LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (7-3, 5-3) AT NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH (7-3)
Game Time: 3:30 p.m.
Location: Notre Dame Stadium: South Bend, Ind.
Announcers: Dan Hicks (Play-By-Play), Mike Mayock (Analyst), Doug Flutie (Analyst) and Kathryn Tappen (Reporter)
Favorite: Notre Dame by 3
All-Time Series: First meeting
About Notre Dame:
Every offense depends on their quarterback to do one thing over everything else: protect the football. You can't consistently win games with a quarterback that doesn't value the football and Notre Dame is learning that the hard way. Everett Golson flat out doesn't value the football. There are quarterbacks that throw costly interceptions or have a tendency to fumble when being sacked. Golson makes it a point to try to make plays when the smart play would be to take the sack and protect the ball. Golson tries to make the spectacular play while in the grasp and it has bitten him a few times this year. Golson also has a tendency to stare down receivers while waiting on them to make their cut instead of looking off coverage and trusting his receivers. Golson is an NFL prospect so he's not bad by any stretch, but it is really easy to see his flaws. He has a big time arm and he can get the ball where it needs to go in a hurry. He also does a great job of extending plays with his mobility. He sidesteps rushers well and he can deliver a really good ball on the run. That's all aside from the fact that he can take off and hit the corner on read option and designed running plays. If the Golson that makes poor decisions shows up this weekend, it could be really hard for this offense to score points.
Nortre Dame has always been able to recruit nationally, but Brian Kelly's ability to get top players out of Florida has been a really big plus for his program. Tarean Folston is one of those big time prospects that he's gotten in the last few years. Folston is a smaller back that does a great job of letting his blocks develop and shooting through the holes they open. He's more quick than fast, but if he gets a straight line, he can absolutely take off. Folston has been the starter for the second half of the season and he has really been a bright spot for the offense. If Golson can limit his turnovers the Irish will have a good chance to use the same template that FSU did. Get the ground game going and try to wear out the Louisville defense. As good as Folston has been of late, he hasn't been able to really gas a defense because they have been playing from behind.
Notre Dame's wide receivers are one of the most underrated group of players on Louisville's schedule. They don't make a lot of big time plays, but they have situational attributes that really allow this offense to put together some really nice drives. William Fuller is the number one target for Golson and he already has 13 touchdowns on the season. Fuller can do just about anything you need from a receiver, but his speed is what is really utilized in this offense. Corey Robinson is a red zone and third down receiver for the Irish. At 6-4, he can easily out-jump guys when needed and he can also uses his size to wall off defenders when needed. He had a really big game against FSU's stellar secondary earlier this year. What Notre Dame has lacked from this group is the consistent big play threat. C.J. Prosise has made some plays but with some of the talent that they have recruited over the last few years I'm sure they expected more. Louisville has done a great job of limiting big plays this year. The secondary can't fall victim to Golson's big arm if he breaks contain.
The Irish offensive line had been having a solid season up until a few weeks ago. Arizona State got to Golson seven times and held the running game to 41 rushing yards in Tempe. As well as the running game has been lately, the pass protection has struggled just as much. Teams are bringing more pressure on Golson because of his awful ball control issues and the line has been exposed a bit. Edge rushers have had a lot of success getting upfield and forcing Golson to step up into pressure. That doesn't bode well against a defensive front led by Sheldon Rankins, James Burgess, and Keith Kelsey. Throw in the fact that B.J. DuBose and DeAngelo Brown led the team in tackles last week and you have an obvious potential issue for this line.
KEY PLAYERS: QB Everett Golson, RB Tarean Folston, WR William Fuller, LG Nick Martin
The Notre Dame defense is giving up 42 points a game over their last five outings. I could pretty much stop there and be done with it. The Irish defense has been unbelievably bad in the second half of the season and there's a very good chance that they were not very good in the first half of the season, also. They didn't play a good offense until they got to UNC and they promptly gave up 43 points. For all of the strong recruiting classes they've brought in since Kelly has arrived, the defense doesn't have a lot of playmakers. The defensive line will be without its top player in Sheldon Day so it will need Jarron Jonesto play an outstanding game. The line is also down Jone's backup in Daniel Cage, so it will have to get off the field or risk being gassed late in the game. The Irish haven't gotten anything that would resemble a pass rush from the front four and with guys missing this week I wouldn't expect that to change.
I've tried to make it a point to make note of the types of players that we all looked forward to seeing on the field with the step up in competition. Jaylon Smith is definitely one of those guys. Smith was the second ranked prospect in the country coming out of high school two years ago and he hasn't disappointed at all. Smith is a sideline-to-sideline linebacker and he runs like a safety. A very fast safety. Smith has pass rushing ability that was showcased in high school, but he hasn't done much blitzing for the Irish. He's mostly used in zone coverage and man coverage in Brian VanGorder's NFL-styled defense. Smith can do anything you need from a linebacker and he will definitely be someone that I'm sure Petrino has schemed around.
