Immediate Overreactions from Notre Dame’s Underwhelming 2019 Opener

Notre Dame opened its 2019 season on Monday night with a somewhat underwhelming 35-17 win over Louisville.  The final score wasn’t that far off what many predicted, but how it was achieved left a lot to be desired – especially for a team with playoff aspirations who was facing an opponent that was 2-10 a year ago.

Here are some immediate overreactions from the uneven performance that has Notre Dame at 1-0 on the season heading into a weird week two bye week.

Notre Dame did not look like a top 10 team

Let’s be honest, folks.  The performance we saw tonight was not one of a top 10 team.  Notre Dame actually trailed 7-14 at one point and at no point did they look like the dominant team we all were hoping to see.  The good news is this was just week one.  The bad news is Louisville is one of the weakest opponents on the schedule.

Notre Dame had chances to blow this one open multiple times, but they were never able to find any sort of offensive consistency all night after it looked like the Irish would just walk up and down the field.  On their first drive, Notre Dame ran it down Louisville throats, but after that drive, Notre Dame just looked off.

This is not the end of the world, though.  Notre Dame has a lot of time to work on all of the things they did wrong tonight – and there were a lot of them.  If this is how Notre Dame is looking a month from now, we have some much more significant issues.

Ian Book played one of his worst games as a starter for Notre Dame

The main reason Notre Dame wasn’t able to put Louisville away early was that Ian Book was just not sharp.  His final numbers don’t look awful, but they weren’t impressive either considering how bad this Louisville defense was last year.   Book finished 14 of 23 for 193 yards and a touchdown with another 81 yards rushing and a second touchdown on the ground with no turnovers.

The big question for Book coming into the season was if he was going to be able to get the ball downfield.  He failed that test in week one.  It doesn’t mean he will fail it all season, but he just couldn’t get the ball downfield much.  He did have a nice touchdown throw down the seem to Tommy Tremble, but other than that, Book couldn’t push the ball downfield.

Book was also uncharacteristically inaccurate early in the game, and it stalled drives.  A prime example of this was Book’s off-target pass to Chris Finke on 4th and 5 in the second quarter.  Book aimed the ball more than he threw it and Finke was stopped short.  An accurate pass there and Finke easily gets the first.

He did have a nice stretch where he hit Chase Claypool on a crosser before connecting with Tommy Tremble for a touchdown, but those stretches were few and far between.  Claypool and Tremble both did look good when given the chance.

Book has two weeks to work on whatever it was that had him off tonight with a week two bye coming.

Tony Jones Jr Should Have Had More Carries

Tony Jones Jr had 87 yards on his first eight carries in the first half.  He got just seven more carries the rest of the way.  Jones saw a lot of action early with Jafar Armstrong getting injured again early in the contest.  Jones finished with 112 yards and a touchdown on those 15 carries.

In the first half Jones looked unstoppable, but Louisville did start to key on him more as the game progressed – especially when it was clear that Book was off his game.  Still, the way Jones was running early, it would have been nice to see him get more carries.  Or get used at all in the passing game.

Notre Dame’s defense adjusted well after a rough start

Notre Dame’s defense was on its heels early.  Louisville came out and marched down the field for long touchdowns on each of their first two drives.  The new linebackers looked utterly lost and All-American, captains were jumping offsides on crucial third downs.

Then Clark Lea adjusted, and Louisville scored just three points the rest of the way.  They got some help from Louisville along the way with the Cardinals forgetting how to hold on to the football for a while, but they also adjusted to what Louisville was doing well.

The offsides were really disappointing because the penalties all were committed by seniors who have played on big stages before.  Julian Okwara, Khalid Kareem, and Ade Ogundeji were the offenders.

The Kyle Hamilton hype looks like it is real

Let’s get to a positive since most of this has been a bit of doom and gloom.  The Kyle Hamilton hype seems legit.  Hamilton did have one bad whiff early, but other than that, he was all over the field.  He didn’t record his first interception like we had hoped (for Greg’s sake), but it feels like it’s just a matter of time before he gets one.

