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Friday, March 1, 2024
The Observer

Keys to victory: Notre Dame vs. Louisville

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The Irish defense makes a tackle during Notre Dame's 42-3 win over Navy at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland, on Aug. 26.

It’s hard to believe that Notre Dame football is already halfway through the season, but at 5-1, it only gets harder from here. It’s easy to look ahead to No. 9 USC next week and the eventual road trip to Clemson, but first, the No. 25 Louisville Cardinals.

Louisville is in their first season under head coach Jeff Brohm, a former Cardinals starting quarterback. His hiring has seen the Cardinals get off to a 5-0 start, albeit against underwhelming competition. Their best win of the year came last week in a gritty 13-10 victory over NC State, a team Notre Dame blew out 45-24. This was all enough to see Louisville rise into the final slot in this week’s AP Poll ahead of their huge matchup against the Irish.

Limit penalties

Penalties were a large part of the story during Notre Dame’s last-second 21-14 win over Duke. Twelve penalties, including nine before the snap, were the most by an Irish team since 2019. In Monday’s press conference, Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman attributed the penalties to communication issues caused by the raucous road environment. Last week’s game saw Duke’s largest home crowd since 1989.

This week will likely bring more of the same. Louisville announced that the Notre Dame game was a sellout last week, and a primetime matchup always brings more energy in the stands. It’s also worth mentioning that Notre Dame’s last visit to Louisville in 2019 set the stadium’s attendance record with 58,187. Saturday’s game will likely match or exceed that total.

To win this game, Notre Dame will have to figure out how to communicate in a loud, hostile road environment. It would be very difficult to overcome so many penalties again, and one can be sure that Freeman and the staff are hoping the number of flags will be nearly zero in Louisville.

Disruptive defensive line play

This point is two-fold. On one hand, the Irish defensive line needs to play well and limit the opportunities for Louisville’s standout running back Jawhar Jordan. The junior led the Cardinals a year ago, and his 2023 campaign is off to a flying start. Through five games, Jordan is 13th in the country with 510 yards on the ground. He is averaging 7.7 yards per carry and has six rushing touchdowns.

Notre Dame’s defensive line will have to find a way to limit Jordan’s impact. The likeliest path is through interior disruption. If Rylie Mills and last week’s standout Howard Cross III can impact the run game by plugging the lanes inside, that will go a long way toward containing Jordan and the Cardinals’ potent rushing attack.

A good game from the defensive line will also mean more pressure on Jack Plummer. Notre Dame is facing Louisville’s quarterback for the third consecutive season and with a third different school. Plummer has been unspectacular in his two previous appearances against the Irish. He has compiled a 56.2% completion percentage and just two touchdowns. Even so, he was at the helm of a Cal team that nearly beat Notre Dame last season.

Notre Dame’s defensive line needs to get pressure on Plummer and force him to make mistakes. Unfortunately for Louisville fans, he has thrown six interceptions in just five games. Now he has to deal with one of the best secondaries in the country. If Notre Dame can take the ball away from Plummer, they will be well on their way to another road win over a ranked opponent.

Find an offensive groove

After four straight games with more than 40 points, it seemed like this offense might be one of the best in recent memory for Notre Dame. However, that momentum was halted by two difficult games against ranked opponents. Ohio State held Notre Dame to just 14 points. Duke allowed just 21 in a loss, with the only two Irish touchdowns coming on their first and last offensive possessions.

It is imperative for Notre Dame’s offense to get back on track this weekend against Louisville. This Cardinals defense has given up some big scoring outputs this year. Two subpar offenses in Georgia Tech and Boston College scored 34 and 28 points against them, respectively.

The returns of two of the Irish’s biggest outside weapons in wide receivers Jayden Thomas and Jaden Greathouse will be big. Without them, Notre Dame’s wide receivers struggled against a staunch Duke secondary. Their return will hopefully bring back some of the explosive plays that characterized the Irish offense early this year.

If Sam Hartman and the offense can put together a consistent performance, they will give Notre Dame a great chance to pick up a victory against the Cardinals this week. Any offensive momentum they can build will also come in handy during what will likely be a high-scoring affair against USC next week.

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