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Take 2: Louisville vs. Notre Dame

11/18/2014

Louisville's first go-round in ACC play is over, but the Cardinals do get to experience one last perk of ACC life this Saturday when they travel to Notre Dame. Andrea Adelson and Matt Fortuna weigh in with their thoughts on why each team can win.

Adelson says Louisville: Louisville is a few plays away from a few more victories this season, so it's easy to see why the Cards have a chance to go into Notre Dame Stadium and win Saturday.

For starters, the Irish aren't an immovable force. Not only have they dropped two straight, they nearly lost to Navy and North Carolina. Louisville is better than both of those teams, and better than Northwestern, too, the team that just beat Notre Dame in overtime.

But rather than simply state that Notre Dame is down, there are a few matchups that point to Louisville as well. Even though the Cards are starting freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon, he has plenty of game experience and will not be rattled. The best news for him? Having running back Michael Dyer and receiver DeVante Parker on his side.

Notre Dame has had some issues stopping the run this season and has allowed a 100-yard rusher in four of its last five games. Dyer ran for more than 100 yards in his first two games back from injury and gave the Florida State defense fits, scoring three touchdowns in a game the Cards lost in the fourth quarter.

Parker, meanwhile, has been virtually unstoppable in his three games since returning from a broken foot. He has been as dynamic as anticipated, with 25 catches for 490 yards -- an average of 19.6 yards per catch. Arizona State has a similar running back-receiver threat in D.J. Foster and Jaelen Strong, and the Sun Devils beat the Irish thanks to them -- and, maybe more importantly, an opportunistic, aggressive defense.

Do you know what Louisville has? An opportunistic, aggressive defense. Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson had five turnovers in the Arizona State game. In his last seven games, he has 19 total turnovers. That's not really the way to succeed against any team, let alone one that has forced 25 turnovers on the season, ranking No. 10 in the nation.

Of those turnovers gained by Louisville, safety Gerod Holliman has 13 interceptions -- just one away from tying the NCAA single-season mark. Golson has thrown 12 interceptions, so there is a pretty good chance Holliman will tie the record Saturday. As for the Louisville defense as a whole, coordinator Todd Grantham is not shy about blitzing and getting after the quarterback.

Louisville has 33 sacks this season. Going back to that Arizona State-Notre Dame game once again, the Sun Devils racked up seven sacks. Six of them came off the blitz, along with all five turnovers.

Here is one more stat that favors the Cardinals. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Louisville is allowing the lowest opponent Total QBR (16.3) in FBS; Golson is responsible for 73 percent of Notre Dame’s yards this season, the highest percentage of any Power 5 quarterback.

The plan for Louisville to win seems simple enough: get the ball into the hands of Dyer and Parker and have the defense put heavy pressure on Golson.

Fortuna says Notre Dame: If anyone can relate to the "few plays away from a few more victories" sentiment, it is Notre Dame. The Irish were a play away from dealing Florida State its first loss in two seasons and could have closed out Northwestern on any number of different instances this past Saturday. But that is neither here nor there.

For all of Notre Dame's recent troubles, this is still a dynamic offense, one that averages better than 35 points per game. Its miscues have been self-inflicted. Yes, Golson has been responsible for seven turnovers in his last two games -- and this may sound like faint praise here -- but two of the Irish's four turnovers against Northwestern came on fumbles from the unlikeliest sources at the worst possible time. How often does a receiver (Chris Brown) fumble into the end zone with a chance to put the game away in the fourth quarter? How often does a senior captain (Cam McDaniel) fumble while trying to run out the clock?

And to take that one step further, how simple do the Irish's problems look right now if they have a functional holder in front of senior kicker Kyle Brindza, a problem that has come out of nowhere and complicated so much more for this team?

Of course, no one wants to hear excuses or what-ifs. But as Irish coach Brian Kelly said this week, Notre Dame at least knows what its problems are. It has a young defense that has been put in unfavorable positions time and time again by an offense that keeps tripping over itself. And the offense would have such an easier time keeping defenses off balance if it could establish a reliable running game, something FSU showed is entirely possible against this Louisville defense (173 yards, three TDs). It's not like the Cardinals' offense has been running defenses off the field. Yes, it looks different with the dynamic Parker split wide once again, and yes, Bonnafon may have plenty of experience, but a freshman quarterback walking into Notre Dame Stadium and pulling out a Senior Day win is no small task. The Louisville offense is still putting up less than 400 yards per game, a number that it will have a hard time topping in what should be another brutal day weather-wise in South Bend.

Joe Schmidt isn't walking through that door for Notre Dame's defense. Other injured guys might not, either. Still, we have seen this unit survive uneven performances before when its offense is clicking, most notably in a 50-43 win over UNC last month.

This game is, in many ways, a moment of truth for the Irish. Will they completely collapse after dropping two in a row and three of their last four? Or will they look like the team that was in the College Football Playoff hunt as recently as two weeks ago? The fact that they are capable of looking like the latter is what should scare Louisville -- along with the fact that Golson was in the Heisman mix during that hot start. It should be an emotionally charged afternoon for a group of seniors who helped usher in the return of this program. And Notre Dame at its best this season has looked better than Louisville at its best. The Irish just need to get out of their own way.