What was really interesting was seeing Hamilton get time in the base defense in place of a healthy Alohii Gilman.  That’s how much faith this staff has in Hamilton already.  He made a couple of nice plays in coverage and

Notre Dame’s linebackers are still kind of a mess

Notre Dame played a lot of linebackers as they said they would and it was pretty clear why they did – no one other than Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah stood out.  Drew White was the closest to a standout, but he did get targetted in the passing game which we know is his weakness.  Asmar Bilal was not heard from much because he was generally not around the football.  That is a bad trait for a linebacker.  Jack Lamb and Shayne Simon saw the field and looked solid.

Based on tonight, expect to see Drew White in the starting lineup again in two weeks against New Mexico, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Bilal wasn’t after tonight.

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, on the other hand, flashed exactly what we thought we had – a potential game-changer.  He is still going to be out of position from time to time as he learns, – he was at times Monday night.  But man is he athletic and holy cow does he explode.  He is going to be a star at some point.

The rest of the group?  Welp, we got 11 more games to figure that out because we didn’t get too many other definitive answers tonight.

We’ll have more throughout the week breaking this one down.  It wasn’t what any of us were hoping to see, but it is also far from the end of the world.

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  1. I like our man at the rover position. I’m still high on White as he has had very little game experience and in Tranquill’s role. He needs a touch more discipline. He was a touch tenative at times, but he has been put in a big role. Bilal was completely invisible and dont recall one tackle he made. I like JOK., White, and Bo as the LBs. I recall Simon playing, but don’t know if I recall his play as Lea was changing the guy inside a lot ..

  2. Have to go through and ask ourselves, unit by unit, who’s elite on this team. We are going to struggle defensively in the middle. Linebacker play is just not there yet. Depth @ interior d line is troubling. Secondary, probably elite. De’s, most probably elite. Offense, O line could be near elite. TE’s, probably elite once healthy. Wr’s??? Didn’t show a great ability to get open which is troubling too. Obviously, need people to step up. Keys looked good. Finke disappointed. Claypool could work himself into first round selection. Qb? Needs to get his mojo back. Long season. Next 2 weeks will reveal the direction of this team.


  3. First 11 minutes of defense was BVG like
    3rd down conversion was not bad, it was pathetic..
    Finke 1 catch 2 yards…
    TEs zero in first half
    Tackling..really bad; major chunk plays.not sure 2018
    Team gave up that many 30-40 yard plays all season
    Book pocket awareness

    Defense turned around to bend not break. 3 pts
    Running game with big chunk plays..
    Book running..
    Young players played hard and made some plays
    Lea adjustments
    Remembered TEs in 2nd half…also forgot about them
    During Clemson..notice a pattern..

    Herbie was fair..could have buried ND like most have.

  4. Good summary, my own thoughts, QB play under Kelly never seems to really progress, I have been saying this for years, his QBs seem to only get worse over time. I think one of the issues is the routes/pass plays, there are not enough easy throws and check downs and most of the routes take too long, plus many of the receivers are not good at trying to get open or just seem like they are just going through the motions. Looks like a typical ND team over the Kelly era, or over the past 23 years, will beat mediocre teams but not rise to the occasion as an underdog, so forget about beatin Bama, Clemson, or even Oklahoma for that matter. The defense was decent, but nothing spectacular, I think the Lou offense’s mistakes made them look better.

  5. -Not panicked but definitely concerned about Book. Clemson PTSD? No way he should look that jittery playing Louisville. He cannot continue to put the ball on the ground either (the Mark Sanchez impersonation was awful).

    -Hoping they were holding back on the downfield stuff for Georgia. Hoping!

    -Jafar may never live up to the potential. So disappointing for him. I really thought he would be the breakout start in the backfield.

    -Jones looks better than last year but is still only a serviceable back.

    -Short yardage offense was brutal. Have to give some credit to Louisville here but it happened way too often and the Irish were very vanilla – hoping again they are holding back.

    -Hamilton is an absolute stud. Just move Gilman to Rover now and be done with it. I love Gilman but he is a tackler not a cover guy. He may be undersized but I am betting he could get the job done and be even more effective near the LOS.

    -Did Bilal even play? Never saw him. That is a problem.

    -Punting is going to be an issue, that dude looked scared as heck.

    -Loved! the athleticism from the young LB’s. Give them some time and look out. Love the depth.

