and as Brian Kelly and multiple players repeated, those are to be valued in whatever form they take. Notre Dame’s nine-game win streak is the longest in the country, after all. Irish quarterback Ian Book called it the windiest game he’s even played in. The American flag blowing one way and goalpost flags flapping the opposite direction support him.
Saturday’s events were also decidedly not how Notre Dame came into this game wanting to play and not how a team with title expectations is supposed to score against a defense that had allowed two 40-point games in four tries. There’s work to do to convince the masses a victory against Clemson next month is realistic.
1. Weird Day
What an odd game script. In some ways, the numbers suggest the win should’ve been more comfortable. Notre Dame had the ball for 36:15 and went 8-for-14 on third downs. But this was a close game because it was devoid of finished drives and big plays. Notre Dame averaged 9.7 yards per catch, had no completions 20 or more yards downfield and no plays of 30-plus yards. It scored one touchdown on its first four red zone trips.
2. Initial Downfield Emphasis
The lack of downfield completions stood out because Notre Dame started the game trying to hit them. Given the numbers and personnel, it made sense. Kevin Austin was fully healthy. Javon McKinley had 107 yards the week before. And Louisville was allowing 8.2 yards per attempt through four games, with 10 plays of at least 30 yards allowed.
Notre Dame hammered Florida State with 12 and 13 personnel. Its first drive against Louisville, though, was spent mostly in 11 personnel and (one running back, one tight end, three receivers) had eight pass calls against four designed runs.
But nothing was really available downfield. Notre Dame’s longest passing gains were 18 yards to Austin and 16 yards each to freshman tight end Michael Mayer and grad student Bennett Skowronek, and those were shorter routes with yards after the catch. Receiver concerns that went on the backburner after the win against Florida State resurfaced today.
3. Louisville's Plan Works
Cardinals defensive coordinator Bryan Brown should feel pretty good about how his unit played for much of the game. He dialed up several kinds of complex blitzes that sent pressure from all over. Louisville called three early cornerback blitzes, two of which led to sacks. Its linebackers were active as rushers.
On the back end, Louisville often left its defensive backs in man coverage against Notre Dame. They held up against a Notre Dame receiving corps that struggled once again to separate. Austin nearly had a 13-yard touchdown catch when he came open on a corner route in a one-on-one matchup, but his foot landed about two inches out of bounds. Book had five scrambles when he saw nothing open, including a 13-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
“As we have discussed, this is all a building process leading up to Clemson. Clemson happened to hang 72 on Georgia Tech today who is now 2-3, and we have yet to play a team that is .500, so we can factor that in. The final score here was 12-7 and legitimately it could have been 9-7. We had a drive that was extended on 3rd and long twice by Louisville penalties that were ticky-tack calls -- hands to the face and a bad defensive holding call. Those three points Notre Dame got on the drive don’t even count to me, so let’s call it 9-7.”
“There was some regression even from last week. Last week, the excuse was that ‘Oh, the team didn’t get to tackle, blah blah blah.’ So, now, the team gets a week of full practice and gets worse?”
On any silver linings...
“I would be hard pressed. Silver lining, Kevin Austin got involved. Maybe that is something to feel good about. We have been saying this -- it is never as good or as bad as it seems when you go back and watch the tape. Maybe a saving grace here is that offensively for the Irish, it still seems like we are trying to see what fits. We know we can run the ball, and Coach Rees doesn’t take that for granted and we ran the ball well today. It still seems like we are experimenting in the passing game, so I think you need to mix around the route combinations, mix up some protections, something. I don’t think the offense is as bad as it looked points-wise like you saw today. Book threw the ball downfield against FSU and tried to today, but it was like they forgot that Louisville could blitz. The receivers had a tough time getting open today, but I think that comes down to the types of routes being run.”
“Ultimately it was just a really frustrating game to watch. I was sitting here taking notes asking myself ‘Who is going to make a damn play?’ and create some excitement? That didn’t happen. I have never watched Notre Dame football as intently as I have this year since taking on this role at Blue & Gold, but man it is frustrating. I feel bad for Notre Dame fans. This is really frustrating.”
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Reason to worry about the viability of No. 4 Notre Dame’s 2020 goals, in particular the ever-looming spectre just three weeks away, did not come in Saturday’s 12-7 scrape with Louisville. If anything, slipping by the Cardinals in ignominious fashion put the worry to bed. The reason to worry about the foundation of any Irish hopes of contending for an ACC title, how they could conceivably compete with No. 1 Clemson when it arrives on Nov. 7, came a week ago as Notre Dame (4-0, 3-0 ACC) eased by Florida State, 42-26.
The Seminoles poked holes in the defense that sets the tone for the Irish. Those gaps were plugged against the Cardinals, an offense comparable to Florida State’s, if not arguably superior.
“Last week we didn’t really feel great about what we put on film, so this week we just wanted to get back to the basics, stick to our fundamentals and play our type of ball,” fifth-year defensive end and captain Daelin Hayes said Saturday evening. “We were confident in that. [Defensive coordinator Clark Lea] allowed us to go out and make plays, kept the game plan simple.”
If Notre Dame cannot rely on its defense, it cannot rely on anything. That has been the case throughout the revival begun in 2017, and it remains the case now. That is inherently a criticism of other facets of the Irish, most notably the passing game, but it also speaks to the importance of Lea’s defense. It is the perpetual safety net, and it knows as much.
