Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press
It wasn’t pretty, but Notre Dame remained undefeated Saturday after grinding out a 12-7 win over Louisville in South Bend, Indiana.
By all statistical accounts, the Fighting Irish (4-0) dominated the game, winning the yardage battle (339-224), rushing for 232 yards and leading in time of possession, 35:40 to 23:45. Where they struggled, however, was turning their dominance between the 20s into points.
Notre Dame got into the red zone five times Saturday. The Irish came away with a touchdown, two field goals, knelt down to finish the game after a 14-play drive in the fourth quarter and tried and failed at a fake field-goal attempt toward the end of the first half that seemed like a strange decision considering how strong the defense had been playing.
Notre Dame still won, but for a team ranked No. 4 with national championship aspirations, this was not a convincing performance against the struggling Cardinals (1-4)—especially on a day when their primary competition in the ACC, Clemson, annihilated Georgia Tech 73-7.
Ian Book, Notre Dame: 11-of-19, 107 yards; 12 rushes for 47 yards and a score
Kyren Williams, Notre Dame: 25 carries for 127 yards; one catch for five yards
Malik Cunningham, Louisville: 16-of-19 for 134 yards and a score; seven carries for 48 yards
Javian Hawkins, Louisville: 15 carries for 51 yards; five catches for 46 yards
Is Notre Dame a National Title Contender?
Because they didn’t really look like one on Saturday.
Yes, a win’s a win and all of the other appropriate cliches. But this was not a convincing performance, especially on offense against a Louisville team that gave up 47 points to Miami and 46 points to Georgia Tech in losses.
Notre Dame ran the ball well on Saturday—no surprise there for a team averaging 270.7 rushing yards per game coming into Saturday—and played stingy, physical defense. Book was good enough last season to think that the Irish could get their passing game back on track. But for now, Notre Dame looks to be very tentatively holding onto its top-four ranking.
Louisville’s Defense Can Build on Saturday’s Showing
This was easily the best defensive showing this season for the Cardinals, a unit that came into Saturday giving up 34.3 points per game. They’ll need that defense to keep the positive momentum going, with a manageable schedule the rest of the way (Florida State, Virginia Tech, Virginia, Syracuse, Boston College, Wake Forest).
It isn’t too late for this team to turn around its season and return to bowl consideration.
Granted, the Cardinals need their offense and defense to show up on the same day. The offense was averaging 29 points per game coming into the matchup with Notre Dame, which would have been more than enough to pull off the upset Saturday. Finally, the Cardinals defense played well, only for the offense to find itself stuck in sand.
Still, this Cardinals team is better than its 1-4 record would suggest. At the very least, the defense is trending in the right direction.
Notre Dame faces Pittsburgh next Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC, while Louisville will take on Florida State that same day at noon on WatchESPN.