SOUTH BEND – Louisville threw a scare into No. 4 Notre Dame, but an Ian Book touchdown run and a stout defense helped the Irish emerge with a 12-7 victory at Notre Dame Stadium today to remain undefeated.
- Notre Dame isn't ready for the big time: Against an obviously overmatched team – on paper at least – the Irish failed to put their opponent away and the outcome was in doubt until late in the fourth quarter. Sure, a win is a win, but Notre Dame needs to be burying teams of Louisville's caliber, as No. 1 Clemson – its top rival for ACC supremacy – did in a 73-7 drubbing of a Georgia Tech team that beat the Cardinals just a week ago. The biggest problem for the Irish was the inability to finish drives, especially in the first half. Three times they drove into the red zone – each following long, sustained drives – and three times they failed to come away with a touchdown before halftime. They only led 6-0 at the break because of an ill-advised fake field goal attempt on the third drive that seemed like Brian Kelly being too clever by half in a game that was far from over. Ian Book missed one potential touchdown throw to Michael Mayer badly and ever so slightly overthrew Kevin Austin Jr. in the back of the end zone on another would-be passing score. The Irish aren't going to beat an elite team unless Book makes those throws and watching him struggle with his accuracy against the Cardinals was surprising after an ultra-efficient performance against Florida State. He finished 11 for 19 for a paltry 106 passing yards.
- The defense was better...ish : After a less-than-impressive performance against Florida State, Notre Dame's defense came out ready to play and shut the explosive Cardinals down for much of the game. Running back Javian Hawkins, who came in averaging 5.5 yards per carry – was held to 3.4 per attempt – and the Irish limited Louisville to 219 yards overall. Even here, however, Notre Dame got something of a break because Cardinals quarterback Malik Cunningham took a shot to the head in the third quarter and missed a series. Cunningham had really found his stride early in the second half, leading the Cardinals on their only scoring drive. He finished 16 for 19 for 118 yards and added 49 rushing yards on seven carries as Notre Dame once again struggled to contain read-option quarterback keepers. Notre Dame had plenty of plays where it swarmed to the ball and it did a good job of staying home when Louisville tried misdirection and other trick plays, but the Cardinals glided through for a touchdown on the first drive of the second half, the second week in a row the Irish have given up an easy touchdown coming out of halftime. That has to be at least something of a concern.
- Turnovers would have helped: Coach Brian Kelly cautioned this week that Louisville was a better team than its 1-3 record indicated and that the Cardinals had been bitten by some bad luck on turnovers. "If they take care of the football, this is going to be one heck of a football game," Kelly said earlier this week and Louisville made him look like a prophet, keeping the game close in part because it didn't give the ball away. Notre Dame had one chance at an interception, but the ball went just off TaRiq Bracy's fingertips on a deep ball. Where the Cardinals did hurt themselves was with undisciplined play: Louisville had eight penalties for 65 yards, the vast majority of them on unforced errors.
Player of the Game: Kyren Williams
I don't know if anyone really deserves this award after the performance this afternoon, but Williams comes closest. He added to his burgeoning resume as a bell-cow running back, carrying 25 times for 127 yards and continually picking up tough extra yardage after first contact. He broke just one big run – a huge 24-yard gain on Notre Dame's final drive that converted a third down with the use of a big stiff-arm – but he was very patient and continually picked up 5-6 at a pop, helping the Irish stay ahead of the sticks on longer drives. It wasn't a great performance, but it was solid and he passed the 100-yard plateau for the third time in four games this season.
The win was Notre Dame's 10th straight dating back to last season. It's the longest active win streak in the country. ... The Irish have won 22 straight at Notre Dame Stadium, the longest home win streak for Notre Dame since the arena opened in 1930. Only Clemson has a longer active home winning streak. ... Notre Dame has also won 28 straight against unranked opponents since a loss to Virginia Tech at the end of the 2016 season. ... Homestead graduate Ben Skowronek caught two passes for 28 yards, his first catches of the season after he was slowed by a hamstring injury suffered in the season-opener against Duke. ... Louisville came into the game with a minus-8 turnover margin, ranking 74th nationally out of 76 teams currently playing. Neither team turned the ball over in this game. ... The first four opponents for Notre Dame had a combined 4-13 record entering today. The next four had a 12-5 mark coming into today. ... The Irish held the ball for more than 36 minutes, playing keepaway from Louisville's offense much of the day.
The Irish are back in action next Saturday for their first road game of the season, a trip to Pittsburgh to take on the Panthers (3-3, 2-3 ACC) at Heinz Field. The game will kick off at 3:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on ABC. Notre Dame's original first road game, against Wake Forest on Sept. 26, was canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak in the Irish program. Pittsburgh has wins over Syracuse and Louisville and is coming off a 31-19 loss to No. 13 Miami.