Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 24, 2020

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

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28 OCT. 24, 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED NEWLY HEALTHY WIDE RECEIVERS FLASH In a game that was begging for a few explosive plays on offense, Notre Dame's two longest receptions against Louisville came from a pair of players who, prior to the game, had not made a catch for the Fighting Irish this season. Fifth-year senior Ben Skowronek and junior Kevin Austin Jr. are two of the bigger-bodied Notre Dame wide- outs. During the offseason, the Fight- ing Irish coaching staff mentioned both as players they were counting on to prosper this season. But in the first three games of the season, neither was able to contrib- ute to the Irish passing attack due to injuries. Austin had been sidelined after having surgery on his left foot. Meanwhile, Skowronek came up lame with a pulled hamstring in the first half of the season opener against Duke Sept. 12. "It was very frustrating," said Skowronek, a graduate transfer from Northwestern who missed all but four games in 2019. "Having a sea- son-ending injury last year, and then the first game this year, pulling my hamstring … "I wasn't really in a great place mentally, but I had a great support staff and my family." Austin was beyond "limited" last season. He was able to practice, but for an undisclosed reason he did not play for the Irish in any one of the team's 13 games. Against Louisville, Notre Dame faithful received a taste of what both have to offer in this offense. Skow- ronek came up with two big catches, which both resulted in conversions on third down. The first was a 16- yard reception in the middle of the field on third-and-10, and the second went for 12 yards on third-and-six during Notre Dame's game-clinching drive at the end. Austin, on the other hand, finished with just one catch, but it was Notre Dame's longest reception of the af- ternoon at 18 yards. It was the first time Austin had officially touched the ball since a 38-yard snag against Navy in 2018. "I feel great," Austin said. "I'm 100 percent. I feel stronger and faster, so that's a great sign." While the Notre Dame coaching staff was uplifted to see both players make a contribution against Louis- ville, they also know that, along with the other wide receivers on the team, Skowronek and Austin will need to produce even more against tougher defenses. "Today wasn't probably the best day, but those guys got to make more plays on the perimeter," Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. "We're running the ball effectively enough, and we're getting some good play from the tight ends. Those guys have got to continue to grow." NOTRE DAME OFFENSE STRUGGLES IN RED ZONE Notre Dame found its way into fa- vorable scoring territory with some frequency. The matter of actually putting up points, though, was a daylong source of frustration. The Irish scored one touchdown in their first four red-zone opportunities, with 12 total points in those trips. "Obviously we've got to score touchdowns and not field goals," head coach Brian Kelly said. "Then we've got to get off the field on third down. Those are the two things we talked about. "We'll certainly spend time in those two particular areas working to be better and more efficient." Notre Dame reached the red zone on its first drive when fifth-year se- nior wide receiver Ben Skowronek's 16-yard catch set up a first down at the 15-yard line. The next three plays netted one yard and a 32-yard field goal by senior kicker Jonathan Doerer. Its second possession produced a first-and-goal at the 9-yard line, then went backward three yards after a third-down sack. Doerer booted a 30-yard field goal. In the second quarter, a 13-play drive that started at the Irish 4-yard LOUISVILLE GAME NOTES BY ANDREW MENTOCK AND PATRICK ENGEL Fifth-year senior wide receiver Bennett Skowronek made the first two catches of his Irish career against Louisville, including a clutch 12-yard grab on third-and-six to aid Notre Dame's final clock-draining drive that sealed the victory. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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