Despite an early surge from Louisville, the Fighting Irish displayed a typical season opener beating Louisville, 35-17. It was another win for Brian Kelly and Notre Dame.
Notre Dame Survives the Surge
The night began with a promising opening drive touchdown for Notre Dame when running back Jahmir Smith, a sophomore out of North Carolina, finished a strong drive on the ground. The drive was sparked by Ian Book’s opening 37 yard scamper on the first play from scrimmage.
Louisville answered with a touchdown of their own on the Cardinals opening drive, making the defense of Notre Dame look slow and confused.
The timing of penalties hurt the Irish early. Julian Okwara got too aggressive on a third and 12, jumping offside and giving Louisville’s quarterback Jawon Pass a manageable third down. Louisville was eventually able to convert the mistake into a touchdown.
Pass had early success with the Run-Pass-Option. The “RPO” gave the Notre Dame defense fits early on. Ironically it was the runs of the elusive signal-caller, Pass, that the Irish defense struggled with most.
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said in his pre-game interview that we would see a disciplined team. instead they finished the first half with two defensive offsides calls, the second by Kareem Khalid, again on third and long. Pass made the Irish pay by running for s touchdown on the ensuing playing.
On the offensive side of the ball, Book and the Fighting Irish went three-and-out twice in the first quarter alone, and three times in the first half. Credit goes to Louisville’s defense for making adjustments to stopping the run and keeping Book uncomfortable.
Tony Jones Jr. posted 87 yards and a touchdown in the first half alone and was one of the few bright spots of the first two quarters. He finished the night averaging 7.3 yards per carry with 110 yards on 15 carries.
The game nearly took a turn when Book fumbled on a scramble near the sidelines. The luck of the Irish prevailed and Jahmir Smith caught the ball in mid-air.
Book eventually found the end-zone on the ground to take a 21-14 lead into the half.
At the 1:20 mark of the second quarter, safety Alohi Gillman was able to strip Pass’s scramble attempt and force and recover the first turnover of the game for Notre Dame.
The Irish took over in plus territory, but Book, unsettled in the pocket, scrambled into Tight-end Brock Wright causing Book to fumble. Louisville recovered and seemed to have dodged a bullet until a mishandled snap ended up on the turf and recovered by inside linebacker Jack Lamb of Notre Dame.
The Bright & Dull Spots
Notre Dame was not able to convert at a high percentage on third downs and started to look one-dimensional when they did.
Despite an overall lackluster team performance, true freshmen Kyle Hamilton made his debut with a third down pass break up to force a Louisville punt. Hamilton continued to make plays for the Irish secondary, including a second pass break up in the third quarter.
Notre Dame took a 28-14 lead and still struggled to take control of the game. The highly touted defense was able to force three fumbles, but was not able to register a sack until the eight minute mark of the fourth quarter when they finally broke through.
Chase Claypool was obviously Book’s favorite target and posted five catches for 90 yards. It did appear that on Claypool’s longest reception of the night that he got banged up, something to monitor in the coming days.
All in all, Notre Dame has some work to do. At the end of the day though, they took down a motivated Louisville team, on the road in prime time. Book finished 14 of 23 passing for 193 Yards and one touchdown and added 14 rushes for 81 yards and another rushing touchdown.
In his post game interview Book said he wants to be a leader on this team. He showed bits and pieces of leadership. Moving forward he will have two weeks to sharpen the pencil.
Notre Dame has over ten days to rest and recover before the home opener against ex- Irish head coach Bob Davie’s New Mexico Lobos team on September 14, 2019.