Notre Dame is on the road to take on an undefeated ACC foe for the second week in a row. The Irish survived a scare from a Duke team that is much better than the Louisville squad the Irish will square off with on Saturday night in the house that Papa John built. The Cardinals have a lot of buzz with a 5-0 record and a new placement just within the Top 25, but is it legit? Let’s dig in.
What Worries Me this Week
Trap Game Ahead of USC
Greg pointed out on the podcast this week that while everyone looked to Duke as the trap game, Louisville was the real trap game. He even predicted this to be a loss in the pre-season because of how much of a trap game he thought it would be. Notre Dame played back-to-back primetime games against undefeated, ranked opponents. This will be their second straight week facing an undefeated, ranked opponent on the road and third overall. And next week, the Irish have archrival and, wait for it, undefeated USC coming to town.
If the staff isn’t careful, the recipe is there for a trap game this weekend. Getting a college team to play at peak performance four weeks in a row is nearly impossible. And for those who groaned or rolled their eyes at that, even Lou Holtz had issues with letdowns and trap games during his time at Notre Dame. On paper, Notre Dame should beat Louisville and is the much better team. We’ll see how good of a job of avoiding a letdown the staff does.
The health of Notre Dame’s wide receivers
On Thursday, head coach Marcus Freeman said that Jayden Thomas, Jaden Greathouse, and Eli Raridon would all play this weekend. Receivers Thomas and Greathouse both sat out the Duke game with hamstring injuries, while tight end Eli Raridon is returning from his second significant knee injury a year ago. I said earlier this week I was skeptical Notre Dame would get them all back, but Freeman’s wording didn’t leave many outs – he said they would play.
Even with them back, hamstring injuries are finicky for players who run and cut as much as receivers do. Hopefully, both Thomas and Greathouse are at full strength because the Irish passing game suffered without them on the field last week as the Irish played with just three healthy scholarship receivers, with freshman Braylon James still not quite ready to be activated.
What to Watch
Louisville on 1st down
The Cardinal offense is built off of explosives. The Irish defense is built to limit explosives and force teams to score on long drives. Duke’s touchdowns last week came on drives of 8 and 11 plays. Louisville’s lone touchdown against NC State came on a 3-play, 45-yard drive.
Louisville is not a good third down offense. They are converting just 40% of their third downs on the season. Notre Dame is holding opponents to just 38% on third down on the season. That number would be even lowered without a particularly bad night on third down against Ohio State. If Notre Dame can force Louisville into third downs and not let them play ahead of schedule, the Irish defense should keep Louisville’s points low just like NC State did to them a week ago, with the Cardinals scoring just 13 in their 13-10 win.
Notre Dame’s defense in the redzone
Another area the Cardinals struggle with that the Irish are strong is the redzone. Louisville is scoring touchdowns on just 63% of their trips to the redzone. Notre Dame is allowing just 55% conversion of any kind in the redzone this season. The Irish have allowed just 7 touchdowns on 20 trips from opponents into the redzone for a 35% touchdown allowed rate.
Again, if Notre Dame limits Louisville’s explosive plays and forces them to make long, sustained drives, the Cardinals won’t put up enough points on the scoreboard to pull off the upset.
The turnover battle
Louisville quarterback Jack Plummer has thrown 6 interceptions on the season and is on pace for a career-high in picks. He threw just 9 on 451 attempts in 2022. His 6 interceptions have come on just 132 attempts this year. Louisville has fumbled 6 times on the year but lost just one of them. Notre Dame opponents have fumbled an astonishing 11 times, considering Notre Dame has recovered just one. The one recovery was a big one to end the Duke game last week, but still 1 out of 11 is some almost impossibly bad luck. Will that recovery change Notre Dame’s fortune?
Sam Hartman has yet to throw an interception this season, while Notre Dame has lost just two fumbles of their own. Turnovers played a huge role in Notre Dame’s win over NC State as a close game turned into a blowout because of them. The two turnovers Notre Dame produced against Duke were the difference a week ago. Two weeks ago, the Irish let a turnover slip through their hands that would have ended the game before the Buckeyes ever reached the redzone on that fateful final drive. Win the turnover battle again, and win the game.
Players to Watch
- Marist Liufau – He’s been fantastic against mobile quarterbacks and not so much against more pocket passers so far this year. Plummer is not a threat with his legs, so it’ll be interesting to see which Liufau shows up.
- Tobias Merriweather – He had a rough outing against Duke with increased usage. I would love to see the coaches dial up a few plays for him to get him going.
- Xavier Watts – He’s playing at a very high level right now and coming off one of his better games. Plummer is probably going to throw an INT. Watts could make it back-to-back games with a pick.
- Benjamin Morrison – If Watts doesn’t, maybe Morrison will get on the board this week.
- Jeremiyah Love – He had a long run on the fake punt last week. This week, he gets one in the base offense.
- Holden Staes – With Evans breaking out the last two weeks, he’ll likely get some more attention. This could be a good time to get Staes involved.
Louisville seems to be a trendy upset pick this week, and other than the possible trap game angle, I just don’t see it. Yeah, they’re undefeated right now, but they haven’t really played anyone and looked anything but scary in their 13-10 win over NC State last week. Assuming Notre Dame has its receivers back this week, I think the Irish will win much more easily than the point spread is giving them credit for right now.
Notre Dame 31, Louisville 13