*wakes up screaming and shaking, slowly coming to the realization I was dreaming*
AHHHHHHH!!! AHHHH!! A — oh, wow, it was just a nightmare. It felt so real, with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team dropping their second College Gameday game in as many weeks in brutally sad fashion, unable to score a touchdown for the entire second half against Duke.
Thank God that was just a dream and that our beloved Irish would never do that to us...even if they took essentially all the time they possibly could in order to deliver the victory.
Nevertheless, you love to see it — Marcus Freeman and the fellas picked themselves up off the ground after a soul-crushing, self-inflicted loss against Ohio State, and then overcame a lot of miscues on the road against a very well-coached football team. It wasn’t pretty, but I’ll take an ugly win over a pretty loss every day of the week, and twice on Project W.I.N. Mondays.
Oh shoot, Project W.I.N.! I just realized that nightmare came after I turned off my alarm in a groggy state and didn’t roll out of bed before falling back into snoozeland. Good thing that horrifying dream woke me up just in time — let’s quickly log onto the good ole laptop and take this call off-video, from bed, like any good remote worker would do!
*clicks “Join Call” button*
Goooood morning you guys, how’s everyone doing today?
I’m doing well! Had a nice weekend — went out to dinner on Friday, got caught up on the latest-released episodes of Love Is Blind, and then spent a lovely Saturday with friends not at all stressing out about Notre Dame football, per usual.
Yeah, that was crazy! Such a dramatic game, I’m really hoping they can spare my blood pressure the next couple weeks, but with a couple more ranked matchups on the docket, we’ll see if that’s at all possible. No boring game days as an Irish fan, that’s totally right Brian!
Okay, well I think we have everyone expected to be on today’s call except Marcie — does anyone know if — ope, there she is! Hey Marcie! No yeah, no worries, we were just about to get started so you haven’t missed anything.
I’m just going to share my screeeeeeen...
*hums to self as that lags but slowly happens*
Cool, so can you all see my screen? Should be the title slide of our W.I.N. deck — a very familiar sight at this point, I assume!
Fantastic, well welcome everyone to our weekly Project W.I.N. touch-base call — it will be the same basic agenda as always, so I feel like we don’t need to spend much time on this slide...
In that same vein, I don’t think I need to waste all of your time by explaining what Project W.I.N. is — at this point, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone at the company who doesn’t know this project very intimately.
I’ll just flip through those two slides really quick.
Perfect, now let’s kick things off by reviewing Last Week’s Results so we can really pinpoint the good, the bad, and the ugly in the Irish’s 21-14 victory in the final minute against the Duke Blue Devils.
Let’s start with the positives, because unfortunately despite winning the game, there honestly aren’t THAT many to talk about for the Irish after that game.
Offensively, the biggest story continues to be Mitchell Evans at tight end. He had a coming-out party against the Buckeyes last weekend, and kept that momentum going this past Saturday by reeling in 6 passes for 134 yards on the evening, making multiple incredible catches and showing the ability to pick up yards after the catch and just proving more each week to be the best possible option Sam Hartman has in the passing game. With Jayden Thomas, Jaden Greathouse, and Deion Colzie all ruled out for the game, ND desperately needed SOMEONE to step up and be the go-to guy, and Evans has really emerged in that role. Considering a lot of people had kind of written him off as a block-first tight end who could maybe occasionally catch some passes, it’s been awesome to see him blossom.
Audric Estime didn’t have too many “wow” moments in this game as the Duke defensive front largely kicked the ND offensive line’s ass up and down the field, but he still managed to average 4.5 yards per carry and pick up 81 yards on the ground while also scoring two touchdowns, including, of course, the dramatic game-winner on a play where the Irish were really just trying to run clock, center the ball, and set up the game-winning field goal.
Also, shout-out to Chris Tyree for one helluva block to help spring Estime on that one.
