Notre Dame football snapped its 30-game ACC win streak with a 20-33 loss to the Louisville Cardinals. It was an objectively bad showing for the Irish and the team now finds itself still working through its toughest stretch of the season, only now 5-2.
Last season, I threw away my emotional investment in the season out the window much earlier and by this point was just content with being able to enjoy college football Saturdays, regardless of the ND outcome.
Even with the struggle bus performance against Duke last week, I foolishly maintained that emotional investment. Deep down I knew it was a mistake. My history as an ND student, alum and fan told me it was a bad idea. But sometimes we all just need a dream to believe in and there were a lot of things about this team’s August and September that made me overcommit to the 2023 Irish. My excitement about the team and the future of the program hasn’t disappeared after the Louisville loss.
But I have checked that emotional investment and am finding my way back to the center (at least postgame).
It’s an important move for my blood pressure but also for analytical purposes. Seeing as how data is a big part of what I do, there comes a point at which the data and trends are so clear that I can’t paint a rosy picture without seeming like a hack. And I’m not that guy. I capped off my Louisville preview with a prediction that the Irish would pull off a win largely based on the assumption/hope that they would get better in some key areas that had been trending down for a bit. But the Louisville game is where those metrics finally hit a critical point and I think we’re all resetting based on the here and now. Welcome to the group everyone, there’s coffee and donuts on the back table.
Still, the data picture coming out of the game is probably one of the most interesting (not pleasant) to dissect so far this season. The fan inside of me is still kind of crushed but at least the nerd is finding some joy. So let’s dig in.
The 2023 loss to the Cardinals brings the overall series record to 2-2. The Irish lost the series’ first game back in 2014 by a slim, -3, margin but walked away this time with a -13 point difference.
Notre Dame finds itself going into 2023’s Week 7 with a 5-2 record. They’ll be facing off against USC (who edged out a 43-41 over Arizona this weekend). As far as the week-to-week games, its kind of a toss-up at this point so I won’t harp too much on it.
The bigger scheduling storyline is that the Irish won’t be seeing its first bye week until after USC. When we look back at the schedule outcomes at an individual game level there will be a lot of things to pull out, but I imagine we’ll unanimously agree that the general scheduling strategy had the season destined for struggles before Marcus Freeman and company took the field in Week 0. It’s made for great TV and hype but when looking at the data and trends a lot of what you see is the story of a car that’s still being operated well beyond its servicing date. Weird things just start happening and they rarely get fixed without a brief break in use.
The game’s first half was a pretty lackluster showing from both teams, definitely from a scoring perspective. The Cardinals drew first blood via the air in the first quarter and the Irish followed up with a 36-yard touchdown pass to freshman Jordan Faison in the 2nd quarter.
And then things went completely off the rails in the 2nd half and the kickers from both teams found their times to shine. There were six successful, total field goals kicked in the 3rd and 4th quarters. Notre Dame’s Spencer Shrader booted 53 and 54 yarders In the third and Louisville kicked three consecutive field goals in the fourth.
The rest of the half’s scoring came by the way of two Jawhar Jordan rushing TDs and a Mitchell Evans touchdown pass late in the 4th quarter. Evans has emerged as a life raft for the Irish’s offense and this was his first touchdown grab of the season.
Key Team Comparisons – Ball Movement
From a ball movement standpoint, the teams weren’t that different. Both had seventeen first downs and similar 3rd down conversion rates. Notre Dame successfully completed 23% of its 13 attempts and Louisville converted 36% of its 14 attempts. The Cardinals had a slight time of possession advantage, 31:24 to 28:36.
Key Team Comparisons – Offense
Louisville beat out Notre Dame in terms of total yards (330 – 298). It was the Irish’s worst offensive performance of the season so far. A big commitment was made to passing the ball, which helped ND to win the passing yardage competition (254 – 145). The success and the accuracy didn’t follow, though, and Louisville completed 70.8% of passing attempts compared with 57.8% for Notre Dame.
The rushing game never got so much as a spark going. The Irish were outrushed by the Cardinals 185 yards to 44 yards. For a team that had been trending away from rushing success over their last few games, I was really surprised to see Louisville experience the success they did. Notre Dame’s performance wasn’t as surprising for reasons I’ll go into later and that were pretty apparent for anyone watching live or over the last few weeks. I wrote a midseason analysis of ND’s running back room and some unfortunate trends just came to a head in this loss.
Key Team Comparisons - Extra Metrics
One of the most crippling aspects of the game for Notre Dame was turnovers. ND tallied up five in total (3 interceptions and 2 fumbles). Small chunks of overall well-being went up in smoke after each one of those. I’m still trying to figure out how to get them back so no extra interpretation here, will just leave you all with those numbers.
Team discipline seemed to be a big issue at the moment but the Irish actually improved from the recent trend. Louisville had six total penalties compared with Notre Dame’s three. But both teams tied for 35 total penalty yards and the Irish’s mistakes came at truly crippling points in the game.
By most metrics, Sam Hartman and Jack Plummer performed comparably. Hartman tallied up more yards, completions, and touchdown passes but lacked accuracy. The three Hartman interceptions were ultimately what set the two QBs far apart on the box score and they also played a major role in determining the game’s outcome.
A lot of folks got chances to try and inject some life into the Irish’s obviously cursed passing attack against Louisville. Mitchell Evans, Jordan Faison, and Jayden Thomas led in terms of total yards. Major kudos to them keeping things going but a lot of the conversation is centered on and will probably continue to focus on the receivers who didn’t show up.
With the receiver corps performing like this, there was really only so much that could be expected out of the running back room, offense, or the collective team.
Jeremiyah Love led Notre Dame’s rushing group in terms of total yards. Audric Estime only tallied up 20 yards but tied with Sam Hartman for ten “carries” a piece. It just wasn’t the night for the Irish to move the ball on the ground.
For a team that started out the season so collectively good and methodical, I really didn’t expect to be looking at a data analysis like this for Week 6. There are faults all around but from a number’s perspective, a lot of the team’s troubles stem from the offense’s depth and strategy issues.
Midseason, these things are almost impossible to meaningfully address in college football. Once you add in a strong schedule that dictates that the team doesn’t get a bye until the third weekend in October and you get the perfect recipe for what’s unfolding now. Hoping the Irish can turn some things around, but it’ll be tough sledding.
Cheers and Go Irish!!