It’s hard to complain about a 35-17 season-opening victory, but it was a very “week 1” game. Thankfully, the Irish were able to take care of the Louisville Cardinals on Labor Day Monday to start the season off 1-0. Although it wasn’t the prettiest victory, a win is a win and that is just what the Irish needed.
Starting off, I would like to give a lot of credit to Coach Satterfield and the Louisville Cardinals. This being Satterfield’s first game after coming over from Appalachian State, you could immediately see the energy and passion that the Cardinals opened up with, much different from how they finished last year’s season. After trading blows in the first quarter and coming out tied at 14, I’ll be honest, the initial confidence was not there for me. The Irish opening offensive drive looked smooth but stopping the Cardinals’ offense proved more difficult than expected on their first two drives. After back to back to back fumbles by both starting quarterbacks, the Irish were able to get the last score before halftime and enter the break leading 21-14. This is where the momentum of the game seemed to shift towards the Irish and never changed hands again.
It is always reassuring knowing that the Irish coaching staff is very good at making halftime adjustments and Monday night’s game was no different. After giving up two quick touchdowns in the first quarter, the Irish defense only allowed 3 points in the second half. Notre Dame veteran Alohi Gilman and newcomer Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah lead the Irish defense with 10 and 9 tackles respectively and both looked very impressive. Irish fans are used to seeing Gilman flying around the field, but Owuso-Koramoah looks to be just as promising as early reports coming out of fall camp indicated. Freshman safety Kyle Hamilton also finished the game with four tackles and showed his range and athleticism covering Cardinal receivers and breaking up passes in key situations. I am very excited to see both Owuso-Koramoah and Hamilton play as they continues to develop throughout the season.
On the other hand, I was not impressed with the costly mistakes that the experienced Irish D-line made on third downs throughout the game. Jumping offsides multiple times on long third downs for the Cardinals improved their field position and lead to scores that easily could have been prevented. I am hoping that we can chalk that up to the first game jitters as mistakes like that could be extremely costly against more superior opponents like Georgia and Michigan. The defensive line however did account for three of Notre Dame’s four sacks (the fourth coming from linebacker Drew White) and were able to assert their dominance over a lesser Cardinal offensive line as the game continued on. The rotation of defensive linemen for the Irish will hopefully be able keep the group healthy and fresh throughout the duration of the season.
Quarterback Ian Book improved to 10-1 as a starter and finished the game with 193 passing yards completing 14 of his 23 throws and an impressive running performance totaling 81 yards – 37 of which came on his first run. With the passing game seeing limited action however, the Irish rushing attack lead by Tony Jones Jr. and Jahmir Smith totaled 230 total yards and 4 touchdowns. Overall, I was pleased with the running game, but it was unfortunate to see Jafar Armstrong go down with what has been reported as a groin injury early in the first half. Putting up over 200 rushing yards is a notable feat for the first game of the season, but the Irish offensive line will need to better set the edge allowing for more efficient outside runs in the upcoming games. As Coach Kelly has been emphasizing since the beginning of fall camp, it will be imperative for Notre Dame to run the ball effectively on offense and contain the run on defense. In the passing game, Book only attempted 23 throws throughout the span of the game and, in my opinion, he did not look very comfortable in the pocket – especially early on. Book was able to connect with the sure hands of Chase Claypool five times for 94 yards, and a new addition at tight end, Tommy Tremble, three times for 49 yards and a touchdown – both bright spots in the Notre Dame passing game. Book seemed to want to scramble earlier than normal though and didn’t seem to have the time or desire to go through his full read progression. Luckily, Book has almost a full season of experience under his belt and has played in hostile environments, so I am confident that he will settle in, shake off the rust, and play to his full potential as the season continues. This will be absolutely necessary if the Irish want to be serious playoff contenders.
This was also the first in-game look at the new Irish special teams, specifically kicker Jonathan Doerer and punter Jay Bramblett. Doerer finished the game a perfect five for five on extra points while Bramblett’s six punts averaged nearly 40 yards per punt – both very positive signs for the Irish as neither of these players have had much (if any) game experience.
Being able to escape week one with a victory is something that the Irish will be able to build upon going into the first of two bye weeks, however a potentially serious injury to starting running back Jafar Armstrong may prove to be costly. At the time of the writing of this article, no specific information has been released, however Coach Kelly described it as a groin/abdominal injury. The better team won that game, but the Irish will need to step up their play in the upcoming weeks. I do not think that this game should be the cause of overreactions as many are quick to point out all of Notre Dame’s perceived weaknesses from the matchup against the Cardinals. Preparing for a revitalized team with a new coaching staff is never any easy task. Now, with 12 days in-between games, there will be a lot of necessary time for film studies and improvements to be made by Coach Kelly and the staff. Allowing Book to get more comfortable in the pocket, opening up the passing game, and cutting out mental errors on defense are all areas to be cleaned up come September 14th against the New Mexico Lobos.