Rico Flores Jr. got a lot more playing time in this one because of the guys out at WR, and although he wasn’t perfect (dropped a pass early on), he stepped up in a major way throughout the night, including a big 24-yard catch to really jump-start the final drive for the Irish, and also shaking himself open and snagging the two-point conversion pass from Hartman. Flores obviously isn’t fully there yet as a freshman with just 6 games under his belt (Greathouse is definitely still further ahead), but he’s played really well in the opportunities he’s had, boding well for the future at the position. If Braylon James starts to contribute next season and beyond, Chansi Stuckey will have absolutely crushed his first WR recruiting class.
Sam Hartman did not have an excellent game, completing just 50% of his passes and throwing no touchdowns. Still, he made a few really nice throws and led the team on the game-winning 95-yard drive (which included a nice scramble from the back of the end zone to not get sacked for a safety to essentially end the game).
Of course, the most important play he made was on 4th-and-16, when he put his lesson learned from OSU to work by scampering for the first down himself, heaving his body past the marker to ensure he picked up the necessary yardage.
A few other small offensive notes:
- Jeremiyah Love continues to just look fast and smooth and explosive whenever he touches the ball. His run on the fake punt on the first drive, which set up Estime’s first score, was an awesome display of his speed and potential. Involving him more, along with Jadarian Price, should be a priority for Gerad Parker going forward, especially with the injuries at wideout.
- The Irish were 3-for-3 on 4th down, converting when it mattered against a solid defense — love to see that, and should help them feel comfortable in that kind of do-or-die situation later in the season.
- Even on a day when the offensive line didn’t play very well and the offense sputtered for a long while, the Irish still averaged 5 yards per carry as a team and ran for 2 rushing touchdowns, so it’s nice to know even the bad games still involve some success
Defensively, it’s difficult to be tooooo upset with defensive coordinator Al Golden and his group. The Irish held Riley Leonard to 5 YPA on 12-of-27 passing while stopping Duke on 9 of 15 3rd down attempts, and only surrendered 14 points in a game where they seemed to be constantly on the field after bad Irish offensive series.
Specifically, Howard Cross III deserves the most kudos of anyone on the squad, because he was the best player on the field on Saturday night. As a defensive tackle, Cross racked up 13 tackles, sacked the QB once, had 3.5 tackles for loss, and forced 2 fumbles, including the game-clincher in the final seconds. He was consistently blowing Duke o-linemen up into the backfield all evening, and managed to get 6 QB hurries in the game, which is unbelievable. The dude was the X-factor in this one, no doubt.
A few other nice performances were turned in by the likes of Xavier Watts, who had 8 tackles (0.5 TFL) and an interception, and J.D. Bertrand and Marist Liufau at linebacker (combined for 17 tackles, 0.5 sacks, and 1 fumble recovery — the game-winner). The Irish secondary covered well, and ND
A couple final positives to note:
- Shout-out to Duke’s kicker for not knowing how to make a field goal — that was a nice little bonus
- You gotta love Marcus Freeman’s team not playing well, seeming to be dead in the water later in the 4th, and still finding a way to win the game. This can still be a great second season under MF and it’s about to get fun, I think
Alrighty, now let’s get to the negatives — I’ve already alluded to some of them, and I think most will be pretty obvious, so I’ll try to work through them fairly quickly. First and foremost, the offense was — how should I say this? — very bad.
The two touchdowns in that game:— Chris W. (@rakesofmallow) October 1, 2023
* Drive with a fake punt explosive.
* Drive where at the end they were not actually trying to score a touchdown.
See you again next week!
Yes, Duke is a well-coached team with a defensive whiz as their leader, and the Irish were missing some key wide receivers — but there’s simply no excuse for this offense to have been that bad, plain and simple. Thomas and Greathouse and Colzie all being out should have meant Parker drew up something to adjust, either leaning harder on the tight ends and running backs or getting creative in how he utilized the receivers still healthy.
Instead, between their first drive touchdown and their final real drive touchdown late in the 4th quarter, the Irish’s possessions went as follows:
- Field Goal
- Missed Field Goal
- Field Goal
If you want to be a top-10 team, you have to do better than that. Gerad Parker deserves a little leeway since this is his first year on the job, but his leash is tightening after back-to-back uninspired offensive performances against the only two actually-good teams the Irish have played so far.
