Players to watch: Notre Dame vs. Louisville

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

A look at a few players to watch in Saturday’s game (2:30 p.m. EDT) between No. 4 Notre Dame (3-0) and Louisville (1-3).


Javon McKinley had the best game of his five-year career against Florida State last week, catching five passes for 107 yards. Will that performance be an outlier or the start of a sustained breakout campaign? Head coach Brian Kelly seemed confident the latter will come true, saying after the game that McKinley “can’t be defended.” The graduate senior could make Kelly look smart when facing a favorable matchup this Saturday against the No. 57 pass-efficiency defense among 76 eligible teams. The Irish will need McKinley to produce as top wide receiver Kevin Austin Jr. continues to get acclimated into this offense.


The Irish are among 12 teams tied for last in interceptions this season with one. Safety Kyle Hamilton, who led Notre Dame with four picks last season, seems due to wreak havoc. Louisville ranks No. 73 in turnover margin, losing six fumbles and five interceptions across four games. With a ball-hawking safety in Hamilton and hard-hitting rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame seems bound to generate multiple turnovers. The Cardinals are expected to be playing from behind, so look for Hamilton to take advantage of a predictably pass-heavy offense in the second half.


In his first game as a starter in the 2019 season opener, running back Javian Hawkins carved Notre Dame’s defense for 122 rushing yards on 19 carries. Hawkins finished his redshirt freshman season No. 7 in rushing yards with 1,525 and earned second-team all-ACC honors. He’s up to 497 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 85 attempts this season. Louisville’s offense also will feature plenty of speedy wide receiver Tutu Atwell. Considering how the Irish struggled against the run at times last week, Hawkins should be the offensive player to watch and seems poised for another strong performance.


Behind Arkansas State linebacker Justin Rice, Dorian Etheridge comes in at No. 2 nationally in tackles for a loss with 7.5 this season. The senior leads the Cardinals with 27 tackles and has recorded two sacks, one quarterback hurry and a fumble recovery as an inside linebacker in their 3-4 scheme. Notre Dame looks dominant running the football, ranking No. 5 in rushing offense (270.7 yards per game) and No. 4 in yards per carry (6.29). Etheridge will look to disrupt the Irish ground game and force them into third-and-long situations.

Notre Dame wide receiver Javon McKinley (88) makes a catch in front of Bowling Green’s JaJuan Hudson (28) on Oct. 5, 2019. As part of Notre Dame’s COVID-19 safety protocols, photojournalists were not allowed inside Notre Dame Stadium Saturday.
Louisville’s Javian Hawkins (10) with the ball against Kentucky, Nov. 30, 2019, in Lexington, Ky.

Who: No. 4 Notre Dame (3-0) vs. Louisville (1-3)

Kickoff: Saturday, 2:30 p.m. EDT

Where: Notre Dame Stadium


Radio: WSBT (AM 960, FM 96.1), WNSN-FM (101.5)

Line: Notre Dame by 16 1/2