The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame (7-3) will try to avoid a three-game losing streak when they host the Louisville Cardinals (7-3, 24th ranked) tomorrow afternoon. After last week’s debacle, Notre Dame’s hopes of playing in a prestigious bowl game have most likely evaporated, thus leaving the Irish to play for pride the rest of the season. After two disappointing defeats and losses in three of their last four games, Notre Dame should not need any extra motivation to get a much needed victory, but tomorrow is Senior Day. As is the case every year, the Irish will want to do whatever it takes to get a win and send the seniors off on a positive note.
Notre Dame’s offense will get their toughest test since facing Stanford because the Louisville Cardinals’ defense ranks 10th in the country in scoring defense at 17.8 points per game and 5th in total defense by allowing just 285.7 yards per contest. As well as Louisville has played defensively, they have not played many explosive offenses and they struggled to slow down Florida State when they surrendered 42 points. Given that, I believe the Irish can have success as they have all season. Of course, the biggest problem this season has been the turnovers and Louisville’s defense has thrived on creating takeaways. The Cardinals are tied for 11th in the country with 25 takeaways this season, so Everett Golson and company must protect the ball much better than they have the previous weeks. In addition to the turnovers, Louisville’s defense is tied for 9th in the nation with 33 team sacks, so protecting Golson could be an issue. To counter this, I expect to see plenty of wide receiver screens and short passes, so the offensive line must make solid initial contact to avoid a repeat performance from the Arizona State game. I’m sure Brian Kelly will attempt to establish a running game, but that could be difficult against the 2nd ranked rush defense that is allowing a measly 87.4 yards per game. Notre Dame’s success in the “run game” might have to come from less conventional plays such as read-options, jet-sweeps, draws, and the aforementioned screen passes that will essentially serve as a running play. Notre Dame will not be able to line up, and run it straight at this Cardinals’ defense, so Kelly will have to be creative in order to maintain solid drives throughout the game. Based on the expected game plan, I am predicting Will Fuller and Corey Robinson to put up some high reception and nice yardage totals to lead the Irish offensive attack.
To put it lightly, Notre Dame’s defense is an absolute mess right now. However, they have an opportunity to turn it around against a Louisville offense that will be led by a true freshman quarterback. Reggie Bonnafon has taken over the reins after starting quarterback Will Gardner fell to a season-ending injury. Bonnafon has attempted 92 passes while appearing in seven games, so he does have some experience under his belt. The most notable difference between Gardner and Bonnafon is his ability to run, so the Irish defense could be challenged considering their troubles against some mobile quarterbacks this season. Bonnafon rushed for 76 yards on 13 carries last week, so it will be important for the Irish front-seven to stay disciplined and keep containment. In addition to Bonnafon, the Irish will have to deal with a pair of 400-plus-yard rushers in Brandon Radcliff (445 yards) and Michael Dyer (414 yards). For Notre Dame to have success on defense, they must bottle up Radcliff and Dyer on first and second down to force obvious passing situations. If that occurs, then defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder can dial up some blitzes and different coverage schemes to try to confuse the young quarterback. As much as Notre Dame’s offense has struggled to hold onto the football, the Irish defense has been opportunistic and I look for them to create a few turnovers tomorrow.
Both teams will likely turn the football over multiple times, but I think the Irish will come out with something to prove and make enough plays to win the game.
Prediction: Notre Dame 31, Louisville 27