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?