In preparation for Louisville Football’s upcoming game against Notre Dame, CSZ spoke with Irish Breakdown’s Bryan Driskell. We peppered Mr. Driskell with questions about Notre Dame and about what he, as an outsider, sees when watching the 2020 iteration of Louisville Football. Check out the entire interview below.
CSZ: This Notre Dame offensive line is probably hands down the best O-line coach Kelly has had during his tenure at ND, what is it that separates them from previous o-lines and if you were to say they have a weakness, what would it be?
Driskell: I will have to disagree with the premise this is Kelly’s best offensive line. I know Pro Football Focus is pushing that hype, but I’d rank it third. The 2017 line was brilliant and won the Joe Moore Award, which goes to the nation’s best line. The 2015 offensive line had three first round picks and a second round pick on it, and it fueled a Fiesta Bowl bid. Think about it, Notre Dame went to the Fiesta Bowl with Brian VanGorder as its defensive coordinator, says a lot about how good the offense was that season.
But this is an excellent offensive line from a talent and experience standpoint, and through three games it has played like the nation’s best group. The improvement we’ve seen this year compared to the 2018 and 2019 lines are how physical this group has been, and how well it is playing together.
Against Florida State, for example, no one offensive lineman had a game that made you say, “Wow, he was brilliant.” They played very well as a five-man unit, even when their best player (Liam Eichenberg) went out with an eye injury they kept rolling. A lot of the stunts and pressures that hurt them the previous two seasons are being picked up and handled so far this season.
It’s early, and Notre Dame’s first three opponents are a combined 3-10, but Irish fans have to be pleased with the play of the line so far.
CSZ: Speaking of the offensive line, what do you think Louisville will have to do to get to Ian Book this Saturday?
Driskell: Since Louisville lacks a top pass rusher up front they will need a two-fold strategy. The first is design a coverage structure that takes away the short throws from Book. He doesn’t normally like to push the ball downfield, preferring to live in the 1-10 yards past the line of scrimmage area. When he has to make a bunch of downfield reads he can get a bit antsy.
The second is within that framework they need to find tells in the Notre Dame protection schemes that allow the defense to bring overload pressures from a side without having to bring 6-7 players. If Louisville has to blitz 6-7 players to get to Book the offense will gash the Cardinals. But if they can design some 5-man pressures, or the occasional 4-man pressure that overloads one side (assuming they call it away from the back), they could have a chance to get some free runs at Book.
CSZ: Book has done a pretty great job thus far in spreading the ball around equally to his stable of wide receivers. if there was one receiver primed for a breakout, who would it be and why?
Driskell: Javon McKinley had his breakout against Louisville (5 catches, 107 yards), beating Asante Samuel Jr. three times. He’ll be a tough matchup for the Cardinals, as will tight ends Tommy Tremble and Michael Mayer. For Notre Dame’s offense to take that next step, however, they need either Braden Lenzy or Kevin Austin (ideally both) to start making more plays.
CSZ: Louisville has played a couple really talented defenses so far this season. What challenges do you see ND giving the Louisville offense?
Driskell: They bring a lot of the same problems that Pitt brought, and that is the ability to generate a pass rush with just the four down linemen. Adetokunbo Ogundeji is a unique combination of length, power and athleticism, and when Daelin Hayes is on his game he’s effective as well. Then they bring in young pass rushers like Isaiah Foskey and Ovie Oghoufo. Notre Dame’s interior linemen aren’t great at getting off and getting sacks, but they’ve done a great job at getting a push up the middle and collapsing the pocket.
Teams have to exert so much of their blocking scheme to picking up the front four that it has made the linebacker and safety pressures far more effective. According to Pro Football Focus, the Irish linebackers and safeties have generated 24 quarterback pressures in just three games, which has resulted in 10 quarterback hits and a pair of sacks.
CSZ: Do you think Brian Kelly will allow Ian Book to throw more than he has so far this season to exploit Louisville’s suspect secondary?
