Yikes. Not the performance or outcome that any of us were expecting. This past Saturday marked Notre Dame’s fourth win of the season but it was way closer than expected – a 12-7 win over the Louisville Cardinals. Yes, the Irish moved up to number three in the nation after their win and Alabama’s beatdown on Georgia, but that definitely did not look like the performance of a third ranked team, that’s for sure. I know everyone is prone to overreactions with the Irish too, so I will try not to fall into that category but the game left me feeling a lot less confident about looming matchup with Clemson.
This game was not pretty. I will give it to the Irish defense though, they showed up and seemed to never get a break. I do think that that is a positive that we need to take away from this past weekend – even with the offense struggling (and struggling is probably an understatement), the defense held the Cardinals to only seven points. Anytime a defense can hold the opposition to seven points should automatically put you in a good spot to win. Now, the strange part about the Cardinals’ seven points is that they came on their opening drive of the third quarter. This is typically the time when Clark Lea’s defenses come out making spectacular halftime adjustments and locks down for the rest of the game. During a matchup that featured a significant amount of running, the Cardinals’ offense totaled 137 yards in the air and 96 yards on the ground. Malik Cunningham completed 16 of his 19 passing attempts while Javian Hawkins added 51 yards on the ground. Notre Dame’s defense did a pretty great job containing the Louisville offense so there isn’t much to nitpick there. The other side of the ball…well, that’s a different story.
Ian Book completed 11 of his 19 pass attempts for 106 yards in the air, 0 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. Kyren Williams, who has looking incredible all year, was responsible for 25 carries and 127 yards on the ground – Notre Dame’s leading rusher. I get it, the Irish rely heavily on the run with Williams, Tyree, and the slew of backs that they can feature, but the passing game is weak and could be the cause of our downfall. Notre Dame’s leading receiver, Ben Skowronek, finished the game with two catches and 28 yards. 28 yards for your leading receiver? Are you kidding me? There wasn’t an Irish player that finished with more than two catches and this is where our problem lies. Unlike the past couple of years, we seem to be lacking a go-to option, especially in the red zone. The past couple of years, Chase Claypool was the “throw it up and go get it” receiver. Book could put the ball in the air and have confidence that Claypool would come down with it. I think that Kevin Austin could eventually evolve into that, but with his limited playing time, he hasn’t had the ability to prove that. Freshman tight end, Michael Mayer, could also become one of Book’s favorite targets, especially in the red zone, but that will also come with time, development, and familiarity with the offensive scheme. But right now, who is it? No receiver seems to have developed the rapport and confidence with Book and with a severely lacking passing game, better defenses are going to be able to cue in on the run game and essentially shut down the Irish offense. Not what any of us would want to see.
If the Irish hope to continue their winning ways throughout the remainder of the 2020 season, the offense is going to need to look more like what they showed against South Florida and Florida State, and truly learn from their performance against Louisville. I have been thoroughly impressed by Notre Dame’s defense and expect their play to remain steady on the field. That is the biggest positive that we need to remember after a rather disappointing previous game – the Irish defense is here to play. When it comes to the inconsistencies on the offensive side of the ball, other than the lack of performance at the wide receiver position, I’m not really sure who to blame. Ian Book is in his fifth year and needs to play with the confidence, poise, and moxie that he has shown in the past. The offensive line is one of the best in the country and with the talented running backs behind the, that is a deadly combination. Yes, the wide receivers are new and need the time to establish themselves, but their production really needs to increase. As I mentioned at the beginning, I am trying not to overreact just yet. The Irish are 4-0 and ranked third in the country. It wasn’t the prettiest of wins but I will take it over a loss any day of the week. Let’s just hope that we don’t have to sit through another game like that during the rest of this season. It’s one game – another data point to learn from. I’m confident the Irish will bounce back and show they are deserving of their ranking. It’s on to the next one.