“We tell the offense, all they need to do is give us three points and we’ll go do the rest,” Hayes said. “That’s the mindset our defense embodies and coach Lea has instilled in us.”
Though two turnovers put the defense in difficult positions last week, Notre Dame still gave up 16 points — would have been 17 if not for a misguided two-point attempt — on three pertinent drives. Its turnover-fueled explosion against No. 5 North Carolina (3-1, 3-1) this weekend aside, Florida State has featured one of the most disappointing offenses in the country this season, averaging 22.5 points through four games and only 5.14 yards per play.
Notre Dame is annually among the most overrated, over-analyzed and over-exposed teams in America. Its ubiquity has long been the root of its divisiveness, as it ranks with the Yankees, Cowboys and Lakers among legacy brands that artificially manufacture attention.
That’s why it’s surprising that Notre Dame finds itself quietly having ascended to the top of the rankings this season. The Irish are ranked No. 4 in the country, well positioned for a playoff spot and poised for an epic showdown with No. 1 Clemson on Nov. 7 that will give one of those programs an inside shot at a College Football Playoff bid.
“They should be way more hyped,” said an opposing coach who has studied the Irish. It may be the first time in recorded history those words have been spoken about Notre Dame.
Notre Dame should be ranked No. 3 come Monday after its 12-7 victory over Louisville, with the assumption that the Irish leap Georgia after the Bulldogs lost 41-24 to No. 2 Alabama. (That ranking may be adjusted once Big Ten and Pac-12 teams start playing and garner more votes.)
But it’s perhaps revealing that we still don’t know if this Notre Dame team resembles a College Football Playoff-caliber team. “It’s really early,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said after the game that bumped the Irish to 4-0. He added: “It’s almost Game 2 for us in a sense because of our stop and restart. It’s pretty early in the season for us. We’re going to be a better football team as we continue to grow and develop.”
The recipe is a familiar one for the Irish. They have one of the country’s most dominant offensive lines, a capable quarterback in fifth-year senior Ian Book and a sound defense that appears to be growing up under well-regarded coordinator Clark Lea.
While the Irish have the run game, the Louisville game exposed some deficiencies in the pass game. Kelly attributed some of that to 30-mph minds. But Notre Dame’s offense stalled in the red zone, including three first half trips resulting in just six points after a questionable fake field goal attempt late in the half.
If there’s a singular player Notre Dame needs to emerge, it’s junior receiver Kevin Austin. He missed the first two games with an injury and had a touchdown taken away on the final drive of the half when officials ruled he failed to keep his foot in bounds. He can potentially add an element of dynamism the Irish have lacked.
“This team is nowhere near where it can be and I think it will be,” Kelly said. “We know that we’re going to have to improve in certain areas.”
SOCIAL MEDIA REACTION
Notre Dame has won 35 of its last 40 games. It’s academically tough, geographically isolated, lousy winter weather & generally play a decent schedule. Yet, nobody gets more crap than Brian Kelly. Easy top 5/6 college HC.— Colin Cowherd (@ColinCowherd) October 17, 2020
Kelly says Braden Lenzy was limited today with “a soft tissue injury."— Patrick Engel (@PatrickEngel_) October 17, 2020
Brian Kelly goes to a familiar refrain when asked about Ian Book:— Patrick Engel (@PatrickEngel_) October 17, 2020
"He’s a winner. He wins football games. He hasn’t lost at home. When it’s time to make plays, he made huge third-down conversations on that last drive. When the game’s on the line, you can count on Ian Book.”
Kelly on running the clock out on the last drive:— BlueandGold.com (@BGInews) October 17, 2020
"I think the way the game had gone, I felt pretty confident we were going to be able to, at the very least, put our defense in a good position."
"We had been running the ball with a good effectiveness."
There is something to be said for Notre Dame not having its A-game on offense, yet still running for 232 yards and ending the game with an eight-minute, 14-play drive.— Pete Sampson (@PeteSampson_) October 17, 2020
With Kyren Williams' five-yard run in the 4th quarter, Notre Dame marks its fifth-consecutive game with a 100-yard rusher (beginning with the 2019 Camping World Bowl).— Notre Dame Football PR Team (@NDFootballPR) October 17, 2020
The last time the Irish strung together five-straight games with a 100-yard rusher was in 2017.
Unbeatens remaining in college football (that have at least played three games):— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) October 18, 2020
Coastal Carolina 4-0
Notre Dame 4-0
OK State 3-0
Notre Dame, obviously not great today.— Pete Sampson (@PeteSampson_) October 17, 2020
Worth noting, though, this was Notre Dame’s 22nd straight home win, 26th straight win against unranked competition and 10th straight win overall.
Irish have the longest win streak and the FBS.
On the one hand, Pitt lost its third consecutive game today.— Amanda Godsey (@AmandaFGodsey) October 17, 2020
On the other hand, Notre Dame just beat Louisville by a score of 12-7.
Pitt-Notre Dame next week could get real weird.
#4 Notre Dame escapes with a 12-7 win over Louisville. The same Louisville team lost to Georgia Tech by 19, who lost to Clemson by 66.— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) October 17, 2020
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