    -53 and 42 need to get right, unforgivable mistakes.

    -Tommy T looked amazing! Can’t wait to see him and Kmet together. 2 absolute weapons.

    -This still looks like a 9-3 maybe 10-2 team. Win and advance baby.

  6. Agreed that we didn’t look like a top 10 team but neither did half of the top 10. The Irish played a a rough 10 minutes. The D saw an offense that they had no idea about. The offense saw a D that was unlike anything they could have studied for. I was overracting until I rewatched the game. There was a lot of sloppy football but there were a bunch of highlights by first time players. All in all I feel better now than I did.

  7. It was frustrating to watch, esp. on offense.

    Bright spot definitely the defense. It’s nice to have a DC that can make adjustments…adjustments that WORK. That does bode well for the future. Lea’s not afraid to make changes on the fly if something is not working. I’ll admit I was very concerned when Louisville scored 14 points pretty easily. But the defense adjusted to what Louisville was doing and they could only manage a FG after that.

    The offense was definitely frustrating. They have got to get better. They have a week off basically, then hopefully against New Mexico they can find their groove. But how many times have we said that same thing…week off, weaker opponent should give them time to get going….and they don’t. Hopefully this time will be different but I am concerned. I want to see a dominant showing against New Mexico. If we don’t then Georgia can end up being an embarrassing game for the Irish.

    I couldn’t help but laugh at the fumble-fumble-fumble sequence ending the 1st half. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a sequence like that. Thankfully we were on the positive side of that sequence. I was glad Book had a chance to redeem himself after his mistake there. It’s important the coaches show trust in their QB there.

    I’m not in panic mode certainly. But I’ll feel better in just under 2 weeks if they have a dominant offensive performance against NM. Not to say their aren’t issues on defense, but they got the job done at the end of the day, and right now I have greater confidence in Lea to correct the issues his department has then the offensive coaches.

  8. Thanks Frank for the nice summary to what we all saw and felt. Ian was the hardest to watch, looking jittery and surprisingly out-of-calibration with his arm. I too ‘checked out’ of my pocket early after asking the tv, who on the staff even thinks horizontal stripped shirts looks great on anybody, especially on our coach; representative of a slight lack of awareness in what fans really want in game prep,… gritty (not soft) field presence.

  9. This is great Frank. Additional observations:
    – Book looks like a Freshman in the pocket, losing confidence/patience after his first-second reads. He’ll figure out the accuracy, but this worries me a lot.
    – Lack of big plays is what separates Final Four from the rest. I can’t understand a fair catch from the 2 on opening kickoff (on the road, isn’t a kick return a great opportunity to get the ball in the hands of a playmaker to make a play?), not a single deep attempt/fade to 6’5 Claypool, zero designed plays for speed guys, etc.
    – Tony Jones goes down way too easily on first contact. I can live with him not being a burner, but he’s gotta do more in the yards after contact area if they’re going to beat Georgia/Michigan.
    – Run game was mostly shut down in the 2nd half. The line needs to be able to dominate a team like Louisville from start to finish
    – D Line was generating pressure throughout, but linebackers not named Owusu-Koramoah were mostly out of place to help clean up. Bilal’s lack of presence really concerns me.

    + Secondary is going to be really good this year, and ND will be tough to beat for teams without a mobile QB.
    + Offensive line dominated the first half running game.
    + Great seeing Shawn Crawford make plays. He’s still one of my favorite players.
    + Hitting the tight end over the middle is something ND has been missing for a while. Awesome to see Tremble make plays, and excited to see Kmet out there.
    + Offsides aside (though these were frustrating and costly), very few penalties = good discipline
    + A few nice grabs by Keys. Really want to see what he can do in open space (throw him a screen? send him in motion and hand off? hit him across the middle?)
    + Loved seeing Claypool run all the way across the field with the ball to make a play. Get him the ball more.

  10. my disappointment was in 3 areas
    1) poor performance by Book
    2) lack of sustained pass rush
    3) offensive line that couldn’t run block when they needed a few yards.

    Nice to see defense recover after poor start/ nice to get the W. against a team playing w/ nothing to lose on their home turf.
    Happy that we weren’t playing Georgia tonight!!

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