In Brian Kelly’s 10th season opener at Notre Dame, the Irish traveled to Cardinal Stadium in Louisville as 18-point favorites and matched the oddsmakers’ assessment with a 35-17 win. The victory didn’t come easy, but the bottom line was that Notre Dame’s regular season winning streak was extended to 13 games.
Getting the season off on the right note against a team coming off a 2-10 season in 2018 was a necessity with much more challenging opponents on the schedule in the weeks ahead. The win won’t have much of an impact when it comes to the national polls, but it was certainly better than the alternative:
Below are some of the aspects of the game that stood out:
First Quarter Fireworks
The Irish wasted no time after starting the game at their own 25. On the first play, quarterback Ian Book took off for a 37-yard run, thanks to gaping holes in the Louisville defense. That was the first of five running plays in a short six-play drive that ate up a mere 2:21 on the game clock. The Cardinals answered by marching 88 yards on their first drive to tie the game, imitating the Irish by doing most of their damage on the ground.
Notre Dame’s next drive stalled, but Louisville continued to click, marching 75 yards to take a seven-point lead. The Irish charged back by letting Tony Jones Jr. deliver most of the damage by rushing for 63 yards during the nine-play, 75-yard drive. By the time the period had ended, the two teams had combined for 314 yards of total offense, 260 on the ground. The running numbers would reach 454 by the half.
Comedy of Errors
In the final two minutes of the first half, possession of the ball managed to change five times, with Notre Dame ending up as the beneficiary of this turnover wave. The first miscue came when Alohi Gilman managed to strip and recover a fumble by Louisville quarterback Javon Pass at the Cardinal 26.
Yet Book coughed it up on the next play after gaining two yards, but the stumble was wiped away just one play later when Pass fumbled again, with linebacker Jack Lamb recovering for Notre Dame. Book then atoned for his error by dashing 12 yards on the first play of a four-play drive and then racing 11 more yards for the go-ahead score with just 17 seconds left in the half.
The Passing Game Awakens
For the first 36 minutes of the contest, the Notre Dame passing game was effectively dormant, with just 63 yards on seven receptions. That changed in the span of just 36 seconds as Book connected with Chase Claypool, who turned his catch into a 31-yards gain to put the ball at the Louisville 26. That was followed by redshirt freshman Tommy Tremble getting open and scoring on a 26-yard grab to give the Irish a 28-14 advantage
After Louisville managed to slice three points off their deficit, the Irish passing attack answered that attempted comeback. A pair of 10-yard grabs by Tremble and fellow freshman Lawrence Keys was later followed by a 34-yard catch and run by Claypool that put the ball at the Cardinal two-yard-line to set up what effectively was the clinching score. Book finished his evening by throwing for 193 yards and the one scoring toss to Tremble.
Defensive Growing Pains
The Irish had multiple holes to fill on their defense for the 2019 season, so the expectation was that things wouldn’t ordinarily go according to plan in the early stages of the season. That was certainly the case during Louisville’s first two drives, when Notre Dame seemingly had no answer to stopping them.
However, things settled down over the rest of the contest, with the Cardinals only gaining 223 yards the rest of the night. More importantly, they only put three more points on the scoreboard, While allowing 383 yards isn’t something that should become a regular feature this season, the learning curve for this unit is hopefully a brief one.
Next Up for Notre Dame
The Irish are off this Saturday before returning on September 14 for their home opener. The game will have a bit of history attached since it will mark the first-ever meeting with the University of New Mexico Lobos, whose coach is a familiar name to Notre Dame fans: Bob Davie.
The hope is that Davie will be back on the sidelines after a health scare in the Lobos’ opener resulted in his hospitalization. In reality, the Irish should have no problem in this game, with the only real concern being the possibility of the team looking ahead to their next game, which will take place between the hedges against the Georgia Bulldogs.