Going back to the wide receivers, it was obviously a negative to have that trio of dudes out of the game completely, but then some of the remaining receivers also somehow didn’t manage to step up and make any plays at all, which was frustrating. Tobias Merriweather is an enigma — it’s not that he’s not trying, as many have pointed out he still gives good effort in his run blocking. And he clearly has the physical tools needed to succeed, with great length and really good speed for his size. So what is not clicking here?
I’m not writing him off yet, considering he’s still just a sophomore and sometimes guys take a little longer to put it all together. But for someone with so much hype and so much clear potential, it’d be really nice for him to take the next step and make some big catches. These next two weekends would be an excellent time to do so, Tobias!
Also, does Holden Staes still exist? After looking positively awesome through the first few weeks and having a breakout performance against NC State, Staes has not recorded a single reception since his 1-catch, 1-TD showing against Central Michigan. I know, Mitchell Evans has exploded in these last two games and thus there have been fewer tight end targets to go around, but it’s unfathomable that someone who’s as much of a matchup problem for opponents as Staes hasn’t caught a pass in the two biggest contests of the first half of the season — especially with wide receivers dropping like flies. Has he been hurt, and I just missed it?
Moving past the receivers largely not showing up outside of Evans and Flores, the offensive line’s performance was certainly not superb. Hartman was sacked twice and constantly running for his life when he dropped back to pass, and the running game was disrupted consistently by the Duke defensive line as the Irish offensive line struggled to create any sort of room for Estime, etc. to run through. They have GOT to play better if the Irish want to have a shot at going 11-1 or even 10-2 this season.
Other offensive negatives included Sam Hartman completing just 50% of his passes, ND going an ABYSMAL 3-for-15 on 3rd downs (unforgivably bad), and doing so little for most of the second half that they nearly found a way to let Duke put them away after having a 13-0 lead.
Outside of the offense, Jordan Botelho’s targeting penalty was obviously tough to swallow. I have seen some people say that it was technically targeting and that the rule is meant to protect the defensive player from diving like that, hence the ruling and ejection. And that may be true. But it just seems so ridiculous to eject a player from a big game and suspend him for the first half of the next one because he dove with his dead down into an opponent’s rear end. The targeting rule is well-intentioned but needs massive overhauls in terms of how they enforce it.
Spencer Shrader missing yet another field goal puts him at 5-for-10 on the season, which is getting dangerously bad and is causing everyone to lack any sort of trust or confidence in him, even if he does have a powerful leg and the ability to hit 50+ yard field goals. The lack of confidence in him could end up costing ND a game, or his inconsistency might anyway.
Bryce McFerson hadn’t gotten much work this season until Saturday, and although he had been looking pretty good for the first five games, he did NOT have a good game on Saturday and had multiple really poor punts that left Duke in way better field position than they should have had. His one great punt, which appeared to go out of bounds at the one and pin Duke deep, got overturned. I honestly don’t know if they should have even been able to review/overturn that, but that was a tough moment to have that taken away and for Duke to be given the ball in significantly better field position.
The Irish finished the game with 12 penalties for 70 yards, which means they were almost exclusively picking up 5-yard false start and offsides penalties (and it felt like there were about 20 of those, to be honest). That’s completely just mental mistakes and not playing focused, and so they’ll need to get that cleaned up ASAP. There’s a bad pattern developing with the o-line and d-line being unable to stay still before the snap.
Finally, Riley Leonard getting a high ankle sprain on the final play where he was sacked and fumbled was tough. Luckily, it sounds like it’s not going to end his season completely, and it looked way worse at the time, but you still have to feel for the kid. He’s a likable, tough, talented kid who’s a very good college QB and made things tough for Al Golden and co. all night long. Hope he heals quickly and gets back ASAP to finish off the season!
Okey dokey folks, let’s have some very brief fun looking at some charts and graphs.
