5 Things I Liked: Notre Dame Wins Ugly, Defense Dominates

Saturday’s 12-7 win over Louisville is not the kind of game that inspires much faith in Notre Dame’s long term prospects of the season, but it was a win nonetheless. The Irish are 4-0 overall and 3-0 in conference play while one of the league’s alleged elite teams, North Carolina, got beat by the same Florida State squad the Irish beat easily last week. There’s going to be a lot of bad to unpack in this one, so we’ll start with the good.

Notre Dame didn’t lose the game

Things could be a lot worse this morning. Notre Dame could have easily lost that game. Without the illegal blocking penalty on Louisville’s surprise onside kick, who knows how that one plays out. The Cardinals had all the momentum and would have been set up in great position.

That penalty happened, though, and Notre Dame went on to win. The Irish will take a beating in the media this week for their struggles and only winning by five against a weak opponent, but again at least it wasn’t a loss. They can come back from a win like this. They couldn’t have come back from a loss.

You could even say this was the kind of game Notre Dame used to lose pre-2017 too. It felt like a vintage 2014 type performance where the Irish dominated everywhere but the scoreboard early only to cough up a lead late. Again, that didn’t happen, though, and the Irish are still undefeated.

Notre Dame’s third-down conversions, specifically on the final drive

There were very few positives from the offense on Saturday, but one of them was Notre Dame’s third-down conversions. The Irish converted on 8 of 15 attempts, including three huge conversions on the game’s final drive that ate up the final 7:55 of the clock.

The Irish converted a 3rd and 6 with a 7-yard pass to Javon McKinley. Then Ian Book hit Bennet Skowronek for 12 yards on another 3rd and 6. Kyren Williams closed it out with a 24-yard run on 3rd and 5 – his longest jaunt of the day.

Notre Dame’s defense kept bailing out the offense, but at some point, even a great defense can get tired. Luckily, we didn’t have to find out if the Irish defense had one more stop in them because the offense rose to the occasion finally by eating up nearly eight minutes of clock to end the game allowing the Irish to escape.

Limiting Louisville to just 219 yards

Last week Clark Lea looked human for one of the few times of his Notre Dame tenure as Florida State racked up over 400 yards of offense. Well, the stories of his demise were greatly exaggerated. Notre Dame’s defense responded by holding an explosive Cardinals offense to just 219 yards of offense while stopping them on 6 of their 9 third-down attempts.

The only negative for the Irish defense was they didn’t force a single turnover against an offense that had more turnovers than Sara Lee through the first quarter of the season. Notre Dame did get their hands on a few balls but couldn’t come down with any interceptions. The Irish defense will need to come down with some of those moving forward if the Irish offense continues to struggle, but they more than did their job on Saturday.

The Irish ended up with 8 TFL, albeit with 0 sacks. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah had another 2 of his own, and Daelin Hayes had a huge stop in the backfield late in the game when he sniffed out a screen attempt.

Kyren Williams continuing to shine on an otherwise ugly offensive day

One of the other few bright spots in the game was Kyren Williams continuing to look like an elite running back. Williams topped 100 yards for the third time in four games with 127 yards on 25 attempts. He now has 486 yards on the season. Project that out over 11 games, and he’s on pace for 1,336 yards. Tony Jones Jr led the Irish with just 857 yards in 2019.

Where Williams continues to be so impressive is his ability to turn runs that used to go for no gain into three, four, and five-yard gains. Too often in the past, we’ve seen running backs run into the offensive line when there was more meat on the bone. Williams, however, is not leaving much left on the bone at all.

Unlike the last few weeks, Williams didn’t break a long one, but he came close several times. It could be tough sledding for Williams next week against Pitt’s defense, but his ability to maximize his runs will be even more critical against the Panthers given Notre Dame’s success on third downs.

The homemade queso I made for the game

Yesterday was one of those games where there wasn’t a ton to like other than the win, so I am listing the homemade queso I made for the game as the final thing I liked this week. The recipe is my mother in law’s secret family recipe and is very, very legit. I can’t divulge the recipe or even list the ingredients lest I risk being excommunicated from the family, but let me tell ya, it was pretty fantastic, although I could have kicked it up a notch spice wise.

