Notre Dame earned a sloppy 12-7 victory over Louisville.
Here is my instant analysis of the offense from the win.
*** Notre Dame was a bit creative early, but overall the game plan of offensive coordinator Tommy Rees in the first half didn’t attack Louisville in the ways that normally work. Things took a turn for the worse once the Irish got off their script. We saw very little screen action, we saw very few deep shots, and the Irish went with their “big personnel” at wide receiver, which made it much easier or Louisville to load the box and slow down the run game, at least in the first half.
*** Notre Dame settled down in the second half and pounded the football, but there are some serious warning signs coming out of this game for the Notre Dame offense. Louisville’s defense had been a sieve all season, and the Notre Dame offense, without any RPOs and a completely uncreative game plan, struggled to move the football.
*** Louisville aided Notre Dame on its second scoring drive that made it 6-0 by committing two bad decision penalties that negated a pair of sacks.
*** A big problem for Notre Dame was its pass game, and the issues were three-fold. It was poorly designed, poorly executed at quarterback and the decision to use the “big receivers” for much of the game provided very little vertical threat to the Louisville defense. Part of being a good coordinator isn’t just play-calling, but putting your offense in situations where your best personnel can exploit their weak spots, and Notre Dame failed to do that in the pass game.
*** When you boil it all down, Notre Dame won this game because its defense played lights out, because Louisville shot itself in the foot far too often, and because the Notre Dame line and running backs were just way better than anyone Louisville could put on the field. In the second half Notre Dame just ran it down Louisville’s throat and ran the clock out. That works against a poor team like Louisville, but won’t work against better opponents. This was a poorly designed and poorly called game.
*** The decision to fake a field goal while up 6-0, on 4th-and-9, was also a terrible call by Brian Kelly.
*** Quarterback Ian Book never looked comfortable as a passer. While he made a couple of clutch throws on the final drive to ice the game, his inability to do damage in the pass game made this game far, far too close. Book completed just 11-19 passes for 108 yards against one of the worst pass defenses in the country.
*** Book rushed his reads, and after looking poised in the pocket a week ago, the fifth-year senior rushed through his reads, showed a complete unwillingness to push the ball downfield (which I can’t blame him for this week), and he was off target more than normal. An example would be under throwing tight end Michael Mayer on a wheel route, where a throw about 3-4 yards further might have been a big play. Book was also late with his reads far, far too often.
*** Book did damage on the ground, rushing for 47 yards on 12 attempts. His scramble for a score on 3rd-and-8 on Notre Dame’s first drive of the second half was the difference in the game. Book also picked up a big gain for a first down on 3rd-and-3 with the offense backed up near its own end zone. Notre Dame ultimately didn’t get points, but it extended the drive and the Irish ended up eating up a lot of clock on the drive.
*** The Irish running backs were excellent in this game, and they carried the offense with very little help from the quarterback or skill positions. Sophomore Kyren Williams had a perfect blend of patience, decisiveness and patience in the win. He finished the game with 127 yards on 25 carries, and he had to earn those carries. For much of the game the Cardinals had more plays in the box than Notre Dame could block, so he had to make players miss, and he did just that.
*** Williams basically put the offense on his shoulders in the second half, rushing for 73 yards on 14 carries in the final 30 minutes.
*** Freshman Chris Tyree was a good complement to Williams, rushing for 32 yards on seven carries and catching two passes for 16 more yards.
*** Freshman tight end Michael Mayer had a strong performance in the win. He caught a pass for 12 yards and blocked extremely well on the edge. Junior tight end Tommy Tremble converted a third-down with his only catch, and with one exception he blocked well again in the win.
*** Louisville had issues with talented tight ends, which makes the decision not to feature the tight ends more in this game a major head scratcher. Notre Dame’s tight ends and backs combined for just five catches, which is partly poor execution and partly poor game planning.
*** Notre Dame’s wideouts struggled in this game. Their blocking was decent but inconsistent, and they struggled to get any separation in the game. The personnel decisions were questionable, and the execution was bad.
*** Senior Javon McKinley took a step back after a strong performance against Florida State a week ago. He had at least three drops (another play was more on the quarterback for a late throw), and he did not play with the same urgency we saw a week ago. Senior grad transfer Ben Skowronek only caught two passes, but both were big. His first converted a 3rd-and-10 and set up a field goal, and his second converted a third-down on the final drive of the game, which allowed the Irish to run out the clock.
*** Notre Dame chose to play McKinley and Skowronek together for much of the game, and the duo struggled to get open, which made it even harder for Book to make plays in the pass game. McKinley did have a 15-yard gain on a jet sweep, although I’m curious to see if that play could have gone for more if it was given to a player with more speed.
*** Junior Kevin Austin went for 18 yards on his only target, but he failed to get a foot in bounds on his other target. That was all for him in the game, just those two targets if memory, and my notes, serve me correctly. We saw very little from junior Braden Lenzy, whose snaps were limited in the game for some reason.
*** Senior Avery Davis had a solid game. He caught two passes for 17 yards (jet sweep) and ran a reverse for a 10-yard gain.
*** The backs and the line controlled action for the Notre Dame offense. The Irish pounded out 232 yards despite facing loaded boxes for much of the game. There were things that need to get cleaned up, like struggling more than usually with Louisville’s line games and blitzes, but the line also did a great job getting movement, getting a body on a body and giving Book plenty of time to throw the football.
*** Left tackle Liam Eichenberg overcame a false start penalty early to play a strong game on the left side. He got excellent movement in the run game, and on multiple occasions the backs cut backside behind Eichenberg and the tight ends, who were blowing Louisville defenders off the ball. I felt right tackle Robert Hainsey also had a strong run game performance, with one miss that I remember being his blemish.
*** Inside, the guards and center were a bit up and down at times. Center Jarrett Patterson allowed a sack in the first half that was a result of him getting beat off the ball and then stopping his feet. He settled down and played much better after that against an aggressive Louisville game plan. Left guard Aaron Banks was inconsistent with his get off, especially in the first half. That resulted in him getting knocked back a few too many times early, but he settled down and played much better in the second half. Right guard Tommy Kraemer had an excellent kick out block on a first half run and got good movement in the run game.
*** Like last week, no one lineman played a brilliant game, but for the most part the unit played very well together. Just as important, they were physical and beat up the Louisville front seven.
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