First, I want to spend a couple slides just focusing on Howard Cross III a bit more, because the kid was sensational on Saturday and is quietly leading the Fighting Irish in tackles on the year with 35 through the first six games. That’s pretty unheard of for a defensive lineman, let alone a defensive tackle. And yet here’s Cross, on pace for ~76 total tackles this season, assuming ND ends up playing 13 games.
To put that into perspective, I went back and pulled the season totals in tackles for all Notre Dame defensive linemen since 2005. Here’s how Cross’s current pace stacks up:
Clearly, this is a special season Cross is starting to put together, as he’s on pace for the second-best defensive lineman tackles total in the last ~20 years.
Only Trevor Laws’ 2007 season is better, and of course it is, because he was out there carrying that entire shitshow of a defense on his back while the rest of the 2007 team managed to contribute next to nothing. What an unreal season Trevor Laws had that year — one that I don’t think will ever be topped going forward.
In case you wanted to get a bit more apples-to-apples by comparing Cross’s 2023 tackles pace with these guys, I also put together the tackles-per-game numbers. They shake out mostly the same, with only Laws in 2007 doing better and only 2006 Laws, 2006 Derek Landri, and 2010 Kapron Lewis-Moore really coming close after that.
And finally, we’ve had some fun charts and graphs showing where Sam “Fartman” Hartman stacks up vs. other QBs on all-time TDs and passing yards, but I also want to put into perspective Hartman’s clean sheet on interceptions so far this year.
So, here’s a graph showing Sam’s interception total of 2023 (0) compared to several other key metrics I’ve been tracking so far this season.
Pretty crazy stuff — and I’ve also probably jinxed him now and he’ll throw a pick on Saturday at Louisville, but as long as he gets it out of the way then and then secures the ball against USC, I think it’ll be all good.
Okay, now let’s take some time to recognize our Team Members of the Week for their fantastic achievements and excellent example they set living the values of our company!
Congrats to Howard, Mitchell, Audric, Xavier, J.D., Marist, and Sam for all you did to make Saturday night a success.
Please know we appreciate all that you do, and be sure to check your inboxes for an Olive Garden gift card, on us!
Okay, one final thing — let’s quickly take a look at my live journal from this weekend, to show my unfiltered thoughts, feelings, and just generally what I was up to on game day and as I took in the events of this game.
I won’t read all that off to you, but do want to give some shout-outs to beer, pizza, my friends, Brian Kelly’s sadness, Sam Hartman being so cool, and Audric Estime being clutch as hell.
Also, it didn’t make it onto that slide, but one final shout-out to the best two things I saw on College Gameday:
Allllrighty, now let’s take a quick peek at the project timeline so we can get our bearings on where we are, where we’ve been, and what’s coming up next.
Take a look:
That’s right, we’re somehow halfway through this season and now have a road trip down to Louisville coming up, where the Irish will meet a 25th-ranked, undefeated Cardinals team who’s gonna be pumped as hell to be hosting a top-10 team under the lights.
So, let’s start with the basics, what should we know about the Louisville Cardinals??
I will let you review this in detail on your own time, but just want to point out a few key pieces of information here that will be critical as we prepare our plan to take the Cardinals’ market share and continue to outperform the market:
1. Their coach is Jeff Brohm, whom we know from his time as Purdue’s head honcho and also because he’s an XFL legend
2. Louisville’s motto used to be “It’s Happening Here,” which is very Ron Paul-esque but then they got rid of that, because apparently it wasn’t actually happening there. Makes you think.
3. Their main color is “Cardinal Red,” and I’d like to use this fact to get on my soapbox and say that it’s very unimaginative when these teams just name their school color after themselves like it’s something they made up. Get over yourselves.
4. Louie the Cardinal should be the name of the St. Louis Cardinals mascot too. It’s just such a fitting name for both teams...very well done, and way better than Duke’s mascot’s name.
5. I love when schools have traditionally named stadiums and don’t sell out to corporate sponsors — shout out to L&N Federal Credit Union Stadium!!!
