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Notre Dame Football: Louisville Cardinals Q&A with Card Chronicle

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Pat Rick talked to CardinalStrong over at Card Chronicle to get a handle on what’s going on with this Louisville team

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Louisville Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

HEY YOU GUUUUYYYYSSSSSSS!!!!!

It’s once again just a couple days until game day, and that means it’s once again time to go behind enemy lines and get all the info we need on this week’s Notre Dame Fighting Irish football opponent.

Of course, that meant reaching out to recurring guest in One Foot Down Q&As, CardinalStrong, who writes for our Louisville sister site at SB Nation, Card Chronicle.

We’ve got another good one here, folks, as CardinalStrong was kind enough to not only answer my football questions about the Louisville Cardinals, but to also answer questions about bird teeth, funny names, and corn mazes, just to name a few other hot topics we covered.

He’s a gentleman and a scholar for that, and I think it’s about time we dove into his responses so we can arm ourselves with knowledge before Saturday’s game.

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1. In what originally looked to be a potentially fun second season for Scott Satterfield, Louisville has instead started 1-3 (0-3 in ACC play). What are your thoughts about the team thus far, and what do they need to do to turn things around?

CardinalStrong: How are things? “Not great, Bob Patrick!” I’ll save the One Foot Down readers my first quarter of the 2020 season diatribe, but I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes version so you can successfully cheat on your (Ian) book report this weekend.

On a high level the explanation is fairly simple. Louisville is turning the ball over much more frequently than they did last year (11 already in 2020, 19 total in 2019) and not forcing as many turnovers, either. The inability to retain possession of the football absolutely cost them the Georgia Tech (-3) game, and one could argue it completely changed the Pittsburgh (-1) and Miami (-3) contests as well. That has to change, immediately. The frustrating part is that many of the loose balls are coming from guys who were sure-handed last season like RB Javian Hawkins, who had ZERO lost balls in 2019.

NCAA Football: Music City Bowl-Mississippi State vs Louisville Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

This week over at Card Chronicle, Mike Rutherford spoke about how it appears that Louisville has lost some of the underdog edge it had last season and I tend to agree with that analysis as well. They got a good amount of preseason hype and some of that may have allowed them to lose the drive they had after a 2-10 season in 2018.

Is that the reason they are putting the ball on the ground, or Malik Cunningham is not as accurate, or the defense still gives up 6,000 yards every week? Of course not, but it ain’t helping! After ND they have a shot for a big recovery and could still win 5 of 6 games without question…they could also finish 1-10.

2. What does Malik Cunningham bring to the table as QB, and how do you see him performing against the Notre Dame defense this weekend?

CardinalStrong: Let me start by saying I haven’t given up on Malik, but we just aren’t seeing the decisiveness, efficiency, and energy we saw in 2019. Was it fair to expect him to be at that level again, finishing behind only Joe Burrow in QBR and having a 22/5 TD/INT ratio? Maybe not, but he’s falling short in a few areas. He has already matched his INT total from 2019 (5) and his completion percentage is down even though 4 of his top 5 wideouts from 2019 are back, and he added a weapon in Braden Smith.

Louisville is relying on Cunningham more this year for sure, as he already has 124 attempts versus the 179 he had all of last year, some of it situational and some due to having to play from behind — but the offense is becoming more reliant on him making throws than last season. The problem isn’t solely on Malik, as some of the challenges stem from an O-line that is getting abused and forcing him into throws or forcing him out of the pocket. I don’t expect this week to be much better in that regard, and I’m hoping Satt can line up some quick hitters to slow the pressure up front and help him build some confidence.

NCAA Football: Louisville at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

3. Who are the key non-QB names to know on the Cardinals offense, and who should Irish fans be most afraid of heading into Saturday’s match-up?

CardinalStrong: The backs (when they hold onto the football) are solid. Javian Hawkins is still Top 10 nationally in yards/g (117) and is averaging a tick over 5.5yd/att. He’s a smaller back but can be a bruiser when he needs to be.

The real threat in my opinion is the cornucopia of wideouts they have in house but have just struggled getting the ball to at times. Tutu Atwell is a problem for everyone, but the jet sweep they ran last season for 20+ yards nearly every touch is being defended better in 2020, and using him as a decoy only does so much with limited time in the pocket. He still has 4 TDs and 280+ yards in 4 games so he’s not getting shut down, teams just aren’t letting him kill them with the long ball or boundary speed.

In addition to Tutu the Cards have another speedster in Braden Smith and a vet in Dez Fitzpatrick who has a ‘play on Sundays’ type frame with normally sure hands and good speed as well. Also, I’d be remiss not to mention Marshon Ford (H-back) who thankfully has become a bigger weapon on offense, especially in the redzone (3 TDs).

