LOUISVILLE — It was sloppy. It was ugly. It was a Notre Dame win.
The No. 9 Irish got knocked back on their heels in the season-opener against Louisville on Monday, but Tony Jones Jr. had 112 rushing yards and a touchdown and the Irish offensive line helped them score four times on the ground to escape with a 35-17 win in front of an announced crowd of 58,187, the largest crowd in Cardinal Stadium history.
Notre Dame has won 13 straight regular-season games.
The game was tied at 14 late in the first half when Notre Dame (1-0) took control thanks to a wild series of events that ended with the Irish in possession deep in Louisville (0-1) territory.
Fumbles on three straight plays, first by Cardinals quarterback Jawon Pass, then by his Notre Dame counterpart Ian Book, and finally by Pass again gave Notre Dame the ball in the red zone with 1:03 left in the half.
Book did the rest, holding on to the ball this time and breaking off a 12-yard run and then an 11-yard touchdown scamper to put the Irish in front for good.
The Notre Dame passing game was quiet in the first half as Book struggled against Louisville pressure, but it got going in the third quarter with a 26-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tommy Tremble, the redshirt freshman’s first career catch in his first career game to make it a two-touchdown Irish lead.
Notre Dame’s defense was gashed early by Pass, a dual-threat quarterback who ran all over the Irish in the first quarter, scoring two touchdowns and leading Louisville, which was 2-10 in 2018, to an early 14-7 lead.
In that tense moment for the heavily-favored Irish, Jones stepped up. The senior running back broke a 35-yard run on a crucial third-and-13 and followed it with an 11-yard touchdown sprint up the middle to tie the game at 14.
Jones had 79 yards on that drive alone and finished with his second career 100-yard performance, all the more important because fellow first-string running back Jafar Armstrong left the game in the first quarter with a groin injury and did not return.
Redshirt freshman running back Jahmir Smith scored Notre Dame’s first touchdown from three yards out after a 75-yard opening drive.
Safety Alohi Gilman had a big game, stripping Pass late in the first half and recovering the fumble himself. He also racked up 10 tackles, including 1/2 for loss.