Everything You Need To Know: Louisville at Notre Dame

Kickoff: 2:30 ET, NBC

Spread: Notre Dame -17, O/U 64.5 (Bovada)

Last Time:

In Scott Satterfield’s first game as Louisville head coach, the Cardinals set a new school record for attendance (58,187). Louisville took an early 14-7 lead on touchdown runs by Jawon Pass, but the Irish took the lead with 21 unanswered points through the second and third quarter. Ian Book had 274 total yards (193 pass, 81 rush) with two total touchdowns, and Jahmyr Smith had two touchdowns on the ground as #9 Notre Dame took a 35-17 win over Louisville.

The all-time series is tied at 1-1. In both games, the road team has won.

Meet the 2020 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

If you needed an indication of how much COVID-19 has impacted college football, let this sink in: the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are a member of the ACC in football.

The thought of Notre Dame foregoing its independency in the FBS is crazy. Though it is only for one year as of now, the Irish are poised to make an appearance in the ACC Championship Game later this December.

But back to 2019 to get you up to speed on what the Irish have done since their last encounter with Louisville. Notre Dame finished the 2019 season with an 11-2 record, their lone two losses coming on the road to Georgia and Michigan. They finished the season with a bowl victory over Iowa State and ranked 14th in the final AP poll.

Notre Dame enters the 2020 season with a 3-0 record, and ranked fourth in both the AP and Coaches polls.

Offensive Players to Know: QB Ian Book, TE Tommy Tremble, RB Kyrem Williams

College football fans are very familiar with Irish quarterback Ian Book at this point. Book has been the starter for Notre Dame since 2018, leading them to a College Football Playoff appearance two years ago.

Ian Book has been successful as the starter for two reasons; he doesn’t make a ton of mistakes, and he can make plays with his feet. Book has completed 63% of his passes in his career with 60 TD’s and 18 interceptions, and hasn’t had a ton of clunkers even against elite competition. He is a capable passer that can hit at every level of the field and get into a rhythm almost every game, but his biggest asset is his mobility. He can make defenses pay by getting out of sticky situations with his scrambles, and Notre Dame will sometimes use him on designed runs (especially in the red zone). Louisville knows this first hand, as Book had 81 yards on 14 carries against them last year.

Book benefitted a lot from having elite talent at receiver last year, with Chase Claypool going for over 1,000 yards last year (along with Miles Boykin and tight end Cole Kmet over his career). Tommy Tremble is another viable target for the senior at tight end that will likely give Louisville problems. I see him used in a lot of similar ways to Marshon Ford; they can line him up at the usual tight end spots and even outside on some sets, but he can also go to an H-back / fullback and make key blocks in the running game. Tremble also had three receptions for 49 yards and a touchdown against Louisville last year. With Louisville’s struggles against quality tight ends in the last couple years, he should be a focal point of Notre Dame’s gameplan.

Though Notre Dame could probably lean on Ian Book more in the passing game and still coast to a ten win season, Notre Dame’s depth at running back has made life easier. Kyrem Williams took over the starting job this season and has been a big play threat for the Irish, leading the team in rushing (359 yards) and receiving (114), while also averaging 7.5 yards per carry. He has done a lot of damage against teams on outside runs and as a receiver, which could be a red flag for a Louisville defense that allowed Georgia Tech to get big plays with running backs out of the backfield. Chris Tyree (188 yards) and C’Bo Flemister (129 yards) are also averaging over seven yards per carry on the season, and they will get touches in a Notre Dame offense that is averaging over 40 rushing attempts per game.

Defensive Players to Know: LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, DBs Kyle Hamilton & Shaun Crawford

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah emerged as Notre Dame’s breakout player on defense last year, racking up 80 tackles (13.5 for loss), 5.5 sacks, four PBUs and two forced fumbles. Owusu-Koramoah is a well rounded athlete that can make plays in pass rush, run stop, or even in coverage. Notre Dame asks a lot out of him and he can definitely deliver for them at a very high level. What I like most about him when watching his film is his instincts; he does a very good job of identifying plays and making reads. I could see him posing problems for Louisville by taking away some of their running game, and he has the athleticism to keep up with Marshon Ford and their slot receivers.