4. Where do the Louisville defense’s strengths lie, and what weaknesses do they have that the ND offense could potentially exploit? Do you think the Cardinals defense can slow down the Irish rushing attack?

CardinalStrong: Where do the strengths of Louisville’s defense lie….? Where do the strengths of Louisville’s defense lie….? Where do the strengths of Louisville’s defense lie….? I’m gonna need some more time on that one.

The second part of the question is YES, Notre Dame can in fact exploit Louisville in a number of areas. If they can’t pressure Book he will likely shred them for 300+, just to be blunt. The Cards have some good players in the secondary, but we’ve heard “(insert weekly opponent QB) is putting up incredible numbers today” for years and years now, 2020 included.

NCAA Football: Louisville at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I know everybody knows the faults of the team they cheer for more than the average fan so I’ll try not to dig in too deep on these guys, but they have to get better in the trenches and work on not giving up chunk plays when the rush doesn’t get home. I’m not sure they have the personnel just yet to be a Top 25 defense, but the guys they have should be playing better than what we’ve seen thus far, especially at linebacker where they have lots of experience and two seasons into this scheme. I’d expect ND to avoid CB Kei’Trel Clark — who has played really well this year — when possible, but the middle will likely be open for the run game.

5. FAN QUESTION:

CardinalStrong: I get it. I mean, as Notre Dame fans you expect things to be a certain way. You expect things to be genuine and authentic and therefore a bird with choppers just makes you uneasy at night and drives you mad. Obviously, this guy right here is a pretty photo-realistic image of a man taking on a very natural, completely plausible fighting stance, so your ability to comprehend things outside the realm of realism is flawed. “Our mascot is obviously anatomically 100% accurate, so why isn’t yours?” My apologies. I’m calling my orthodontic ornithologist contact as we speak!

NCAA Football: Music City Bowl-Mississippi State vs Louisville Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

6. FESTIVE QUESTION ALERT: if you had to choose 3 current Louisville players to accompany you in a very difficult corn maze that the four of you are trying to make your way out of as fast as possible, whom would you choose and why?

Bonus: Same question, but it’s a haunted house instead of a corn maze...does your answer change?

CardinalStrong: Maze: Tutu Atwell and Braden Smith…they could run through the entire maze three times and then report back to me the quickest route to exit. I’d also bring along Ean Pfeifer who is like a 7th year senior so he has to have a doctorate by now and could offer up some smarts in case we lose the speedsters.

Haunted House: Monty Montgomery to ‘Goldberg’ the clowns that get handsy, Jared Goldwire (6-6/305) as a human shield, and my man Marshon Ford because he is an incredible lead blocker if things get crazy.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

7. Notre Dame has a junior running back named C’Bo Flemister. What are the best names on the Louisville roster this year, and do any of them measure up to my guy C’Bo?

CardinalStrong: C’Bo is pretty sweet. I do like Tutu Atwell, although it’s a nickname. Greedy Vance at corner is fitting, and I like screaming “YaYa” at the TV when YaYa Diaby makes a play. Nothing too crazy this year. Heck, half of us are still trying to figure out what our QB wants to be called each week.

8. Alright, give me your prediction: who wins, what’s the score, and what’s your reasoning behind the prediction?

CardinalStrong: We did a preseason prognostication back in August and at that time I picked Notre Dame to win a close one, 31-27. Unfortunately with a larger sample size I’d like to increase one of those numbers and decrease another, and not in a good way for myself and fellow Cards fans.

Do I think a Louisville team that will be focused on ball security has the horses to hang with Notre Dame for a half or maybe even three quarters? Absolutely. I just think eventually the Notre Dame defense gets some stops, and the Louisville defense doesn’t. I think the Cards focus on getting back to the basics early and letting Hawkins chew up some ground to hopefully open some passing lanes for Cunningham and hit a deep ball or two as Notre Dame creeps up. I honestly believe we have a one or two score game at half and things separate as depth comes into play.

I hope I’m wrong about all of this, but I’ll go Notre Dame 45, Louisville 24.

Go Cards….with teeth.

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I wanna give a huge shout-out to CardinalStrong for once again answering all my questions with thoughtfulness and excellent humor. Be sure you go check out his work over at Card Chronicle, where they’ve got tons of great news and insights to devour heading into Saturday’s match-up — including his Q&A with me, where I answer his questions about the Irish’s 3-0 start, what makes Ian Book successful, who could be trouble on the ND defense on Saturday, and more!

Additionally, I highly encourage you all to give both Card Chronicle and CardinalStrong a follow on Twitter, as both are terrific followers for any and all hard-hitting Louisville news and analysis, as well as just college football in general.

That’s all for this week, folks — as always, Go Irish!