Part of me is torn now, though. This was the first game I broke out the queso in a while since we had Notre Dame at 2:30, Texas A&M (Mrs. UHND’s alma mater) at 4:00, and ‘Bama – UGA at 8:00. Now, though, the paranoid sports fan in me wonders if I can risk making queso again for any Notre Dame given how sluggish the Irish were. Perhaps it was just the combination of queso + Guinness that was the bad combo?

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  1. If you happened to “boycott” the game on Saturday just know that the better team won and Amy Coney Barrett will soon be confirmed.
    Tremendous guts shown all around.
    Go Irish!

  2. Tony Dungy vs Doug Flutie – How great was it listening to Tony instead of Doug at the end of the game? This feels like it could be the best overall football team ND has had in a long time. I like Book but maybe it is time to try someone else. Is this team being wasted on him? Step up or step aside.

  3. I know Kelly wont do this but I would play Austin, Johnson and Lenzy as receivers. They are your fastest best receivers. It’s funny how everybody was concerned about Notredames running backs and running game and they have been really good. the receiving core OS highly rated, Lenzy, Austin, Tremble the freshmen Johnson, Xavier Watt, Tremble. I also would give Clarke a chance. He may spark the passing game and can stretch the field.

  4. There’s so many mouths to feed on offense that no one is emerging. Pick starters and let them play! Mayer is a stud, Tremble pretty damn good, Tyree should be catching passes, Austin allegedly is a freak, send Lenzy on fly patterns only. Sorry but there are a lot of weapons on this team that are grossly underutilized. Until they stretch a defense, this offense will struggle. Clark has a strong arm. Should start but won’t see light of day until we lose badly and the season is scuttled.

  5. Agree, Allen. How come all these 4 and 5 star receivers aren’t playing Lenzy, Austin, Johnson, Watt. You are not going to beat Clemson with Skoronski, Mckknley Joe Wikens. Another thing is the quarterback is so critical. I watched Georgia, Alabama. If Georgia had started 2 years ago Justin Fields and he never transfers they may have beaten Alabama last night. Oh, well hopefully Book is gone after this year. Nice kid but he is not elite.

  6. * Javon McKinley dropped a couple of passes. Here’s hoping BK doesn’t give up on him the way he did last year when Kyren dropped his first pass vs Louisville last year. This could have been the second year we watch K Williams as the lead back, as he should have been last year. One bad game shouldn’t delegate you to the bench for a season. Having said that, I’m looking forward to more #4, #11, #0, and # 87 in the coming games.
    * Against ND, and most everyone else, blitzes work. Book will see more.
    Rees & Book had better prepare for more. They’re coming. Louisville #7 LB is outstanding-made most of the tackles in the 2nd quarter during NDs 90+ yards resulting in nothing. This game film will be reviewed by every DC ND plays. Blitz- and 8 to 9 men in the box- in case you haven’t noticed, because every DC we play against has noticed.

  7. This isn’t “rose colored glasses”.
    This is 4 coats of super acrylic latex, then wallpaper.

    Three things I liked were SC – Auburn, UNC – FSU, and Texas A&M – Miss St.

  8. Kelly coming from Cincinnati was supposed to be this great offensive mind and qb gura. I have never seen it. Heck Charlie Wise recruited better skill players and developed and recruited quarter backs better than Kelly. Kelly has never developed or recruited a qb as good as Clausen or Quinn.

    1. Weis.
      Kelly ruins and drives off QBs.
      The only one he never could break was plucky, determined little Tommy Rees…who took all ol’ Purple Face could dish out, and who is now likely Kelly’s last OC hire.
      And though I genuinely wish Rees well, Kelly’s ‘coaching tree’ is now nothing more than the place the dog pisses.

  9. Ditto on the trio of receivers you mentioned, Alan. Especially, Johnson. We need a report on why a five star is standing on the sideline ant not playing when it is obvious our passing game needs better wideouts on the field.

  10. No more queso!

    I am hoping in your 5 Things I didn’t like column, you will explain why Austin, Lenzy, and Jordan Johnson are not seeing the field? Or why when every misdirection play was picking up ten yards, they did not run a bootleg?

    Thanks again for your articles. Always look forward to them.

    1. Like with Bart Starr and Johnny Unitas of bygone eras, BK’s O’ plan insists his QBs be pocket passers despite Book’s natural ability to roll out and make things happen on the move with his arm or his legs.

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