Here are five keys for No. 4 Notre Dame (3-0) when it hosts Louisville (1-3) on Saturday (2:30 p.m. EDT on NBC).
Running back Kyren Williams fumbled on his second carry, wide receiver Joe Wilkins Jr. dropped a pass on third down and returner Lawrence Keys III muffed a punt that Florida State recovered. All three of those miscues happened in the first quarter against the Seminoles last week. Notre Dame started slow after a 21-day layoff between games. The Irish should come out better against the Cardinals, especially because of Louisville’s potent offense. They will need to be playing their best football before competition improves in November.
STOP THE RUN
Quarterback Jordan Travis (19 carries for 96 yards and a touchdown) and running back La’Damian Webb (13 carries for 59 yards and a score) gashed Notre Dame’s run defense at times last week. The Irish face a much bigger challenge in the Cardinal rushing attack. Sophomore running back Javian Hawkins ranked No. 7 nationally in rushing (1,525) last season. Quarterback Malik Cunningham also can present problems with his legs. Notre Dame likely will still incorporate a rotation at buck linebacker among junior Shayne Simon and sophomores Marist Liufau and Jack Kiser. Their play will be critical to the Irish stopping Louisville on the ground.
At 5-foot-9, 165 pounds, Louisville’s Tutu Atwell figures to be one of the most explosive wide receivers in the country. He averaged just over 18 yards per catch last season, hauling in 70 passes for 1,276 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2019. This season, Atwell has recorded 25 receptions for 281 yards and four scores. Atwell can be a matchup nightmare at slot receiver. Whether they offer safety help from Kyle Hamilton or use creative coverages, the Irish will have to find ways to keep Atwell’s big-play ability in check.
ANSWER QUESTIONS ON OFFENSE
At No. 4 in yards per carry (6.29) and No. 5 in rushing offense (270.7 yards per game) nationally, Notre Dame has found its offensive identity. But what will happen when the Irish can’t rely on just the ground game? Will quarterback Ian Book have to push the ball down the field, or will a short and intermediate passing game suffice? Was Javon McKinley’s performance against FSU (five catches for 107 yards) an outlier? Notre Dame’s running game will be a strength, but there are plenty of questions for this offense. Louisville’s below-average defense offers a chance for the Irish to receive more clarity.
WIN THE TURNOVER MARGIN
A double-digit favorite tends to not lose at home unless they lose the turnover margin. Notre Dame’s defense has struggled to generate turnovers, tying for the last place nationally with one interception on the season. The Irish seem due to create turnovers against a Cardinal offense that lost three fumbles to Georgia Tech last week. Louisville ranks No. 73 in turnover margin, losing six fumbles and five interceptions this season. Safety Kyle Hamilton, who led Notre Dame with four interceptions in 2019, could wreak havoc if the Cardinals become pass heavy while trailing.