6. How on earth was this school established just 22 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence?
7. They have a very long list of opponents they’ve never beaten, with some really funny ones...they’re somehow 0-13 against Xavier and 0-4 against Franklin College in Indiana. Then the others they’ve lost to and never played again include a who’s who of random small schools — Wabash, DePaul, Centenary, SLU, St. Bonaventure, Duquesne, Detroit, etc.
Also, they’ve never beaten Cumberland, the college that famously lost 222-0 to Georgia Tech in 1916. This fact, of course, led me to doing a deep dive into the Wikipedia page for that game, as I wanted to understand how bad Cumberland was and thus how much worse Louisville is to have never beaten them. Here are the key facts to know about Georgia Tech’s 222-point win over Cumberland over 100 years ago:
- John Heisman was the coach of Georgia Tech for that game, and the story is that he was looking for revenge after Cumberland beat his Georgia Tech baseball team 22-0 (he coached baseball too)
- Cumberland had already shut down their program at that point, but Heisman insisted they still play (and GaTech paid them to still play it, because revenge is worth it)
- So, the Cumberland baseball captain, George E. Allen, assembled a team of his frat brothers and some law students. They had reportedly 12-16 players on their roster heading into the game.
- Cumberland never got a first down in the contest. 97% of the game’s plays took place in Cumberland territory, and 64% in its red zone.
- There was never a play that went for just a first down on either side...Georgia Tech never got more than 9 yards into a drive without scoring a touchdown.
- GaTech scored 32 touchdowns but did not complete or even attempt a forward pass on the day
- Heisman, hellbent on revenge but somehow still feeling bad, shortened the quarters to 12 minutes each in the second half to get the game over with.
- GaTech led 63-0 after the first quarter and 126-0 at the half.
- Several Cumberland players suffered serious injuries, including QB Charles Edwards, who was carted off the field with concussions ON THREE SEPARATE OCCASIONS
- Cumberland’s only effective defensive play was a blocked extra point where they formed a human pyramid in a play known as “climb-the-ladder” and Vichy Woods, at the top of the pyramid, suffered a “gruesome facial injury” on the play.
- Cumberland gained positive yards on 6 total plays, but fumbled on 2 of those.
- Cumberland committed 15 total turnovers (9 fumbles, 6 ints).
- Sportswriter Grantland Rice wrote of the game, “Cumberland’s greatest individual play of the game occurred when fullback Allen circled right end for a 6-yard loss.”
LOUISVILLE WENT O-FOR AGAINST THIS FOOTBALL PROGRAM, YOU GUYS!!!
8. Fun alumni of Louisville include:
- Sue Grafton, who Creed Bratton can confirm was “crazy hot”
- Static Major, who’s most famous for his work on “Lollipop” with Lil Wayne
- The first winner of the National Spelling Bee
- The co-founder of some of America’s greatest restaurants of all-time (Long John Silver’s, Rally’s*, and Chi-Chi’s)
*Pat Rick Note: shout-out to Rally’s for having a survey on the back of their receipt where you got a promo code for a free Big Buford for taking the survey. So, you simply had to buy one burger and then you got access to an endless cycle of surveys and free burgers after that — what an incredible customer experience!
- The former Minister of Energy of Bosnia and Herzegovina, whose name is “Reuf”
- Mitch McConnell, LOL
- Arena Football League legend Jay Gruden
- For some reason, the list of Notable Alumni on the University of Louisville Wikipedia page includes “Povl-Timothy Wise Water Boy” and when you click on it, it’s a link to this which is absolutely not a real Wikipedia page. WHAT DOES IT MEAN?!?
Welp, that’s plenty of high-level talk — now let’s get into the nitty-gritty details of the best names on the roster!
