Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 24, 2020

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

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26 OCT. 24, 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED Observations and musings from Notre Dame's 12-7 win over Louisville 1. Failure To Finish In some ways, the numbers suggest the win should have been more comfortable. Notre Dame had the ball for 36:15 and went 8 of 14 on third downs. But this was a close game because it was devoid of finished drives and big plays. Notre Dame averaged 9.6 yards per catch, had no completions of 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. Junior wideout Kevin Austin Jr. was fully healthy. Fifth-year senior wide receiver Javon McKinley had 107 yards the week prior. And Louisville was allowing 8.2 yards per attempt through four games, with 10 plays of at least 30 yards allowed. Notre Dame's first drive against Louisville was spent mostly in 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end) and had eight pass calls against four designed runs. But nothing was available downfield. Notre Dame's longest passing gains were 18 yards to Austin and 16 yards each to freshman tight end Michael Mayer and fifth-year senior wide receiver Ben Skowronek, and those were shorter routes with yards after the catch. Receiver concerns that went on the back-burner after the win against Florida State resurfaced. 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 blitzes that sent pressure from all over. Louisville called three early cornerback blitzes, two of which led to sacks. The linebackers were also active as rushers. On the back end, Louisville often left its defen- sive backs one-on-one. They held up against a receiving corps that struggled once again to sepa- rate. Austin nearly had a 13-yard touchdown catch when he came open on a corner route, but his foot landed about two inches out of bounds. Book had five scrambles when he saw nothing open, highlighted by a 13-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. 4. Back To Run As the game wore on and vertical throws became more of a challenge, Notre Dame turned to what it does best: run the ball. Sophomore Kyren Wil- liams eclipsed 100 yards for the third time in four games. If nothing else, Notre Dame understood it could move the ball on the ground and wear out a defense, like it did to its first three opponents. Notre Dame sent its offense on the field with 7:55 left in the game, and Louisville never touched the ball again. Of the 12 plays on that drive before the kneel downs, only two were passes, and both of those were on third downs. 5. A Brief Scare Perhaps for the first time this season, there was a feeling of real doubt in Notre Dame's ability to win. It came when Louisville recovered an onside kick attempt after taking a 7-6 lead on the first drive of the third quarter. Notre Dame's defense was certainly capable of getting a stop, as it did the rest of the game, but those moments before the onside recovery was overturned were as tense as anything else this year. 6. Tutu Atwell Contained Notre Dame's defense didn't allow one of the ACC's most explosive wide receivers to beat them deep or slip through tackles, save for one 28-yard completion. Sophomore safety Kyle Hamilton broke up a third-down pass intended for him. Junior corner TaRiq Bracy twice tackled him to prevent yards after the catch. All told, he had four catches for 32 yards and one carry for four yards. 7. Return To Action Senior defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and sophomore linebacker Jack Kiser returned to ac- tion after they were unavailable against Florida State. Tagovailoa-Amosa played a backup role and was mostly in on passing downs. Kiser played only a couple defensive snaps at linebacker. 8. Braden Lenzy Dinged Again The Notre Dame junior wide receiver was slowed by what head coach Brian Kelly called a "soft tissue injury." He did not start, played a couple first-half snaps and did not play in the second half. 9. Skowronek's Big Catch Skowronek's 12-yard reception on third-and-six on the last drive was the result of a smart call from offensive coordinator Tommy Rees. Louisville was playing man coverage, and Notre Dame used a bunch formation with routes that went to three levels. Skowronek's crossing route was the shal- lowest, and the other two receivers effectively set a screen on his defender that freed him. It was another instance of a big passing play that was schemed up rather than a one-on-one win, but Rees has been good at finding those. In that moment, it was all Notre Dame needed. 10. Nothing On Punt Returns Louisville punted five times. Notre Dame didn't attempt a return. Primary returner Lawrence Keys III was out due to injury, but the production on punt returns is worsening each week. Notre Dame has one muffed punt and zero re- turns of at least 10 yards this season. (Technically, a blocked punt against South Florida went as a 54- yard return for sophomore linebacker Osita Ekwonu, but that's not a normal return circumstance). ✦ 10 INITIAL THOUGHTS BY PATRICK ENGEL Notre Dame failed to make the most of its red-zone opportunities, instead settling for two three-pointers from senior kicker Jonathan Doerer and also coming up short of a first down with a fake on a third field goal attempt. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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