Smith is joined at linebacker by two players that don't have a ton of experience. Nyles Morgan was a pretty big recruit coming in this season, but I don't think the coaches expected him to be starting at this point. Injuries have led to that and he is now being asked to man the middle linebacker spot. The SAM linebacker spot is manned by James Onwualu, who was a wide receiver this time last year. Neither is what you want if you're the Irish and with the struggles the defense has had of late, it's hard not to look at some of the guys that weren't playing early in the season as the possible reason for those struggles.
The secondary for Boston College was where their issues were really magnified and you could probably say the same thing for the Irish. The lack of pass rush has forced defenders to stay in coverage for way too long and injuries and suspensions have killed the unit. VanGorder's system is not very good in my opinion. It's made worse by the fact that he's asking guys to do things that they just can't do. In this scheme the safeties have to be able to match up in man coverage and Notre Dame doesn't have guys that can consistently do that. VanGorder tried to change up his personnel last week but he didn't see much improvement. Safeties were beaten repeatedly down the seams on double moves. It's a glaring weakness with this defense and a coach like Petrino will do everything he can to exploit it.
Cole Luke and Cody Riggs are serviceable cornerbacks but they aren't the type of lockdown guys you need to slow down DeVante Parker. Riggs was a backup for Florida in the Sugar Bowl a few years back so that could possibly help with knowing the opposing personnel a little better. Luke is a solid cover guy that has made a few nice plays this year. With Riggs being pretty undersized, I wouldn't be surprised to see Luke shadow Parker around the field. VanGorder could also go with Devin Butler in situational coverage as he is a tall, long corner. Matthias Farley is they usual nickelback for the Irish but he is really more of a safety. If guys like De La Cruz and Quick (if he plays) can get matched up with Farley and other safeties, it could provide Reggie Bonnafon with some easy throws.
KEY PLAYERS: DT Jarron Jones, OLB Jaylon Smith, CB Cole Luke, S Elijah Shumate, S Max Redfield
Excitement Level: 9.3
Pretty much all of my best U of L fan friends (and Notre Dame fan friends) are in South Bend, and I'm about to watch the Louisville football team run out onto the field inside Notre Dame Stadium to play in a game they could easily win. I mean just writing the headline and then seeing the Louisville and Notre Dame logos next to one another gave me goosebumps. This is pretty great.
Pregame Meal: BBQ, sides, chips, dip, cookies, muffins, alcohol
Like I said, monster group this weekend. Swing by the Joyce Center parking lot for shenanigans and stories of Garrich Sherman hate.
Game Attire: Jeans, pajama pants, two pairs of thermal socks, red cardinal bird shoes, long sleeve U of L shirt under red cardinal fleece under coat under Art Carmody jersey or red U of L rain jacket, new U of L winter hat.
My friends have decided that they want to wear jerseys over their coats because it will both look funny and be a way to still be wearing red. This could mean the return of the Carmody jersey, but if it's raining it's going to be hard to stray from the new rain jacket I just bought. Obviously, this isn't your ordinary game attire situation.
Bold Prediction: Sheldon Rankins gets his third interception of the season
When you're 0-for-10 there's no risk in going ultra bold.
Predicted Star of the Game: L.J. Scott
People forget how good this guy has been when healthy. Petrino has been a fan of not playing a back one week and then giving him a bunch of carries out of nowhere the next. Taking a stab and saying this is the dude the offense rides to victory.
Griffin Uhl Playing Alert Level: Sea Green (still unlikely)
Motivational Opposing Player Tweets:
Not much time to search this week, but a quick perusal shows that this is probably as motivational as it's going to get.
Great opportunity this week #beatlouisville— Will Fuller (@Will_Fuller7) November 18, 2014
--Louisville is 13-3 all-time in the month of November under Bobby Petrino.
--The Fighting Irish enter Saturday's meeting with the Cardinals coming off back-to-back losses for the first time since the 2011-12 season.
--Notre Dame will recognize its 2014 senior class on the field at Notre Dame Stadium prior to the game against Louisville on Saturday. The 2014 class is looking to join the 2013 class in having won each of its four home finales.
--Dating back to last season, Louisville has forced at least one turnover in 13 consecutive games.
--Louisville is 20-1 over the last three seasons when attempting at least 35 rushes in a game. The lone loss came earlier this season at Clemson.
--Notre Dame's defense has recorded at least one interception in each of its last 13 games, the second longest active streak in the Football Bowl Subdivision behind only Ole Miss' 15. The Irish rank 10th in the nation this fall with 15 interceptions.
