Spread: Notre Dame (-20), O/U 57
How to Watch / Listen: 8:00 p.m. on Monday, ESPN (TV), 840 WHAS (radio)
Last Time: #24 Louisville went up to South Bend to face Notre Dame for the first time in school history, back in November 2014. The Cards marched to a 17-6 halftime lead, thanks to two first-quarter touchdowns from quarterback Reggie Bonnafon.
But two quick touchdowns in the third quarter gave Notre Dame a 20-17 lead. Louisville would score two touchdowns of its own — one in the third quarter, one in the fourth — to take a 31-20 lead. Notre Dame cut it to within three on a 28-yard pass from Everett Golson to Will Fuller, but missed a potential game-tying 32-yard field goal with 51 seconds left. Louisville would go on to win its first ever game against Notre Dame 31-28.
Louisville leads the all-time series 1-0.
Meet the 2019 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
In all team sports, there are certain “brands” that stand out above the rest. In the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys are the most polarizing team in the league. The NBA’s two most popular teams are the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics, who are also the two most successful franchises with 16 and 17 championships, respectively.
And in college football, there is the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Other teams like Clemson and Alabama have dominated the landscape recently, but Notre Dame has stood the test of time throughout the history of college football. Many of college football’s greatest traditions reside in South Bend on Saturdays, whether it’s Touchdown Jesus, or the long-fabled stories of Knute Rockne, or Louisville’s own Paul Hornung. Many of football’s greatest players like Joe Montana, Tim Brown, and Jerome Bettis have all called Notre Dame Stadium their home at one point or another.
But for all the great things the program has done throughout its history, there still remains a hunger for a national championship. The Irish haven’t won one since 1988, but tenth-year head coach Brian Kelly has done his best to keep Notre Dame in the mix. Kelly led the Irish to an undefeated regular season in 2012, but was obliterated by Alabama in the National Championship Game. They once again went 12-0 in the 2018 regular season, but were shelled 30-3 by eventual national champion Clemson.
In 2019, Notre Dame looks to return to the Playoff, and this time get a different outcome. But the journey will not be easy. On top of visiting Louisville, Notre Dame has road trips to Georgia, Michigan, and Stanford throughout the season. Additionally, seven of their 12 regular-season opponents will have a bye week before they play the Irish.
Offensive Players to Watch: QB Ian Book; WR Chase Claypool
Notre Dame’s 2019 season will ride on the shoulders of senior quarterback Ian Book. Before he emerged last season, Book became a hero in Notre Dame history with a win in the 2018 Citrus Bowl against #17 LSU, throwing an incredible game-winning touchdown with less than two minutes left to beat the Tigers. He came off the bench in that game, as starter Brandon Wimbush was benched in the second quarter with the Irish needing a spark in the passing game.
Despite his heroics in the 2018 Citrus Bowl, Book started this past season as the backup behind Wimbush. Notre Dame started out the season 3-0 (including a gigantic win over #14 Michigan), but the passing game wasn’t clicking with Wimbush at quarterback. The Irish offense averaged 23.3 points per game, completed 57% of its passes, and threw two touchdowns to four interceptions. During that stretch, they also won by one possession against the 14th-ranked Wolverines, and Ball State and Vanderbilt, who finished 4-8 and 6-7 last season, respectively.
|2018 Season||First Three Games||Last Ten Games|
|Points Per Game||23.3||33.8|
|Yards Per Game||200.7||274.5|
|TD-INT ratio||2-4||21-9 (simplified to 7-3)|
|Yards Per Attempt||7.62||8.1|
But as this table shows, Notre Dame’s offense became far more efficient, and more explosive with Book under center. The Notre Dame offense averaged 10.5 more points per game over the final ten games, completed nearly two-thirds of its passes, and averaged almost 75 more yards per game. These numbers justify a risky move by head coach Brian Kelly to make Book the starter, despite Wimbush being a more mobile quarterback and a proven winner at Notre Dame.
With Wimbush transferring to UCF, Book became the starting quarterback for Notre Dame in 2019. He doesn’t possess what most would call “ideal NFL size” at 6-foot, 203 lbs. But he does check off a lot of boxes that make him a good starting QB for a big-time program. He can be extremely effective in the short-to-intermediate game, able to make quick decisions when receivers get open. He’s not the runner that Wimbush was, but he is a capable scrambler when lanes open up for him. Offensive coordinator Chip Long isn’t afraid to use Book in designed runs, either; against Wake Forest, he managed to run for three touchdowns (part of his five total on the day), some off of zone reads.
Offensive coordinator Chip Long has emerged as one of the hottest assistants in college football, and a big reason for that is the playmakers he’s developed. In addition to Book, he had Miles Boykin, Dexter Williams and Alize Mack, all of whom were integral parts to Notre Dame’s run to the College Football Playoff last season. All of them are gone though, and tight end Cole Kmet is sidelined for at least one month with a broken collarbone.
Which has left Notre Dame to replace their top wide receiver, their top running back who almost ran for 1,000 yards and scored 12 rushing touchdowns, and their starting tight end. Notre Dame has to be confident in their running back group, as receiver-turned-running back Jafar Armstrong is a versatile playmaker. Tony Jones, Jr. also returns to provide a solid one-two punch at the position for Notre Dame.
The biggest X-factor, though, will be senior wideout Chase Claypool. He’ll have almost identical size to the departing Boykin at 6’4″, 223 lbs., and will likely be Book’s top target over the course of the season. He is the top returning receiver from 2018, with 50 receptions for 639 yards and four touchdowns. Book will also have to lean on slot receiver Chris Finke (49 receptions, 571 yards, two touchdowns) and running back Armstrong, while Kmet is sidelined.
