Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 24, 2020

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 22 of 55 OCT. 24, 2020 23 LOUISVILLE RUNNING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME RUN DEFENSE A year ago, the Cardinals totaled 249 yards on the ground versus Notre Dame, 122 by running back Javian Hawkins. This time Louisville was limited to 104 yards — without any sacks skewing the numbers — and Hawkins managed only 51 yards on 15 attempts. He did break one right before halftime for 28 yards, but the other 14 carries netted 23 yards. The Irish defensive front controlled the line of scrimmage, allowing the linebackers to aggressively play downhill. Quarterback Malik Cunningham (seven carries for 49 yards) found some success with the option and converted a fourth-and-three on the lone Louisville touchdown drive. ADVANTAGE: Notre Dame LOUISVILLE PASSING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME PASS DEFENSE Although the completion percentage for Cunningham (16 of 19) sparkles on paper, his 124 yards through the air averaged a pedestrian 7.8 yards per completion. Most pertinent was keeping the game-breaking Tutu Atwell (four catches for 32 yards) from doing any damage after the catch, with junior cornerback TaRiq Bracy and sixth-year senior safety Shaun Crawford particularly excelling with their coverage. The lone significant downfield completion was to Hawkins on a 29-yard wheel route right before the Cardinals' lone score. ADVANTAGE: Notre Dame NOTRE DAME RUNNING GAME VS. LOUISVILLE RUN DEFENSE Early on, Notre Dame emphasized immediately involving the wide receivers in the attack. However, when no one evolved as an alpha figure, the longer the game progressed the more comfortable Notre Dame became leaning on the run, including only five pass attempts in the second half. While the 232 rushing yards, led by sophomore Kyren Williams' 127 on 25 carries, was 38 yards below the team average coming in, the confidence showed when Notre Dame literally was able to "run" out the final 7:55 of the clock. Much credit to Louisville's mainly three-man front able to occupy block- ers and allowing the linebackers, particularly Monty Montgomery, to crash inside and be disruptive. ADVANTAGE: Even NOTRE DAME PASSING GAME VS. LOUISVILLE PASS DEFENSE Fifth-year senior quarterback Ian Book was money with his 13-yard scramble for the go-ahead score and two crucial third-down completions on the final drive to expire the clock, but limiting him to 11-of-19 passing for 106 yards while also recording four sacks kept Louisville within striking distance. The mixture of blitzing, especially off the edge while also dropping seven into coverage, had the Irish often flummoxed. The inability of the wideout corps to gain separation was a consistent issue, and fifth-year senior Javon McKinley needs to finish better on balls that hit his hands. ADVANTAGE: Louisville SPECIAL TEAMS Senior kicker Jonathan Doerer's two first-quarter field goals proved crucial, but the missed first down on a fake field goal attempt by sophomore holder/ punter Jay Bramblett right before halftime provided a huge surge of confidence to the Cardinals. Louisville's punting pinned Notre Dame inside its 20 three times, whereas the Irish did not achieve it once against the Cardinals. Making it a wash was the blocking infraction against Louisville that nullified its recovered onside kick. ADVANTAGE: Even THIRD-DOWN CONVERSIONS Notre Dame is No. 2 in the country in third-down defense, and likely will remain there after limiting Louisville to 3 of 9 (33.3 percent). But the real story was that the lone Fighting Irish touchdown occurred on third-and-eight when Book scrambled in from 13 yards. Then to run out the final 7:55, Notre Dame converted two third-and-six situ- ations with short passes, and a third-and-five with a 24-yard Williams run. It finished 8 of 14 (57.1 percent). ADVANTAGE: Notre Dame TURNOVERS Both teams had their hands on at least a couple of potential interceptions, but neither ended up with a turnover. That was another factor that kept Louis- ville in the contest for four quarters. The Cardinals had entered the game 73rd among 76 Football Bowl Subdivi- sion teams in turnover margin (minus-2.0 per game). ADVANTAGE: Even ANALYSIS At least once a year a top-10 team will suddenly find itself in a potential ambush by a lesser foe and has to find a way to "survive and advance." This was one of those contests for the Fighting Irish, with a stellar defensive effort saving the day. Converting only one touchdown in five red-zone trips (out of only seven possessions on offense) reinforced skepticism about whether there is enough firepower on offense to hang with the more prolific units, namely a Clemson or Alabama. That eventually will be found out, but the Irish defense at least provides a chance, although generating more turnovers would aid the cause. There is a clear identity on offense with a strong commitment to the running game, but to reach College Football Playoff-caliber level the passing attack must become far better in its execution, production and making the tough catches in traffic. ✦ ON PAPER REVISITED BY LOU SOMOGYI Sophomore running back Kyren Williams posted his third 100-yard game in four outings this season, running for 127 yards on 25 carries against Louisville. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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