--U of L safety Gerod Holliman leads the FBS with 13 interceptions. He is one pick away from tying the FBS record of 14, which was set in 1968.
--Louisville has won five consecutive games in the month of November.
--Brian Kelly is aiming to become the first Notre Dame coach to win each of his first five home finales since Terry Brennan (1954-58).
--Notre Dame Sophomore WR Will Fuller is tied for the FBS lead with 13 TD receptions this year.
--Saturday will be the 243rd straight sellout at Notre Dame Stadium. Every Irish home game beginning with the final two home games in 1964 has been a sellout except one - a 1973 Thanksgiving Day game vs. Air Force that was moved for television. Notre Dame has played in front of sellouts in 291 of its last 292 home games.
--The Irish defense has not allowed any 80-plus yard scoring drives this year, while Notre Dame's offense has produced 11.
--Notre Dame owns an all-time record of 881-308-42 (.733), the best winning percentage in college football history
--Louisville will be the 143rd opponent in Notre Dame football history. The Irish own an all-time record of 119 20-3 (.849) when facing an opponent for the first time.
--Louisville will become the 72nd different team to visit Notre Dame Stadium (since its opening in 1930) when the Cardinals face the Irish on Saturday. Notre Dame owns a 58-12-1 mark (.824) in games when the opponent was making its first visit to the Stadium.
--Notre Dame's most prominent monogram winner from Louisville is Paul Hornung. The 1956 Heisman Trophy winner attended Flaglet H.S. in Louisville and went on to a Pro Football Hall of Fame career with the Green Bay Packers. He will be at Saturday's game to assist with the pregame coin toss.
--Brian Kelly is 2-1 all-time versus Louisville.
--Louisville is currently riding a consecutive game scoring streak that spans 183 games dating back to the 2000 season. The streak ranks as the third longest in the ACC behind Virginia Tech (254) and Georgia Tech (221).
--Dating back to 1980, Louisville is 148-16 when scoring 30 or more points in a game. The Cards are also 4-100 all-time when allowing opponents to score 40 or more points.
--"Being here in Louisville, with the Catholic community we have, and Paul Hornung, and all the ties that the city of Louisville has to Notre Dame, I think that's significant. I think we'll have a good crowd up there. I know that everyone was talking all summer long about they've got tickets and on their way up there." --Bobby Petrino
--"It's our seniors Senior Day and we certainly want to play well for them. We're excited about the opportunity to play a very good Louisville team, but more so to get back out and obviously play better football from this past weekend. Just waiting for Saturday."
--"We see every game as the same. Every game is big to us." --Gerod Holliman
--"We definitely need a win." --Notre Dame defensive lineman Isaac Rochell
--"It's pretty obvious we've got to make some plays defensively, slow some people down and take care of the football. Our kicking game has to get back to where it was. I still think we have one of the best kickers in the country who had an off day Saturday. If we get those three areas cleaned up, we can beat anybody." --Notre Dame ciach Brian Kelly
--"It's the reason I chose to come to a place like this: to compete in a conference that is as high-caliber as the ACC. There's never a week that goes by that you don't have a tough opponent in the ACC. It's some of the best players in the country you're playing every week. So it's a great honor and privilege to play in the ACC and it's just a thing that I grew up wishing that I could do." --Reggie Bonnafon
--"We're still going about our normal routine still preparing for a win, but I think a little extra bit knowing it's the seniors last home game, we've been trying to get that stuck in people's minds too." Notre Dame tight end Ben Koyack
--"It means a lot to our proram. We haven't lost a game on Senior Day in four years." --Notre Dame defensive lineman Isaac Rochell
--"Louisville has got great ball skills. If you don't run your routes with precision and throw on time and do those things, they're going to take the ball away from you. And we know that." --Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly
--"We're very confident with Reggie. We were able to play him early in the year, and then he came in and started a couple of games. A couple of games we had good wins in. He came in in the second half last week and I thought executed our offensive very well. Threw the ball accurately and made big plays. And I think he's very confident now. And you can see a difference in how he played the other night and how he played early in the season." --Bobby Petrino
--"I just think God's put me in a situation that he knew I was able to handle. A lot of things have gone on this season. I don't think anybody but him could get me through that. The support from my family and also my coaches has really helped me a lot. They're always positive, trying to keep me upbeat. So I give all my credit to them." --Reggie Bonnafon
--"We're going to find a way to win regardless of whether we have Sheldon Day or Joe Schmidt, KeiVarae Russell, DaVaris Daniels...It doesn't matter. We're going to find a way to beat Louisville." --Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly
Card Chronicle Prediction: Louisville 27, Notre Dame 24 (OT)
Cardinal fans in attendance storm the field. Maybe not, but it's still awesome and we all go somewhere to celebrate together.