After the extended break from Notre Dame football that we all experienced, it’s great to have another game week on our hands! Saturday, the fourth ranked and undefeated Irish welcome a familiar foe, the 1-3 Louisville Cardinals, to Notre Dame Stadium. The opening week matchup from last season ended in a 35-17 Notre Dame victory and after a disappointing start to the Cardinals’ 2020 season, I expect another similar outcome. This may not be anywhere near Notre Dame’s biggest game of the season, but with the schedule across the rest of college football, this week’s outcome could have some major implications.
For those who may not have realized, Saturday night features an SEC showdown between second ranked Alabama and third ranked Georgia. A loss to either of those teams will likely knock them out of the top 4, allowing for Notre Dame to advance again (as long as the Irish can put on a good performance against the Cardinals). Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves though and see what this week’s matchup has in store.
The Louisville Cardinals come in to Saturday’s matchup with a 1-3 record, still searching for their first ACC win. After playing the Cardinals last season, the Irish should be relatively familiar with the players and schemes and will be looking to put put on a dominating performance. After giving up 26 points last week to Florida State, Irish coach Brian Kelly said, “it’s not the kind of defense that Clark [Lea] has put out there, nor is it the kind of defense that I want to put out there.” For this reason, I am sure that the Irish defense has had an intense week of practice and will come out looking a lot stronger than what we saw last week. With this only being Notre Dame’s fourth game of the 2020 season, the Cardinals offense will likely be the best and most talented group that the Irish defense will have faced up to this point. The Louisville offense will be led by Junior quarterback Malik Cunningham, who the Irish saw last season as well. Cunningham has put up almost 1,000 yards throughout the first 4 games for the Cardinals and thrown for nine touchdowns. Now, on the downside of things, Cunningham is also responsible for five interceptions through four games and turnovers have been an achilles heel for the 2020 Cardinals. The Louisville offense has given up 11 turnovers so far and three in each of their last three games. With Notre Dame’s defense looking to come out much sharper than their last outing, this could put the Cardinals in some grave danger. Cunningham will rely on Javian Hawkins at running back and Tutu Atwell and Dez Fitzpatrick at receiver, all of which are extremely talented. The problem with the talent at these skill positions is that the Louisville offensive line has already given up 14 sacks (that’s between three and four sacks per game). It’s hard to get the ball to your playmakers when the opposing defense is constantly in the backfield. If the Irish defensive line is able to cause some disruptions, I think multiple turnovers will be created. The Irish finally got their first interception of the season last week on a Shawn Crawford pick, and I think another one will be coming this week.
After last week’s confident performance from Irish quarterback Ian Book, I’m hoping for a similar output from Notre Dame’s offense this week. The Cardinals’ defense has given up an average of just over 34 points per game this season and has only tallied seven total sacks. With Notre Dame’s offense line looking stellar and paving the way for the Irish rushing attack, I think running backs Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree will both look to have another solid week. I think Notre Dame’s success this week will be defined by the performance of both lines. A dominating defensive line will cause hurried throws and mistimed plays for the Louisville offense, while a stout N.D. offensive line will allow for the Irish backs to rack up yards on the ground and give Book ample time to find his receivers. Speaking of receivers, I am hoping that Irish wide out Kevin Austin will continue to see more playing time. After Brian Kelly expected Austin to be on the field for 15-20 snaps last week, the game script only saw him out there for three snaps and one target. It’s not worth rushing him back as our receiving unit has been less than cohesive this year, but with Austin seeing more and more playing time, I’m confident in Notre Dame’s ability to outperform the Cardinals’ defense in this facet as well.
The line for this week’s game has jumped multiple times throughout the week; from what I have seen, the Irish are favored by anywhere between 14 and 18 points. A dominating performance paired with an Alabama or Georgia loss will solidify the Irish into the number two or number three spot (knock on wood!) – something we all should be excited about. My dilemma comes when trying to predict the final score. Last week against Florida State, I thought the Irish would really take care of business and the game ended up being a lot closer than I thought. In the matchup against South Florida, I was looking for a closer outcome and the Irish pitched a 52-0 shutout. So, needless to say, my score predicting has been about as good as this Louisville team this year. As I mentioned, I am expecting the Irish lines to lead the way on both sides of the ball and come out with a 42-17 Notre Dame victory. Let’s keep the winning streak alive! Go Irish. Beat Cardinals.