Instant Observations: No. 4 Notre Dame shakes free from Louisville

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

A quick look following No. 4 Notre Dame's 12-7 victory Saturday over Louisville...

• The Irish are 4-0, 3-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Three weeks from now, that might be all that matters, not the final score.

• That's 22 in a row at home for the Irish. Number 23 would be most impressive.

• Anyone in blue and gold want to make a game-changing/momentum play? Anyone? On either side of the ball?

• Notre Dame needs something good on third down late in the game? Quarterback Ian Book goes to Northwestern graduate transfer wide receiver Ben Skowronek to get the first and keep the clock moving. Probably wasn't one of the top five targets many would've marked, but it worked.

• Best/most consistent offensive play for some drives for Notre Dame? If not for sophomore Kyren Williams, then Book scrambling. The quarterback. Running.

• Coming off a career game against Florida State with five catches for 107 yards, wide receiver Javon McKinley wasn't very good for long stretches against the Cardinals with dropped passes and missed chances. Gotta do it for more than one game. Especially a veteran. To be fair, McKinley delivered a big catch late.

• When Louisville opened the second half with a 13-play, 83-yard touchdown drive to take a 7-6 lead, it marked the third time in four home games that Notre Dame has trailed at one time or another. That's not a good look for a fourth-ranked team.

• Notre Dame had the ball once in the third quarter in a game that felt like it was played with a running clock. Saturday's contest was played in just under three hours. The first three Irish games averaged three hours and 29 minutes.

• Irish wideout Kevin Austin Jr., was on the field for only three plays the previous week against Florida State. On Saturday, he made his first catch since 2018 — for 18 yards — on Notre Dame's third play from scrimmage. Austin's a difference-making receiver, someone who needs to be out in space, or down the field, to give this offense a different dimension.

It was Austin's only catch. On a day begging for game-breakers, a potential one for Notre Dame was kept under wraps.

• Notre Dame dominated much of the first quarter with two trips into the Louisville red zone, with only field goals to show for it. Notre Dame ran 26 of the first 30 offensive plays and outgained the Cards 109 to 13. But no touchdowns? No bueno, especially when top-ranked Clemson was putting the finishing touches on a 73-7 victory over Georgia Tech while the first quarter in South Bend was ending.

• Freshman tight end Michael Mayer made a catch late in the second quarter, then hurdled a Louisville tackler for an Irish first down. NBC's Mike Tirico might have said it best — "This dude's a freak. Wow!" Yep.

• Saturday marked the fourth straight home game for Notre Dame, something that last happened in 1934 when the Irish opened against Texas (L), Purdue (W), Carnegie Tech (W) and Wisconsin (W). And no, there were no coronavirus delays that season, Elmer Layden's first of seven in South Bend.

• The first half (a 6-0 Irish lead) looked like it was played in 1934. It also raced by in a little over an hour of real time. The teams played like they had a plane to catch ... or a virus to avoid.

• So much has been written and said about the Irish offensive line being among the best in the country. That group allowed three sacks combined in the first three games, then allowed three sacks in a first half that saw Notre Dame go 0-for-3 in terms of touchdowns in the red zone. Woof.

• Best unanswered/unresearched question of the first half — when was the last time the Irish played a game where no touchdowns were scored by either team in the opening two periods? Anyone?

• Maybe it was best that Notre Dame's statistical service, which provides all the necessary numbers for the media, crashed at the start of the second quarter. The numbers were that ugly. The stats finally came back late fourth quarter.

• For long stretches and a second straight week, the Irish defense looked more disinterested Saturday than dominant. No wonder coordinator Clark Lea covered his face with his hands, as NBC showed on replay, following a UofL pass completion late in the first half. Louisville didn't have any points to show for its first-half offensive effort, but you could almost feel the Cardinals getting confident. And comfortable.

• Three weeks ago when Notre Dame was scheduled to play its first road game of 2020 at Wake Forest, the Irish were without 39 players for various (coronavirus) reasons. On Saturday, Notre Dame announced only one player was unavailable — wide receiver Lawrence Keys III who was still in concussion protocol following the previous week's game against Florida State.

• Class move by Notre Dame in reserving a spot in the Notre Dame Stadium press box for former South Bend Tribune staff writer Vaughn McClure, who covered the Irish football program for the Tribune's Irish Sports Report from 1999 to 2004.

McClure, 48, died earlier this week in Atlanta, where he covered the NFL's Atlanta Falcons for ESPN's NFL Nation.

A South Bend Tribune archive photo from Notre Dame football coverage. As part of Notre Dame's COVID-19 safety protocols, photojournalists were not allowed inside Notre Dame Stadium Saturday.