No. 4 Notre Dame overcame Louisville 12-7 on Saturday, extending its home winning streak to 22 games and its current win streak to a nation's best 10 straight. While that's all great for Notre Dame, it's hard to imagine anybody feels great about the performance overall -- or, at least you'd think so. But Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly felt differently when interviewed on the field immediately after the win.
"I know it's 12-7, and it's not going to go down as an instant classic, but boy, we did a lot of really good things today," said Kelly. "We scored goals instead of touchdowns. That's probably the takeaway here -- that we got to get better in the red zone."
The Irish offense managed only 338 yards on the day as quarterback Ian Book was off-and-on. While Book scored a spectacular touchdown in the third quarter that gave the Irish the 12-7 lead that proved to be the difference, he only completed 11 of his 19 passes for 106 yards. Running back Kyren Williams was the star of the day for the Irish offense, rushing for 127 yards on 25 carries.
The Irish are now 4-0 on the season and 3-0 in the ACC, leaving them tied atop the ACC standings. The loss drops Louisville to 1-4 on the season and 0-4 in ACC play, effectively eliminating the Cardinals from any slight glimmer of hope they had about competing for a conference title this season.
Here are the three biggest takeaways from the Notre Dame win in South Bend on Saturday.
1. Notre Dame isn't among the four best teams
I've now seen each of the four games the Irish have played this season, and while they're ranked No. 4 in the country and will likely be in the top four again next week, there are only two reasons that's the case. One is the Irish started the year at No. 10, and three of the teams ahead of them lost at least once. The other reason is that another three teams that were ahead of them haven't started playing yet.
I'm not saying the Irish are bad. They're a top-10 team and would be in the top 10 in any normal season after this start. But if this is truly one of the four best teams in the country, then we're in a lot of trouble. Notre Dame's four wins have now come against teams that are a combined 4-15 on the season as I write this. Only one of those wins, a 52-0 pasting of South Florida, has seen a dominant effort from the Irish. Sure, they were never in serious trouble last week against Florida State, but the Seminoles looked better against Notre Dame than they did in losses to Georgia Tech and Miami.
Right now, this is a team playing well enough to reach the ACC Championship Game, but it's not near the level it needs to be if it wants to have a realistic chance of beating Clemson.
2. The Irish need to solve their red-zone woes
Brian Kelly brought up the team's problems in the red zone against Louisville, and he's right -- it is a problem. A problem that wasn't limited to today's action. The Irish came into Saturday's game having scored a touchdown only 68.8% of their red-zone possessions. That ranked 33rd nationally, and that rate has dropped to 60% after the Irish managed only one touchdown on four red-zone possessions today.
You can get away with having to settle for a field goal numerous times in the red zone against teams like Louisville, but it's not going to fly against good teams. As for what the problem is, I'm not sure it can be pinpointed to just one thing. Today it seemed that the Irish just got a little pass-happy inside the 20. Louisville was content to drop eight guys in coverage on those plays and force Book to find an open target. Book then held onto the ball for too long before either being sacked or just missing a touchdown chance in the back corner of the end zone. Finally, on the fourth possession, Book took advantage of Louisville dropping so many defenders and took off on his own for a touchdown.
In the future, if I'm the Irish, I might consider running the ball a bit more often inside the 20.
3. Disappointing season for Louisville
There is no bouncing back from this point. This is a Louisville team that went 2-10 in 2018 and fired Bobby Petrino. Then, in Scott Satterfield's first season in charge, the turnaround was immediate. The Cardinals were a fun, exciting team that finished 8-5 and came into 2020 as a team some thought might make some noise in the ACC. The only noise they've made is a thud as they're now 0-4 in the conference after losses to Miami, Pitt, Georgia Tech and now Notre Dame.
Ironically, Saturday it was the offense that was the problem after the defense had been a sore spot all season. The defense did a fantastic job, but the offense couldn't string enough good plays together outside of its first drive in the third quarter. The good news for the Cardinals is that there are a couple of winnable games remaining on the schedule, but I'm not sure how winnable they are considering how poorly this team has looked. This might be a team that finds itself going 2-8 or 3-7 in the ACC this year.
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FINAL: Notre Dame 12, Louisville 7. That was a game that was played as scheduled.
The Irish are kneeling?
Louisville burns its final timeout. There's 1:25 left and ND has a 2nd and 8 at the UL 9.
Kyren Williams picks up 24 yards for another 1st down and that might be it.
And ND converts another 3rd down. Under 3 minutes left. Louisville will need to start using timeouts.
1st down Irish. Book to McKinley and the clock keeps moving.
Huge 3rd down here. Louisville needs a stop. The clock is ticking.
That was a long drive that went nowhere for Louisville. Somehow took 3 minutes off the clock while moving 6 yards.
Louisville was about to go 3-and-out but a pass interference on ND will extend the drive. You can't hold the receiver's hand at any time, let alone during a pandemic.
It looks like Malik Cunningham is having arm cramps? You don't see that often.
Evan Conley now in at QB for Louisville.
Cunningham now down and being attended to.
Malik Cunningham limping.
Another 3rd down conversion for Louisville. My unofficial count puts it at like 104 straight.
Louisville starts at its 25.