Defensive Players to Watch: DL Julian Okwara; DL Khalid Kareem
Losing Jerry Tillery to the NFL would be one of the toughest blows to Notre Dame this year, but their pass rush is expected to be the strength of the team in 2019. Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem both return to form one of college football’s top pass rush tandems entering the season (Okwara 8.0 sacks in 2018, Kareem 4.5).
Okwara emerged onto the scene as one of college football’s most menacing playmakers from the edge. The then-junior tallied 8.0 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss last season, both team-highs for the Irish. He’s garnered more praise in the preseason than Kareem has, earning a spot on The Athletic’s preseason All-American squad among others. He’s also Notre Dame’s best current NFL prospect; Okwara currently carries a first-round grade in the 2020 NFL Draft, one of eight seniors evaluated by National Football Scouting to obtain such a grade.
Khalid Kareem came to Notre Dame as a top-250 prospect in the country, and he’s been a solid complementary piece with 16 career tackles for loss, and 7.5 career sacks. He returned to school to improve his draft stock, and next to a possible first-round pick in Okwara, it could open up chances for him for one-on-one assignments on the edge.
One More Thing to Know
This will be the third Monday night game in U of L football history. The Cardinals are undefeated on Mondays, winning a 58-0 game against Rio Grande in 1941, and in 2014, defeating Miami (FL) in their ACC debut 31-13.
- Louisville OL v. Notre Dame DL
For Louisville’s offense, the most important thing in this game will be how their offensive line can handle Notre Dame’s pass rush. In most of Notre Dame’s games they won, they were able to control the line of scrimmage and get key plays on third down to force punts.
Against a Louisville team that struggled to stop the front seven from invading their backfield, Notre Dame definitely has a plus matchup here. Mekhi Becton can hold his own against Julian Okwara, but how will former walk-on Tyler Haycraft fare against former top-250 recruit Khalid Kareem? If Notre Dame is going to stifle Louisville’s offense on Monday, they should look towards their stars here to provide them with some big plays.
I’m also looking at Notre Dame’s interior linemen in this matchup, because that’s the one area Louisville might be able to capitalize on. They should have Caleb Chandler, Cole Bentley, and Robbie Bell (or T.J. McCoy) starting from left guard to right guard. That means Louisville will have possibly its best interior run blocker in Chandler, a two-year starter in Bentley, and Bell or McCoy are solid pieces. Notre Dame does lose Jerry Tillery, so the Irish will turn towards Kurt Hinish and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa to fill that spot.
If Louisville’s interior linemen can win their matchups, it will help get the rhythm going for their new offense.
- Louisville Front Seven v. Notre Dame Running Game
One of Louisville’s biggest struggles last year was its failure to set the tone on both offensive and defensive lines. Louisville’s offense struggled due to constant sacks and tackles for loss, and Louisville’s defense struggled due to an inability to invade the backfield and get sacks.
There’s nowhere to go for them but up this year, but Louisville’s front seven will have to contain Notre Dame’s running game. A lot has been made about Ian Book and his ability, but Notre Dame’s running backs are flying under the radar in my opinion. I really like their one-two punch with Tony Jones, Jr. and especially Jafar Jefferson, the latter who is an explosive playmaker at the position.
Let’s not forget that in recent years, Notre Dame has developed elite offensive line talent. They have had left tackles Ronnie Stanley (2016) and Mike McGlinchey (2018) taken in the first round, along with rookie Pro Bowl guard Quenten Nelson (2018). This year, it’s likely left tackle Liam Eichenberg, and guard Tommy Kraemer as the top prospects on the Notre Dame offensive line. Eichenberg is also considered to be one of the top offensive tackle prospects in the 2020 NFL Draft, right in line to follow both Stanley and McGlinchey as high-round draft picks for the Irish.
So for Louisville, what they have to do is find ways to wreak havoc on the Notre Dame offensive line, force Notre Dame into third-and-long situations. I’m looking towards Tabarius Peterson and Ty Tyler to be the key playmakers on Louisville’s defensive line, in that regard.
- The New WR1 v. the CB1
Louisville’s Jaylen Smith and Notre Dame’s Miles Boykin both departed in the 2018 offseason, leaving both the Cardinals and the Irish to replace their top receivers from last year. Fortunately for both, they have some experienced guys that can step in right away to take over the role.
Despite numerous transfers at the position, Louisville is still really deep at wide receiver. They have multiple guys that should get chances throughout the year, but it all starts with Dez Fitzpatrick. He burst onto the scene in 2017 with 699 receiving yards and nine touchdowns, but due to the offense’s constant struggles and constantly changing out quarterbacks in 2018, he never got a decent chance to improve on his ’17 numbers. He, along with senior Seth Dawkins, will be the top two options in a Louisville offense that aims to be more efficient with a more run-heavy scheme.
Notre Dame’s task to find a big-time receiver like Boykin was will be the key for the Irish to be a potential College Football Playoff contender. Chase Claypool and Chris Finke are some of the top returning options for Notre Dame. One of those guys will have to step up in the early portion of the season, especially with tight end Cole Kmet sidelined.
If one or the other can have a big game on Monday, it can likely lead to more promising aspirations for both teams. If Dez Fitzpatrick has a big game, it will mean that (a) Jawon Pass has a reliable target throughout any game this season, and (b) Jawon is making the right reads and given time. If Chase Claypool has a big game, it will mean that (a) Ian Book has hit for big play-action passes downfield, and (b) Notre Dame has a guy they can depend upon until Kmet can return.
On the note for the “new” WR1s, it’s also worth highlighting the top CB options for both teams. Louisville will likely draw Anthony Johnson and Cornelius Sturghill to lineup with Claypool, whereas Notre Dame can get Troy Pride, Jr. (two INTs in 2018) to matchup against Fitzpatrick.