What To Look For: #4 Notre Dame vs. Louisville Cardinals

Bryan Driskell

Notre Dame is a 16.5-point favorite against Louisville for a reason. The fourth-ranked Irish should dominate the 1-3 Cardinals, and the on paper matchups on offense and defense aren't even close.

There is a reason, however, that Louisville was ranked in the Top 25 early in the season. This is a talented team that isn't playing well. Notre Dame needs to make sure this isn't the week that Louisville gets back on track.

You'll know if Notre Dame is ready to dominate, or if it will struggle, early in the game. Here's what I'm looking for:

OFFENSE

1. Run Game Rolls Early - Louisville's pass defense is pretty bad, but it's run defense isn't much better. For Notre Dame, everything centers around the run game and the offensive line playing at a high level. If Louisville is able to slow down the Irish ground attack they could make enough stops to keep this game competitive. If the Irish ground attack dominates early it sets up a big-play pass game, and Louisville won't have a chance.

2. Ian Book Starts Fast - Notre Dame needed the ground game in the 2019 win over Louisville, and that was due to Book's struggles, and the defense's inability to get off the field. Book should bounce back today and play much better. There are many reasons, the first of which is Louisville is really, really bad on defense. The other is his experience combined with a deep group of talented pass catchers. 

Some things offensive coordinator Tommy Rees could do early to get Book going early is attack with the quick game, to get freshman running back Chris Tyree and tight end Tommy Tremble rolling early, and to call some early designed deep shots that will not only build Book's confidence, it will also back Louisville off the run game.

3. Protect The Ball - One way to allow Louisville to get in and stay in this game is for Notre Dame to turn the ball over, especially deep in its own territory. If Louisville gets cheap scores this game will be tougher to win. Notre Dame must protect the football.

DEFENSE

1. Eliminated Contain Issues - Notre Dame has had issues handling mobile quarterbacks for years, and Louisville is going to look to exploit that early and often. Notre Dame will need an answer for quarterback Malik Cunningham on the bootlegs, called runs and reads. It will also have to find a way to slow down the run game, but we'll get to that in a second. If Notre Dame is able to correct its contain issues and keep Cunningham in the pocket the defense should thrive.

2. Slow Down Javian Hawkins - Notre Dame cannot allow running back Javian Hawkins to go off in this game. If he gets rolling it makes the quarterback runs and play-action game so much more effective and dangerous. If Hawkins is rolling and the play-action game is rolling the Cardinals are certainly good enough to make this game a shootout.

3. Limit Big Plays - All of this builds up to the final point, Notre Dame must limit big plays. Keeping Hawkins from going off is step one, and that also factors into the pass game. Louisville has very talented wideouts in Tutu Atwell and Dez Fitzpatrick, and both are capable of ripping off big plays. If Louisville is able to rip off big gains and steal some yards and points they can keep up with Notre Dame. 

SPECIAL TEAMS

1. No Big Mistakes - Notre Dame handed Florida State points last year after a muffed punt. Mistakes like that cannot happen against the Cardinals, who the Irish can't afford to give cheap points.

2. Cover Well - Along the same theme, Notre Dame can't give Louisville cheap points, meaning no big kick returns. if Notre Dame forces Louisville to go 75+ yards every time it touches the ball the defense should hold up enough to keep Louisville in check. Don't cover well on special teams and give Louisville short fields and we're having a different conversation.

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