Irish Shuffle Past Cards

Notre Dame managed to overcome a dysfunctional offense and multiple coaching blunders to slide past the Louisville Cardinals by 12-7 on Saturday. Kyren Williams ran for 127 yards, including a 24-yard burst on a key third down play to seal the victory.

The Irish defense played well in containing quarterback Malik Cunningham and the Cardinal skill players. There was little margin for error as the offense squandered scoring opportunities and Louisville was always within one score of the lead.

Ian Book led Notre Dame to field goals on its first two possessions. Both kicks by Jonathan Doerer capped long marches that stalled in the red zone. In each case, Notre Dame got away from the running game that carried them down the field only to suffer sacks that kept them out of the end zone.

Meanwhile, the Cards were struggling to establish momentum. Head-scratching penalties were also a factor in forcing them to punt and also extending drives by the Irish.

Notre Dame put together another scoring threat late in the second quarter. Tight end Michael Mayer caught a pass and hurdled a defender before crashing down to the Cardinal ten yard line. Once again, the Irish stalled when Kevin Austin ran out of room in the end zone to haul in a Book pass. Doerer came out to try another three pointer with under a minute left in the half.

Eschewing a 9-0 advantage, Coach Brian Kelly called for a fake field goal on the fourth and nine play. Holder-turned-runner Jay Bramblett was stacked up and Louisville took over the ball in the shadow of its goal trailing by only six. There were just 43 seconds left on the clock.

Kelly had insufficient time outs left to get the ball back, but he blundered again by using them. The Cardinals capitalized by moving the ball for the first time all day. As time ran down, a 52-yard field goal attempt barely grazed the crossbar and fell short.

This sequence gave the visitors a dose of adrenaline. They emerged from the locker room and drove 83 yards for a touchdown and a 7-6 advantage. Cunningham finished the drive by hitting Marshon Ford on a short scoring toss.

The next play was instrumental in determining the outcome of the game. Louisvill tried and recovered an onside kick, but a video review confirmed that a Cardinal player was guilty of an illegal block. The ball had not yet traveled ten yards when the player made contact with the member of the Irish receiving team, so Louisville had to kick it again. The element of surprise and untold momentum were lost, and Notre Dame escaped disaster.

Book was forced to scramble all afternoon

The Irish responded wisely by returning to the ground game. They moved downfield until it appeared they would stall again in the red zone. This time, Book scrambled on third and long and dove into the corner of the end zone from 13 yards out at the 3:43 mark of the third period.

Leading 12-7, Kelly defied convention again by ordering a two-point conversion attempt. Book’s throw to Javon McKinley fell incomplete.

Fortunately for Notre Dame, Louisville’s next drive unraveled when Cunningham suffered leg cramps and had to leave the field. They punted the ball back to the Irish as the contest moved to the fourth quarter.

The hosts played conservatively while nursing their slim five point lead. The Cards clogged the rushing lanes, secured a defensive stop, and took over at their 20 yard-line. In what was to become the final Cardinal possession of the day, two penalties and a crushing tackle for loss by Notre Dame’s Daelin Hayes stopped them cold.

Led by Williams, the Irish were able to grind out the last eight minutes of the game with hard runs and short passes in key moments. Louisville used its timeouts in an effort to get the ball back, but Williams iced the game with his clutch run on a third down play. Book ended the day with two kneel downs.

Notre Dame was ranked fourth in the nation heading into the game, but that appears to be wildly exaggerated at this point. The schedule has been kind to say the least, and teams now have enough film of the Irish offense to know that Book cannot beat them with his arm. Even worse, a team with seven sacks in four games recorded six against the Irish today.

Let’s review the answers to the pregame questions.

Can Book take advantage of the depleted Cardinal secondary? Not at all. His 11 for 19, 107 yard passing performance was essentially a combination of poor throws and a failure of the Irish receivers to get open.

Will Notre Dame’s linebackers tackle Hawkins and Cunningham in space? Except for one 28-yard escape by Hawkins, the Irish were superb in limiting the Cards to 95 rushing yards.

Can Lenzy and Austin record receptions in the intermediate and deep zones? Austin caught one pass early and was done, while Lenzy disappeared entirely.

Will the Irish front be able to create havoc and derail Louisville’s advances? Notre Dame failed to sack Cunningham and even its blitzes didn’t get home.

Can Doerer emerge from his mini-slump in the field goal department? Doerer hit both attempts he was allowed to try, but should have received a third opportunity.

Will the Irish return teams contribute meaningful yardage? No, but the kickoff team almost paid dearly for falling asleep in the third quarter.

Should Notre Dame hold a pregame moment of prayer for Nick Saban? It didn’t come to that as Saint Nick pulled off yet another miracle – and Alabama immediately claimed another national title.

The Irish go on the road next week to play Pitt, which is usually a more challenging task than the oddsmakers would predict. One can’t help looking a few weeks ahead to the date with Clemson, which annihilated Georgia Tech today by 73-7. By the way, Georgia Tech beat Louisville by 46-27. I’m just sayin’.