Also emerging last year was Kyle Hamilton, who led the team with four interceptions in 2019. He’s tied for the team lead in tackles with Owusu-Koramoah (15). Having two playmakers like Owosu-Koramoah and Hamilton are a huge reason why Notre Dame’s defense allows 323 yards per game. Hamilton will be the one responsible for keeping Louisville’s deep passing game in check, as they use Owusu-Koramoah to keep everything in the short-to-intermediate game in check. Shaun Crawford currently has Notre Dame’s only interception.

Points of Interest:

  • Will Louisville’s offense maintain a strong balance?

Last year’s game saw Louisville run for over 250 yards and average 5.6 yards per carry against Notre Dame, but only complete 12-of-27 passes. The lack of a passing game kept the Cardinals from keeping up with Notre Dame in the second half, as the Irish pulled away late.

Louisville has had better balance in their offense since Malik Cunningham took over as the starting quarterback last season, and they’ll need to have that same balance against Notre Dame to have a shot at an upset. Last week’s game against Florida State showed that Notre Dame’s defense can be beaten through the air, as Jordan Travis and Tamorrion Terry had a lot of success against Notre Dame’s secondary. I could see the same thing happening with Cunningham and possibly Dez Fitzpatrick outside, but that will require Louisville getting him more involved in the gameplan. Fitzpatrick comes into this game with only one catch in each of the last two games; that has to change in order for Louisville’s offense to be at its absolute best.

They will especially have to excel on third downs. Notre Dame comes into the game ranked second in third down percentage, holding opponents to just 18.2% on conversions.

  • Can Louisville’s defense get stops in the running game (especially late)?

Notre Dame has been running the ball very well through the first three games of the year, averaging 270 yards per game and 6.3 yards per carry. Not only is this due to the speed and big play ability of their deep running back rotation, their offensive line has been superb to start the season. They’ve only allowed nine tackles for loss so far (seventh in the FBS), and are 11th on Football Outsiders’s line yards (3.07), as well as 16th in opportunity rate.

Louisville’s defense has had some issues in terms of getting stops in their losses, but one area they have been good at is getting TFLs themselves. The Cardinals are averaging 7.25 TFLs per game (T-28th nationally), and they can get stops when they can force teams into third-and-long situations. But this is also a team coming off a loss against Georgia Tech where they only had two tackles for loss and didn’t register a sack, and now they’re going against a Notre Dame offensive line that could be considered one of the best in the country. They’re going to have to get stops in the running game against Notre Dame, or the defense could risk being worn down and the Irish pull away to a blowout victory.

  • Will Ian Book’s mobility hurt the Louisville defense?

Even though Notre Dame can do a lot of damage in the running game, let’s not forget that Ian Book is a very solid quarterback himself. He is a capable thrower, especially when pockets break down and he has to rollout / scramble.

With Louisville’s third down defense being vulnerable at times, they cannot give Ian Book time to make throws. Book has the athleticism to turn a bad pocket collapse into small or medium gains, but they could look to throw more against Louisville as opposed to having Book scramble for yards. Receiver Javon McKinley is coming off a 100-yard game against Florida State last week, and Tremble is a reliable target for the Irish. Those two could be the biggest threats for Louisville in the passing game.

Even if he doesn’t scramble, Notre Dame isn’t afraid to use him on designed runs. That also takes some pressure off of Notre Dame’s backs in the running game. It also circles back to Louisville needing to get stops in the running game. Having so many bodies for the running game keeps guys fresh, while Louisville’s defense has struggled with depth and fatigue in the last few seasons. If Louisville’s defense doesn’t get stops there, it could be a long day in South Bend.

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