Louisville kicks off their 2019 season with a Notre Dame team that went undefeated in the regular season last year and made the playoff. The Fighting Irish offense comes into the season with some key players returning as well as some big losses that will need to be replaced. Head coach Brian Kelly and offensive coordinator Chip Long have done a great job over the last few years to create a balanced attack that can beat you in multiple ways. Long was mentioned as a candidate for some head coaching jobs this offseason but I think that he will take the next year or two to build his profile.
The Irish get their star quarterback back this year in Ian Book. Book finished the regular season last year with a completion percentage over 70%. Clemson drug that down to 68% because that’s what Clemson does but Book had a very good season overall. He didn’t start the full season but after taking over as the starter Book dominated the middle of the schedule throwing 14 touchdowns in 6 games. I’m most impressed by the way he can get the ball off quickly and accurately. I do wonder how strong his arm, though. It didn’t seem like Long pushed the ball down the field as much as you’d expect last year with the size they had at receiver.
Louisville will have to find a way to contain Book’s arm while also handling his ability to run. Book isn’t a dynamic runner but he’s very slippery and elusive in the pocket. My first thoughts when I watched a few ND games from last year is that he seems to fit the mold of what Scott Satterfield wants in a quarterback. He’s spoken about wanting a guy that “can get out of trouble” and Book is the perfect example of that. It might actually be fair to compare Book to Stefan Lefors as he’s not the fastest guy on the field but he always seems to find a way to get into space to gain yardage as a runner.
The running back position will be interesting to watch as the Irish running game wasn’t all that great last year until Dexter Williams finished serving a preseason suspension. Jafar Armstrong and Tony Jones Jr. split carries as the backups last year but Armstrong seems to be the guy set to be the starter this year. They might be able to combine to make a thunder and lightning type of situation as Armstrong is a converted wide receiver who can make people miss in the open field and has great speed while Jones is a bigger body who can shed tacklers. Armstrong is a guy that can cause some concern for Louisville because the defense really struggled with tackling last year and he can cut on a dime and get into the second and third level easily. Kyren Williams is also a back that has been mentioned as a possibility to get carries as a freshman.
Notre Dame lost a big time player in Miles Boykin to the NFL but they do return Chase Claypool as an outside receiver and he’s been very impressive from what I’ve seen. Claypool is a massive receiver at 6-4/229 and ND commentators claim that he’s one of the fastest players on the team. I could see him causing some issues for Louisville if Chip Long decides to push the ball down the field more this year. Even if Book doesn’t have a great arm, he does have a big receiver who can go up and get the ball. The Irish use Claypool in different ways but he will be relied on to be THE guy this year without Boykin on the other side to take some attention away.
The injury bug has really hurt the pass catching group for ND as Michael Young and Cole Kmet have both been sidelined with broken collarbones. Young was a projected starter outside to replace Boykin and now it sounds like they will move Chris Finke outside from the slot position. Finke is a pretty prototypical slot guy who does well to find open windows and understands down and distance well so I think moving him outside is a pretty substantial development. Kevin Austin is rumored to be suspended to start the season but if he’s out there he would likely be the guy to move in for Young to keep things stable as well as to stave off a big drop off.
With Kmet out, the overall depth at tight end but they do get to turn to Brock Wright to take over the starting spot. Wright was the second ranked tight end in the country in the 2017 class which was one spot ahead of Kmet. So, the Irish have done pretty well at bringing in talent at the tight end spot. Wright didn’t make many plays last year as the third stringer but he did play in twelve games last year and has been around for a few years. The tight end position combined for over 50 catches last year so not having Kmet available could force them to adjust their game plan due to not having a lot of experienced options in the passing game.
Notre Dame has become a very good school when it comes to offensive line play as they put a handful of guys in the NFL over the last few years and a few of them have become star players. Personally, I think that they have done a really good job of being ahead of the curve when it comes to the size of their line. The trend with linemen seems to be more about being leaner and longer as opposed to carrying a bunch of weight. There was a great stat out of the Senior Bowl last year that showed that only two of the linemen that were invited came to college at 300+ pounds. The rest, including Garrett Bradburry, were much closer to 275. The Irish have a quicker and faster group of guys than some other teams and all of their guys have great length.
Tommy Kraemer is the last five star that ND signed and he is one of the four returning starters for ND. The one spot that will be changing is the center spot and we all know how important that position is. Colin Grunhard was the second string center last year but Jarrett Patterson has been listed as the potential starter by some publications this summer. Patterson is a true sophomore that played left tackle last year so it’s definitely a position to keep an eye on in the first game. The line saw a substantial drop off last year with a new position coach but they should be in a better position this year with some experience returning.