Anyway, the Tigers are headed to South Bend in what I would compare to a giant asteroid headed toward planet Earth. Instead of having Bruce Willis to conjure up some heroics and avoid Armageddon, though, Notre Dame fans are forced to rely on Brian Kelly. And you thought COVID was scary.

Tell John what you think in the Comments section below

28 thoughts on “Irish Shuffle Past Cards

  1. JVAN,

    Your write-up is spot-on!! Terrible coaching from BK and his staff today.. Tommy Rees should not
    be the OC —- HE’S NOT READY…. I don’t like his play-calling, again…

    No energy all day from the Irish.. They got out-hustled by a bunch of guys who wanted it more.. Our
    OL is way overrated.. WR group needs help ASAP..

    We were lucky to win today..

    Clemson is going to embarrass us on a National Stage.. And we also may not even beat Pitt…

    10 YEARS IN with BK and it’s still incredibly hard to watch every week…

    • Martin Medvetz says:

      Agree. We only won yesterday because (A) we have a very good defensive coordinator and (B) Kyren Williams ability as a runner to break tackles. Some other observations. Book has happy feet and is only slightly better than a mediocre qb. Irish will regret not seeing the potential in Phil Jurkovec. Rather than developing quarterbacks, the coaching staff seems to be satisfied with game managers at qb. Play calling is terrible and predictable. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if ND loses to Pitt, BC, North Carolina, and Clemson. I hope I’m wrong.

      • Does anyone remember Book’s first few games? He was confident, poised, crisp, and accurate. He was a revelation. And then he was steadily ground down into the nervous, confused, inaccurate passer that EVERY SINGLE Brian Kelly quarterback becomes.

        Tommy Rees would do well to remember playing Pitt himself, when they dropped 8 into coverage and laughed as he ran for the sidelines for 3-and-out after 3-and-out. “Game manager” is a sad euphemism for a quarterback who lacks the physical tools to do his job. Year after year I wonder how it’s possible that Notre Dame can’t field an effective QB, and the only answer is Brian Kelly.

      • Phil just has a style of play that is similar to Roethlisberger or Mahomes, he is not the fastest and doesn’t throw the tightest spiral but makes all the plays in the world.

      • Christopher Pompey says:

        it can’t be ignored. the guy was completing 70-80% of his passes and has since regressed. he’s gotten worse over the course of the last two years. is it that they complicate things. He was just winging it at first and now he STILL has happy feet and holds the ball too long. If you watch Phil Jurkovec, he has more upside simply because he has the ability to blow the top off of the defense. I think that game at BC is going to be tough to watch. I see them with at least two losses min. maybe three, but NC is iffy too.

  2. A gritty game by the Irish, but underwhelming. Not all the offensive problems were on Book. His receivers failed to get much separation on many plays. The good and bad was the Irish attitude that they were just going to win and really played with no sense of urgency.

    This is a number 4 team by default. The identity may be a running team but without a potent passing game teams will load the box like Louisville did many times. How many sweeps or misdirection plays did the Irish run? Not quite sure what they were trying to prove by all the inside runs. We know they have that but they need to expand their play book because, as you said, teams are looking at the film

  3. WOW did that ever suck! ND should drop to about 10th after that mess. Wish Belecick would retire so Kelly could go chase his dream job at New England. Clemson is at LEAST 3 deep at every position because they play everybody in these blowout games. Kelly never gets to play any backups cause we always play down to the opponent. 15 to 7 would have looked a little better or even 19 to 7 instead of just taking a knee. Guess he didn’t want to be accused of running up the score like Clemson..

  4. Just stack everyone in the box and dare Book to beat you with his arm. It’s laughable. Could you imagine how good the running game would be if we had any kind of passing attack.

    Hopefully we get a string of Covid-positives Before the Clemson game, otherwise they’re absolutely going to beat the sh*t out of the Irish.

  5. Sure we all want ND to win big. But I would take the win any day, even if it is only by one point. A win is still a win!!!!!! I really wish that people would stop talking about the Clemson game and just worry about the next opponent on ND’s schedule. Go Irish BEAT Pitt!!!!!!!!!

      • I agree with you that it was an ugly win. However, it is hell of a lot better than a loss!!!!!! As you already know John, all wins can’t be pretty. GO IRISH BEAT Pitt!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Book is a gritty, persevering, leader. Having said that, he’s not a passer.

    To compete W/ Clemson, ND needs a passer. If there’s one on the bench, bring him on now.

    Otherwise, Irish lose by 3TD’s + to Clemson. Embarrassing.

    Struggle against Pitt and GA tech. Probably will still be 6-0 before blowout vs Clemson

    • Has any QB gotten better under BK? For some reason, Book cannot or will not throw over the middle, so very easy to defend.
      But, most of the blame goes to this over-hyped OL that hasn’t been able to handle a pass rush for 2 years. Pocket? What pocket?
      Then, there’s BK’s game management. We’ve seen enough to know that’ll never get any better either.

