The Notre Dame football schedule is set to get started under the lights on Labor Day when they face the Louisville Cardinals in a road matchup. The clash comes with a host of different intriguing storylines, with the debut of new Cardinals head coach Scott Satterfield being one of the most prominent. Satterfield took over after Louisville’s disastrous 2018 campaign, one in which they went 2-10, letting go of former coach Bobby Petrino after a 2-8 start.
Louisville’s 2018 season opening 51-14 loss to Alabama served as a microcosm of the entire season, one in which defense was non-existent during the second half of the year. That’s one reason why the Cardinals went winless in eight tries in ACC action and is something that presumably won’t be patched up by the time the Irish arrive for that opener.
Note: This year we are going to be doing our opponent previews in order of difficulty – starting with the least difficult opponent of the year. So as we roll these out, know that the order isn’t sequential but rather based on difficulty. Follow along with our countdown!
Louisville Offense: The Lesser of Two Evils
The Cardinals have two quarterbacks to handle things behind center in Jawon Pass and Malik Cunningham. Pass is appropriately named since he’s the thrower of the pair, but last year that resulted in eight touchdowns and 12 picks. Cunningham can throw, having completed 40-of-67 passes in 2018, but he actually led the team in rushing with 497 yards. The ultimate winner here just might be incoming freshman Evan Conley
The fact that no Louisville runner gained more than 500 yards last year offers a clear window into just how weak their running game was in 2018. The two players to watch in this department are Hassan Hall, who has plenty of speed but needs to better his weak 303-yard output of a year ago. Helping him will be Colin Wilson, who contributed 208 yards last year, but serves as more of a blocking back.
The bright spot of the Cardinals on offense is their receiving corps, led by top returnees Dez Fitzpatrick and Chatarius Atwell, who combined for 55 catches in 2018. The reserve duo of Seth Dawkins and Devante Peete offer some large targets, but some additional depth would make this department a little more dangerous.
One of the chief reasons that the running game was so weak was because of the play of the line. Ordinarily, the return of three starters might be seen as a good sign. In this instance, only tackle Mekhi Becton is someone that the Irish will need to watch, given that he’s projected as a potential first round NFL draft pick next year.
Louisville Defense: Disaster Cleanup
Allowing 529 points offers glaring proof that an overhaul of the Cardinals’ defense is in order. That specifically involves developing a pass rush and closing gaping holes that allowed opposing runners to rack up plenty of yardage. The Louisville defenders had plenty of growing pains in 2018, so building on their painful experience to improve this year is a chief strategy.
On the line, defensive end Amonte Caban had seven tackles-for-loss and was one of four Cardinals to have a team-high two sacks. Tabarius Peterson offered similar numbers, but he may be replaced by Jarrett Jackson or Malik Clark. Both are sophomores who offer more hope of a stronger rush.
At linebacker, Dorian Etheridge is the top returnee after bringing down 55 opposing ball carriers, forcing a pair of fumbles and knocking away four passes last year. He’ll be getting some help with the arrival of Colgate grad transfer T.J. Holl, who was Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year.
The secondary has some question marks, though it does return senior safety Khane Pass. Last season, he finished with 50 tackles, but didn’t deliver any turnovers, primarily because opponents simply used their running games to batter the Cardinals.
Louisville Special Teams: Modest Offerings
Kicker Blanton Creque returns after leading the team in scoring, but that amount only amounted to 57 points in 12 games, with Creque missing three extra points. In the area of punting, Mason King returns for Louisville after averaging 40.6 yards on his 69 attempts.
Hall’s meager contributions at running back were supplemented by a 24.1 kick return average, which included one touchdown. For punt returns, Rodjay Burns is back after also taking one to the house last year, part of his 15.2 average on the year.
The Last Time Notre Dame Played Louisville
The reality is that opening clash on the Notre Dame football schedule marks only the second meeting of these teams. The Cardinals came to Notre Dame Stadium in 2014 and defeated the Irish, 31-28, after holding a 17-6 halftime lead. The Irish delivered a pair of scoring drives in the first six minutes following intermission to take the lead, but the Cardinals answered with two scores. The Irish then sliced the deficit to a field goal, but a 32-yard three-point try at the gun went wide right.