Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 24, 2020

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

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32 OCT. 24, 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED I t'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 com- pleted in just less than three hours. The over for points 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 possessions 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 Lou- isville, 12-7. It's a win, and as head coach Brian Kelly and multiple players repeated, those are to be valued in whatever form they take. Notre Dame's 10- game win streak is the longest active one in the country, after all. The way the matchup with Lou- isville played out was decidedly not how Notre Dame came into this game wanting to play and not how a team with title expectations is sup- posed to score against a defense that had allowed two 40-point games in four tries. There's work to do to con- vince the masses a victory against Clemson next month is realistic. As far as a 12-7 win goes, it was tolerable enough on the eyes. And at times, the performance was en- couraging. Without posing much of a passing threat all game, they ran for 259 yards on 43 carries, exclud- ing four sacks and two kneel-downs. That's a sturdy 6.02 yards a pop. A weary defense a week ago returned to stout form, allowing just 233 yards and making eight tackles for loss. Notre Dame has allowed multiple touchdowns just once in four games. "I don't know that I've been in one quite like this," Kelly said. "I've been in a 12-7 game when it was a stinker. You're like, 'Eew.' But this game was a little different. It was hard fought." And Notre Dame did enough to earn a win. The Irish began a pos- session with 7:55 left at their own 23- yard line, leading by five points. In service academy fashion, they milked that sucker all the way down to zero. Ten runs. Two passes, both successes on third-and-six. Body shot after body shot (and one full moon) dealt. In an odd way, it was aggression by being passive. Kelly felt his team's big- gest strength could finish Louisville off with one gradual slash of its tires instead of trying for a slit to the jugular. "The way the game had gone, I felt pretty confident that we were going to be able to, at the very least, put our defense in a very good posi- tion," Kelly said. "We weren't going to leave them out there where they would have to defend a short field." No march would've been long enough to erase a rickety pass- ing performance from the record, though. Especially not one against a defense that had allowed, on aver- age, 2.5 pass plays of at least 30 yards in its first four games. What remains unclear is if the Irish passing attack is a work in progress or a finished product. The hope is the former. Those wide receiver concerns that dissipated against Florida State roared back — and in a game where Notre Dame tried to feature the group. Notre Dame receivers have 23 combined catches this season, with just four on throws at least 20 yards downfield. They're trying to emerge even as they're slowly getting health- ier, with potentially dynamic junior Kevin Austin Jr. now without a snap count and feeling "faster and stronger," in his words. "Austin has to make more plays for us," Kelly said. "Ben Skowronek has to make more plays for us on the outside. Ja- von McKinley. Braden Lenzy was limited today with a soft tissue injury. He's got to make more plays. Those guys have to be involved." Notre Dame tried to get them there too. All told, the wideouts had six catches for 70 yards, with one of those a shovel pass to Avery Davis on a sweep for 10 yards. "We saw some opportuni- ties in the passing game and we wanted to do that early," said Book, who completed 11 of 19 throws for 106 yards. "We were able to convert a lot of those, but we need to be able to finish those drives. "We took ourselves down the field, but we have to be able to finish them." To Book's point, Notre Dame's red- zone offense had all the rhythm of a jalopy with a flat tire. Sputter. Thwop. Stall. The Irish faltered three times near the goal line, twice turning to senior kicker Jonathan Doerer field goals and trying a fake with holder Jay Bram- blett, a sophomore punter, as a runner that failed on the other. Still, that aver- age at best day from the offense wasn't fatal. It can thank a motivated defense that played with its usual gusto. "We tell the offense just give us three points and we'll go do the rest," fifth-year senior defensive end Dae- lin Hayes said. "That's the mindset our defense embodies." If the last three years have revealed anything, a closer-than-expected game against an inferior team was inevitable. They've been anomalies, as this one could prove to be. A recur- rence, though, would quickly send nerves for that Nov. 7 tilt to an un- comfortable new high. For now, Notre Dame is 4-0 and won't forget it. ✦ Still Building Up ENGEL'S ANGLE PATRICK ENGEL Patrick Engel has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since March 2020. He can be reached at Fifth-year senior quarterback Ian Book and Notre Dame's offense had a bumpy day, but did just enough to beat Louisville. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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