Buddy, the Cardinal are simply STACKED on the name front. Here are some highlights:
- Storm Duck is back at it again, the Irish simply can’t shake this wonderful man
- Cataurus Hicks makes me think of a mix between a cat and a dinosaur
- Jamari Thrash is just a badass name, it’s awesome he’s really good at football too
- “Makhete Gueye” is super close to “Machete Guy” and that’s awesome
- Destin Cheirs is when you’re on spring break and touch Natty Lights on the beach
- Just a delightful list of first names here that includes Popeye, Cam’Ron, Dakadrien, Tawfiq, Stanquan, Keyjuan, Victoine, and Winston Churchill’s grandson Jatavian
- Jaxon Panariello sounds like a wealthy lacrosse player from Italy
- “Gage Reale”
- Thane Martin — now
TayneThane I can get into!
- Allan Houston — boooooo, the Knicks suck!!!
- Bonus: “John Paul Flores” is what you might have called any official papal floral decor from 1978 to 2005 if you also spoke Spanish
- Bonus: Sam Young is on this roster too, what a throwback — welcome back to one of our own taking another tour through NCAA football after a successful pro career!!!
Alrighty, with all the above covered, let’s talk about this Louisville team itself and understand what the key competitive insights to know are as the Irish prepare to play them this weekend.
Let’s start with the offense, as that’s what Jeff Brohm is known for as a coach and it’s clearly where this Louisville team has thrived for the majority of their first five games. This Cardinals offense is super explosive, which has allowed it to rank well in a number of offensive metrics.
Louisville is T-21st in the nation in scoring (37 PPG), 11th in total offense (494.8 YPG), 30th in rushing (193.8 YPG), and 16th in passing (301 YPG), while also showing a major tendency to go the distance at any given moment — the Cards are T-1st in the nation in plays from scrimmage of 40+ yards, T-5th in plays of 50+ yards, T-2nd in plays of 60+ yards, and all alone in 1st when it comes to plays of 70+ yards, having already recorded 5 such plays this season.
That explosiveness is largely driven by two key names to know — RB Jawhar Jordan and WR Jamari Thrash. Jordan is a stud back with big-play potential, having run for 510 yards and 6 touchdowns while picking up 7.7 yards per carry this year. He’s had a 40+ yard run in 3 of Louisville’s 5 games so far this year, and is also dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield, having caught 7 passes for 159 yards and another touchdown (a 75-yard score against Boston College).
Thrash, meanwhile, is a 6’1” playmaker at wideout who was a menace at Georgia State last season, catching 61 balls for 1,122 yards and 7 touchdowns in 2022. In his first 5 games with Louisville, he’s snagged 22 passes for 444 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Like Jordan, he’s had several massively long plays this season, showing great speed and true home run ability. Add in a few other solid playmakers at wideout like Ahmari Huggins-Bruce (small, fast receiver who’s got 13 catches for 191 yards and 2 TDs in 2023), Kevin Coleman (Jacksonville State transfer with 10 catches, 167 yards, and 1 TD), Chris Bell (7 catches, 175 yards, 1 TD), and Tennessee transfer Jimmy Calloway (7 catches, 84 yards), and the Cardinals have a lot of good talent to throw to out wide. Their tight ends leave a bit to be desired, as Joey Gatewood and Josh Lifson have combined for just 4 catches, 59 yards, and 1 TD so far this year.
With all that explosiveness and overall production, one might think the Louisville offense makes a trade-off in efficiency. That assumption would be at least partially wrong, considering the Cardinals are 10th in the country in yards per play (7.47), 25th in yards per carry (5.18), and 5th in yards per attempt (10.5), all while also managing to be T-25th in tackles for loss allowed (just 4.2 per game).
However, when you get into how Louisville does on 3rd down and in the red zone, it’s clear they’re much better at scoring from far away than they are at converting in a much more limited space. The Cards are T-75th in 3rd down conversion rate at 40%, and T-64th in red zone score %. They also struggle at times to pick up first downs (T-44th at 22 per game), partially due to their inability to get 3rd downs and probably also partially driven by their ability to just go ahead and score from far away.
At quarterback, Irish fans will notice a familiar face in Jack Plummer, who is somehow playing Notre Dame for the 3rd consecutive year while on a 3rd different team. He was one of Purdue’s QBs in that 2021 game, and was the starter for Cal last season when they nearly upset the Irish one week after Marshall did. Plummer is a competent quarterback, having thrown for 1,406 yards and 11 touchdowns while completing 65% of his passes this season.
