The start of the 2019-20 Notre Dame Football season, oddly enough, takes place on Labor Day Monday this year. With the Irish traveling down to Louisville to take on the Cardinals for the first game of the season, this ACC opponent will get the first crack at the Irish on their road to get back to the College Football Playoffs. In the primetime slot on Monday September 2nd, the Irish and Cardinals will command a lot of eyes being the only collegiate game taking place that day.
Coming into the game ranked 9th in the nation, head coach Brian Kelly and Notre Dame will be looking to get off to an efficient start against the Cardinals and their new coaching staff, lead by first year head coach Scott Satterfield. Satterfield, after spending the last six years at his alma mater, Appalachian State, looks to turn the program around after a miserable 2-10 record during their 2018-19 campaign. Preparing to play a new coaching staff without any film is the challenge that has been presented to Brian Kelly and the entirety of the Notre Dame coaching staff. When asked about this at media day, Defensive Coordinator Clark Lea addressed the challenge of facing a team with a new coaching staff and such limited film:
“That’s always a challenge and what I do know is that these guys are really, really skilled coaches. They have done it at a really high level at App. State. I’ve got a lot of respect for them and I know that we are going to be challenged. I know that they are going to have wrinkles and they are going to find ways to move us around and try to compromise what we seem to feel are our strengths. You have to prepare for a lot more than you’re going to see. I always try and force myself to think from their vantage point too, you kind of dig into their histories, you look at some App. State stuff, maybe some App. State stuff from before when the personnel was a little different, some N.C. State stuff. We kind of pile it all together and then really pull the most challenging parts and pieces and make sure you rep it 100 times and hope that somehow you’ve surrounded the bullseye.”
With Malik Cunningham’s knee injury, Louisville has given the nod to the second year starter at quarterback, Jawon Pass. Pass is coming off a season that was far from confidence-inspiring, where he finished ranked 102nd in quarterback rating after throwing 12 interceptions. The Irish defensive line will look to take advantage of this, hopefully making their presence felt by getting to Pass early and often. Pass will most likely be looking for receivers Dez Fitzpatrick and Chatarius Atwell in the passing game among others – each having productive 2018-19 seasons. If the Irish defensive line can cause havoc in the backfield, Pass will not have time to go through his progressions and will likely be forced into uncomfortable and unnecessary throws, giving the Irish secondary the chance to make their presence felt as well.
On the other side of the ball, quarterback Ian Book and the Irish will be facing a revamped 3-4 defense under the new Cardinals coaching staff. Satterfield’s defensive schemes at Appalachian State showed a lot of pressure coming from the linebackers, so the Irish offensive line will need to be on their toes to stop the pressure and give Book adequate time to make plays. With Louisville’s defensive speed and reports coming from fall camp that Book has made improvements throwing the deep ball, the Irish will be relying on returning wide receiver starters Chase Claypool and Chris Finke as well as redshirt sophomore Lawrence Keys III to make plays in the passing game. This will also be our first in-game look at new running backs coach Lance Taylor. He will be looking to feature a plethora of back including Jafar Armstrong, Tony Jones Jr., Jahmir Smith (still healing a broken hand), Kyren Williams, and C’Bo Flemister. All of these backs offer dynamic playmaking ability both in the backfield as well as in the receiving game. Coach Taylor, returning to the collegiate circuit after spending time with the Carolina Panthers, is used to coaching multi-purpose backs as he has worked with both running backs and wide receivers in the past. I am very excited to see how the Irish backfield operates under Taylor’s coaching throughout the season.
After finishing the 2018-19 season on a 9 game losing streak, I believe that the Cardinals will add to this total with their first game of the season against the Irish. Although the new coaching staff as well as the excitement from the Cardinal faithful in the stands may provide extra motivation, the Irish should be able to take care of business on the road. A more polished Ian Book with veteran receivers, a solid run game, and a defense looking to carry on the ability of getting to the quarterback from last season will be too much for the Cardinals to handle on opening night. My prediction is that the Irish will come away 1-0 with a 37-17 victory.