  7. Very weird game, few possessions, questionable play calling and decision making. I was not surprised by this game and in 2020 I don t even stress when it’s goes this way, I laugh. Well, better than tears. Let’s see the Pitt game. NC is getting pasted. Can we we beat Clemson? Yeah right, but in 2020, who freaking knows

  8. Rees play calling was underwhelming to say the least but ND’s limitations rest on the mediocre throwing arm of Book. I’ve said it a million times, he’s a solid QB who can manage a game but can’t win you the big one. Kelly gets the blame for his lack of recruiting and development of his QB’s but no coach is winning a title with Ian Book.

    • Martin Medvetz says:

      Couldn’t agree more. See my comments in reply to Jake in Cali above. Bears repeating, ND will regret letting Phil Jurkovec get away.

  9. We are living on borrowed time. We have an average QB and no passing game.Pitt, BC, UNC., and assuredly Clemson can beat us.The home game winning streak is nice, but in the end, who would not trade it for a national championship-which looks elusive as ever. Failure to recruit, and develop a difference maker at QB, will always be Kelly’s Achilles heel.

  10. Irish in the South says:

    Book is missing receivers like Claypool and last year’s tight ends. Clemson has 3 or 4 Claypools. Our receivers need to be developed and you will see Book much improved.

  11. ND has a third year quarterback and allegedly one of the best offensive lines in college football and can only muster 12 points at home against a defense that until yesterday was statistically one of the worst in the nation. Let that sink in. The super fans will retort that you can’t win them all by a big margin but Clemson, Alabama, OSU and other top teams have no trouble taking lesser teams out behind the woodshed on their home turf.

    Until ND scored a touchdown in the 3rd quarter they had gone 3.5 quarters without scoring a TD. As it is they’ve only scored one touchdown in the last 4.5 quarters of play which is pathetic. The red zone offense has taken several steps back since Chip Long was let go. The Lousville D coordinator seemed to be one step ahead of Tommy Rees all day.

    The recurring problem under Brian Kelly has been playing down to the competition and it’s rearing its ugly head again. I guess none of this would matter if Clemson won 12-7 or rather 73-68 but they won 73-7 against a team that had beat Louisville by 19 points.

  12. To call this game frustrating would be the understatement of the year. The Irish should have scored two touchdowns early and been ahead 14-0, not 6-0. This likely would have likely led to a blowout victory. The entire complexion of the game changed at that point.

    While the coaching on offense left a lot to be desired, particularly the ill-advised fake field goal at the end of the half that fooled nobody, the principal culprit was Book. He will never be a great QB, we all know that, but he seems to be regressing. He was absolutely terrible, particularly in the first half. He missed numerous open receivers on the two early drives that led to field goals, including a skyrocket that must have been three feet over the head of a wide-open receiver down the middle around the five yard line that would have been a certain touchdown. While the Louisville DBs performed better than expected, Book also failed to identify open receivers and forced throws to well-covered receivers. He was lucky to avoid any interceptions. Maddening to watch. Book’s pass to Austin in the end zone was well placed, but thrown too late, causing the catch to be out of bounds and negating a touchdown.

    And I disagree with those who are critical of the ND receiving group. That is an excellent group including Austin, Lenzy, Tremble, Mayer, Mckinley, Skowronek and Keys. And speaking of Tremble, when was the last pass throw his way? Not an Alabama caliber group, to be sure, but a bunch of excellent division 1 receivers. No excuses there. The only bright light was the defense, which played extremely well and shut down a high-powered Louisville offense.

    Unless there is significant improvement, I do not see how ND can compete with Clemson.

  13. Westfield Domer says:

    While I’m really happy to see the defense playing so well, with every game that goes by, I’m more and more convinced how good Claypool, Kmet and Finke really were and how invaluable they were as playmakers. While Book will never be confused with Tom Brady as a passer, in his career he’s thrown for 60 touchdowns vs. 18 INTs, (which isn’t all that bad), so for so many to say how completely awful he is to me seems a bit extreme. Yes, he needs to be more accurate and his receivers need to help him more than they have by getting separation and catching the ball. It’s time for Austin, McKinley and others to step up because defenses will continue to key big time on the running game.

  14. Your last paragraph just may be the funniest you’ve ever written. How about a “Best of Vannie” column? Back to the game: it obviously sucked.

  15. Here’s another stat to add to your list. There are currently 29 ND players on NFL rosters. Clemson also has 29 former players on NFL rosters. The Tigers have done a little better over the years with their NFL players than the Irish. Coaching?

  16. MURPHY,WILLIAM,F says:

    Let’s see; Clemson beats G Tech 73-7. We beat Louisville 12-7. Clemson’s defense is far superior
    to the Cardinals. Oh boy, hate to say it, but a repeat or worse of the 2018 playoff game seems inevitable.
    Let’s just hope we can get past Pitt and G Tech, then we can worry about this one a little further.
    Must say that Dabo Swinney country boy stuff can really get to you. Not as bad as listening to
    Joh Robinson, but it’s still irritating.

  17. Clark Lea is a great coordinator, and he has the results at ND to show for it. Rees is not a quality hire like Lea was/is. Maybe a few years down the road it’s a different case. Perhaps start there- shoulda/woulda/coulda got somebody really good.