However, despite being a tad mobile, he’s not exactly a great runner, and his offensive line’s inability to pass block very effectively has led to him being sacked 9 times (making Louisville T-61st in sacks allowed per game) and that pressure has also contributed to him having already thrown 6 interceptions in his first 5 games (T-105th in the nation). Clearly, some good pressure can really impact Plummer’s game and force him into some bad decisions that lead to turnovers. The Cardinals are T-68th in the country, in fact, in turnovers lost so far this season.
Still, Plummer is pretty efficient when he has some time (has Louisville 16th in the nation in passer rating), and this offense full of transfer portal talent has really done well for the most part. Brohm has really pieced together a solid offense seemingly overnight, with Plummer (Cal), Thrash (GA State), Coleman (Jackson State), Calloway (Tennessee), OL Willie Tyler (Rutgers), OT Eric Miller (Purdue), backup RB Isaac Guerendo (Wisconsin), backup QB Brady White (Purdue), and several more guys in the rotation having come from the Portal. Jordan also originally played two seasons at Syracuse before he came to Louisville to be their starting running back.
On the other side of the ball, the Louisville defense is interesting. Like the offense, they’ve got a couple key guys who came from the transfer portal, including DE Stephen Herron Jr. (Stanford transfer with 14 tackles on the season) and S Devin Neal (Baylor transfer with 24 tackles, 3 PD, 1 INT, and 1 FR).
They do some things very well, like forcing turnovers (T-24th in the country in turnovers gained with 9 so far this year) and putting the clamps on opponents on 3rd down (36th in the country at 33.82%) and in the red zone (5th in the country, allowing just 54.55% of red zone trips to end in scores). They’ve been great about keeping opponents out of the red zone completely (T-18th with just 11 opponent red zone trips this season) and have really limited opponent first downs (T-23rd at 16.4 allowed per game).
All of that has equated to the 24th-best scoring defense in America, allowing just 17.2 points per game. That of course comes with a caveat for their level of opponents, as the Cardinals’ first four games were against Georgia Tech, Murray State, IU, and Boston College — hardly a slate of opponents that truly proves this Cardinals defense is great at keeping good opponents from scoring.
With the above positives and having played such bad opponents, though, they still somehow don’t rank very well in most efficiency metrics (T-51st in YPP, 44th in YPC, and T-60th in YPA allowed), and they have a bad habit of giving up big plays about as often as they pick them up on the offensive side of the ball. They’re T-59th in the country in plays of 10+ yards allowed (61), T-91st in plays of 20+ yards allowed (24), T-86th in plays of 30+ yards allowed (11), and T-66th in plays of 40+ yards allowed (5). Furthermore, they don’t do a good job of getting penetration on run downs or on passing downs, tied at 86th in the country in sacks and tied at 87th in tackles for loss.
Still, they’re ranked 24th in SP+ defensive rating for a reason, so they certainly aren’t going to be a pushover for the Irish offense. Along with Neal and Herron Jr., there are a few other key names to know. LBs TJ Quinn (32 tackles, 1 PD, 1 FR) and Jaylin Alderman (23 tackles, 1 sack) are quality athletes in the middle of the defense, and Neal is joined on the back end by some pretty talented DBs including Cam’Ron Kelly (24 tackles, 2 INT, 1 FF), Quincy Riley (22 tackles, 5 PD, 1 INT), Benjamin Perry (16 tackles, 1 PD), and Jarvis Brownlee Jr. (13 tackles, 4 PD).
DE Ashton Gillotte is the best pass rusher they have (18 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 FF so far this season), and teams up with Herron to provide a pretty solid combo off the edge. NT Dezmond Tell (11 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 FF) and DT Ramon Puryear (10 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 FR) round out the defensive front and will provide a solid challenge for the Irish offensive line, but not one that necessarily will be tougher than the last couple weeks.
