Having gone through two consecutive dramatic endings, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are hoping that their Saturday night road clash against the Louisville Cardinals avoids the same fate. Stress levels and nerve endings for the Irish fanbase have been frayed, and would welcome something of a breather.
That may not happen, considering that the Cardinals enter the game with a spotless record after winning a tight 13-10 contest at North Carolina State on Friday night. That 5-0 record marks the first time in a decade that Louisville has started the season in that fashion. Despite limited scoring in Friday’s game, the Cardinals can be explosive, having twice scored 56 points in a game this season.
Below is a look at some of the key matchups in Saturday night’s battle:
QB Sam Hartman vs. Louisville Defense
Until Saturday night’s dramatic winning drive, Hartman had largely been quiet. That changed when he used his legs to gain a clutch first down on fourth-and 16 to set up Audric Estime’s touchdown. While he again avoided any interceptions, he was also held without a scoring toss for the first time in 2023. One overthrow was notable since it could have resulted in a score.
Cardinal defenders have had a mixed bag of success this year, either shutting down teams or showing vulnerability. They held North Carolina State to 201 total yards but gave up 175 on the ground to Georgia Tech. They’re capable of making big plays, with nine turnovers this season, but against a talented Notre Dame team, they’ll have their biggest challenge of the season.
Notre Dame Defense vs. Jack Plummer
During much of the first half against Duke, the Irish defense effectively shut down the Blue Devils’ offense. That allowed Notre Dame to take a 10-0 advantage into the break, dominance that faded in the second half and nearly cost them the game. They’ve faced Plummer before while he was with the Purdue Boilermakers in 2021. In that matchup, the Irish held him to 187 yards and one touchdown in the 27-13 win.
Plummer is at his third school in as many years after transferring to Cal last year before then heading to Louisville to rejoin his former Purdue mentor, Jeff Brohm. Over his five seasons, he’s completed nearly 64 percent of his passes and thrown for 58 touchdowns but has also thrown 25 interceptions, including six this season. His lack of mobility could aid the Irish pass rush, even if a sack isn’t the final result.
MLB J.D. Bertrand vs. RB Jawhar Jordan
Bertrand had another big night, tackle-wise, with 11 stops. He and his fellow defenders were a force in the first half when it came to shutting down the Duke running game. Those efforts weren’t quite as strong in the second half, but his leadership helped the Irish defense deliver a clutch stop on a Duke drive late in the game that allowed for the winning score.
Jordan was pretty much shut down on Friday night, gaining only 32 rushing yards, ending a three-game streak of over 100 yards on the ground. He’s in his third year at Louisville after spending his first two seasons at Syracuse and has scored six touchdowns in 2023. While not a regular target of Plummer’s, he has caught a pass in every game this year and is just three grabs away from surpassing his collegiate career-high of 10.
RT Joe Alt vs. DE Ashton Gillotte
Alt holds the most prominent spot on the Irish front line, protecting Hartman’s blind side. That status will be important against the Cardinals’ best pass rusher and could spell the difference in how the signal-caller’s night turns out. He’s a veteran who leads his unit and will hopefully instill some discipline to avoid the spate of false start calls that were seen against Duke.
Gillotte is considered by many to be Louisville’s top defender and is living up to that standard this year, leading the Cardinals with five sacks. His tackle toral is relatively modest but he tends to make big plays when he is involved. Now in his third season at the school, he’s got a pair of fumble recoveries to match his two forced fumbles.
CB Cam Hart vs. WR Jamari Thrash
Hart has been overshadowed by the exploits of Benjamin Morrison but has been a solid part of the Notre defense and has been for the past few years. He’s got quick footwork and has the veteran background to offer nuances to his coverage. He’ll definitely be challenged in this matchup and needs to deliver another consistent performance.
After spending three years at Georgia State, Jordan was one of the boatloads of transfers that arrived through the portal earlier this year. He’s been the Cardinals’ deep threat this year, bringing in 22 passes, while averaging 20.2 yards per catch and reaching the end zone five times. Against Indiana, he caught four passes for 159 yards, highlighted by two scores of 85 and 25 yards, respectively.