The No. 4 Notre Dame Fighting Irish will look to remain undefeated as they play host to the Louisville Cardinals on Saturday. The Fighting Irish are 17-point favorites at home with an over/under of 64 points.
The Cardinals head to South Bend on the heels of a three-game losing streak that has them 1-3 overall and winless in ACC play. Scott Satterfield’s team had such high hopes for this season, but those have disappeared quickly. To be fair, a home loss to Miami wasn’t the worst thing in the world. But Louisville has since lost 23-20 to Pitt and was shocked by Georgia Tech in a disappointing 46-27 loss, throwing a wrench into their plans for 2020.
Meanwhile, everything has gone according to plan for the Fighting Irish in their first-ever season as part of a conference. Notre Dame has taken care of business against Duke, South Florida, and Florida State to start the year 3-0. Brian Kelly’s team has hopes of playing for an ACC championship and returning to the College Football Playoff. However, with both Clemson and North Carolina on their schedule in November, the Fighting Irish have no margin for error in October.
By the Book
The Irish are in good hands offensively with senior quarterback Ian Book calling the shots. Book has just three touchdown passes and 608 passing yards in three games. In part, that’s because the Irish haven’t needed him to do anything special. It’s also because Notre Dame has a great rushing attack behind Kyren Williams and a veteran offensive line.
However, the Fighting Irish are still lacking consistent receiving threats down the field. Thus far, they haven’t needed that element, but it remains to be seen if Notre Dame has the receivers to create explosive plays in the passing game.
The Notre Dame offense has a great chance to come alive this week against a lackluster Louisville defense. The Cardinals knew there would be some rebuilding on defense this year. But they’ve been worse than expected. After giving up 46 points to a Georgia Tech team playing a true freshman at quarterback, there are huge concerns for the Louisville defense.
There is always the possibility that the Cardinals can turn this game into a track meet. Even in losing efforts, running back Javian Hawkins has averaged over six yards per carry this season. He’s short on size but has electric speed, which is also a fitting description for wide receiver Tutu Atwell.
Quarterback Malik Cunningham is cut from the same cloth. He’s a great runner who can elude pressure and isn’t afraid to take shots down the field. However, accuracy and ball security are concerns for Cunningham, both of which have held back the Louisville offense this year.
Moreover, the Notre Dame defense might be the best defense Louisville has faced this season. The Pitt defense had great success against the Cards a few weeks ago, and the Irish are just as talented on that side of the ball. The caveat is that Notre Dame struggled with Florida State’s mobile quarterback Jordan Travis and could have similar difficulty containing Cunningham.
Keeping It Close
Ultimately, the Louisville defense isn’t good enough for the Cards to pull off the upset. However, without big-play wide receivers, the Fighting Irish will have to string together long scoring drives, which will make it difficult to pull away. Plus, the Cards have the athletes on offense to make this game interesting.
Bet on Notre Dame to win but Louisville to cover the 17-point spread.