Driskell: I don’t think Notre Dame wants to be a high volume passing team, I think they want to be a big play passing team that is built around a strong ground attack. Notre Dame is going to come out and establish the ground game and force Louisville to either die by the run, or load the box in an attempt to slow it down. Notre Dame wants to force Louisville to show its hand, which it must do if the ground game gets rolling.
That is where the pass game will come into play. Notre Dame will look to run play actions, perimeter screens and take some shots outside in order to exploit the loaded boxes. If Louisville keeps two safeties deep, Notre Dame will keep pounding the ball and throw a bunch to the tight ends.
Louisville can dictate more throws from Notre Dame if it wants, and that would actually be a good idea. Try and generate mistakes from Book by mixing up the looks and baiting him into pass game checks or quick throws to beat the blitz. If they sit back and try to play the pass, the run game will take the game over.
CSZ: over-under on run plays Saturday?
Driskell: I’d set the over under at 140.
CSZ: Who do you think is best set up for success on the ND defense?
Driskell: Louisville is going to stress the perimeter with its run game, screen game and play-actions/boots. That puts rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and safety Kyle Hamilton in position to make a lot of plays. If they don’t, Louisville will score a lot. If they do, they’ll have monster numbers. Owusu-Koramoah made his first ever start against Louisville last season, and he had nine tackles and two tackles for loss. He’s a lot better now than he was then.
If Louisville goes the Florida State route and tries to avoid Owusu-Koramoah, the Irish safeties and Buck linebacker will need to play A LOT better than they did a week ago.
CSZ: We haven’t had the season we thought this year. There’s no denying that. What have you seen that we have done well that we can do well vs ND?
Driskell: Notre Dame struggled with Jordan Travis last week, and Florida State was able to gash the Irish defense at times. This has been a problem in the past against mobile quarterbacks as well. If Malik Cunningham makes smart decisions the Louisville offense can make plays in this game. They need to work to establish the run game early and force the Irish safeties to activate down, and when that happens the Cardinals have good enough wide receivers to win one-on-ones down the field.
Louisville will need big plays to win this game, and that’s how I’d try and get to them. The key, of course, is being able to establish the run first and then protect the quarterback long enough to get those throws off.
CSZ: Could getting Book involved in the running game early on be a point of emphasis for Brian Kelly?
Driskell: It needs to be. When Ian Book is part of the run game he plays better. I don’t know why, but he does. It would be wise for the Irish staff to use him in this game, which will keep Louisville from over-playing the back, who have been brilliant thus far.
CSZ: Name one player on Louisville’s offense and one on their defense that scares you and why?
Driskell: On offense its Dez Fitzpatrick. I always get nervous about the complementary players. Notre Dame will have to work hard to stop Javian Hawkins and the run game, and they know they can’t let Tutu Atwell go off in this game. The focus on those two players could put Fitzpatrick in some one-on-one situations he can win, and he’s a very underrated player that could have some big play opportunities on Saturday.
There’s no one on the Louisville defense that scares me. What would scare me if I’m Notre Dame is having negative plays that get you off schedule. Louisville gives up a lot of big plays, but they generate a lot of tackles for loss. Notre Dame needs to keep the linebackers, especially Dorian Etheridge, from making a lot of first and second down stuffs.
CSZ: For Notre Dame to win comfortably, they must ____
Driskell: Get the ground game going and throw over the top on offense. On defense, the Irish need to limit big plays and dominate at the point of attack.
CSZ: What’s the final score Bryan?
Driskell: I’m still back and forth on this one. Watching Jordan Travis and an average FSU offense move the ball so well last week has me very nervous about this becoming a shootout. Louisville is better than Florida State, and the 1-3 record is very misleading. This is not a team Notre Dame wants to get get in a shootout with.
The flip side of that is the struggles we saw last week will force Notre Dame to be laser focused on quarterback runs and the read zone concepts this week, which should help.
Right now I’m going 44-31 Notre Dame, but I’ll probably change that a bit by the time I get to Friday and make my official prediction.