On special teams, Brock Travelstead handles both the Cardinals’ placekicking and punting duties. When it comes to placekicking, Travelstead seems pretty good (21/21 XP, 6/8 FG), but he hasn’t had to do too much just yet, and 5 of his 6 kicks came from 30-39 yards or fewer away. He did hit a 53-yarder at one point, though, so clearly he’s got some power in his legs.
Punting is another story, though. Again, with the explosiveness and success of Brohm’s offense so far this year, Travelstead hasn’t been that busy with just 17 punts. On those 17, he’s not been very impressive, averaging 40.4 yards per punt with a long of 55 being one of the only bright spots.
Coleman and Jordan will be involved in the punt and kick return game, and both players are dangerous and fast, but haven’t shown much so far this season as returners, so it’s probably not something for the Irish to worry too much about heading into Saturday.
Alrighty, we’re coming up on time for this week — let’s go ahead and quickly talk about What’s Important Now as the Irish prepare for their 3rd straight ranked opponent and night game and 2nd straight road game against a dangerous ACC opponent.
You all can read the details on this slide on your own time, so for now I’ll just quickly run through my points:
1. ND needs to get after the QB and force Jack Plummer into making some risky throws. Plummer’s line isn’t super talented and should be vulnerable, and so it’s key the Irish disrupt Plummer’s progressions in the pocket (while not allowing him to get loose for first down scrambles like last season) and really turn the heat up on forcing some turnovers. Not having Jordan Botelho for the first half may make this a bit difficult, but the ND d-line needs to step up in his absence and Al Golden and Al Washington need to find a way to get pressure regardless.
2. Bottle up Jordan and Thrash, limiting big plays and making sure to account for them and be wrapping them up and gang tackling at all times. Those two guys will likely be the X-factors here, in terms of their success will mean Louisville’s success, and vice versa. Corralling them as best as possible, similar to what ND mostly did with Marvin Harrison Jr. and TreVeyon Henderson, will be crucial here.
3. Run the goddamn ball and use all the backs to do so. The ND offensive line has GOT to be better and they need to make a statement that they can physically dominate this Louisville defensive front. Run it early and often and for the love of God, find a way to get not only Estime enough carries but also plenty of touches for Love and Price. It’s a dynamic running back group and an offensive line that should be playing better — get it fixed and use it to crush these guys.
4. Feed the tight ends and get the ball to Chris Tyree more. Clearly the WR depth — which was already precarious — is in dire straits, and so it’s time for Parker to lean way more heavily on featuring Evans and Staes as much as possible, and then also using Chris Tyree’s speed and route running way more. Get him the ball in space, whether that means short passes underneath/on the outside, or sending him deep more than a couple times to stretch the defense and see if you can catch them sleeping. The passing attack needs to be better with Sam Hartman running the show, and that starts with Parker and who he’s looking for in his play-calling.
5. Finish drives, especially with touchdowns. It sucks I need to emphasize this, but the last two games have been full of offense drives that often get going early and then sputter. Parker needs to build some confidence in this offense before heading into a potential shootout next weekend, so they need to be way more efficient and productive from a scoring perspective each time they have the ball.
6. Stay as healthy as possible. USC is next week, and although you can’t get caught looking ahead or saving your best stuff for next week with a road night game against a dangerous Louisville team right now, the Trojans are the big one and the Irish will need to be as close to 100% as possible to beat them. Rest who you can, get out of this game in as easy and vanilla a way as possible, and move onward to the primetime matchup on October 14th.
Well folks, I know several of you need to jump for another call — before we sign off here, are there any questions?!?
Great, well per usual I will send out the link to this deck right after the call is done, and hope you all have a fantastic week enjoying the nice wins of last week and then turning the page to prepare for another big week this week.
Thank you so much and have a great rest of your Monday!
*clicks “End Call” button*
Sweet, that was my only meeting for the day — time to go sit on my couch, doing as little work as possible and waiting for the day to end so I can sit on my couch and do nothing for the rest of the evening!!!