By Derek DeBurger
The feeling in the air is palpable as No. 25 Louisville Cardinals will host the No. 10 Notre Dame Fighting Irish in front of a packed house Saturday night.
Big time sell out
The game officially became a sellout on Sept. 27 when Notre Dame returned a number of tickets to Louisville after failing to sell them. This upcoming game will be the first sellout of the Brohm-era, and the first sellout since Notre Dame visited in 2019. Head coach Jeff Brohm has a 3-2 record against top-five-ranked opponents in his coaching career, adding to the excitement surrounding Saturday’s game.
Louisville will need all the help they can get from the crowd — Notre Dame is one of, if not the toughest game on Louisville’s schedule this season. Notre Dame is 5-1 on the season, with their only loss coming at the hands of a last-second touchdown against No. 4 Ohio State.
An Irish breakdown
On offense, the Irish have very few gaps in talent. In front of sixth-year quarterback Sam Hartman is one of the best offensive lines in the entire country, spearheading one of the most dangerous running attacks in the country. Running back Audric Estime might be the best player on the field Saturday, and leads the county in rushing yards with 672 on the year. Notre Dame’s receiving corps might be the weakest part of the offense, but by no means are they incompetent.
Last season, while at Wake Forest, Hartman had the worst game of his career against Louisville with six turnovers in the third quarter alone. His nightmare performance kicked off what would be a string of turnover-riddled games for Hartman. This exposure came from constantly applying pressure and blitzing the weak Wake Forest O-line. Whenever opponents are able to successfully get defenders in the backfield against Hartman he panics, forgetting his mechanics and throwing ill-advised passes.
The problem, however, is getting past the talented Irish O-line, especially with how ineffective the Cards have been in the pass rush this season. If Louisville wants to get to Hartman early and often they’ll have to get creative with the pressures that they send and show, and they’ll have to blitz cornerbacks and safeties—something they haven’t done all year long.
The defense for the Irish is even better than their offense. Head coach Marcus Freeman is one of the top defensive minds in the nation. This defense is athletic and active, swarming to the ball whenever an opportunity is presented, and smart too. Defensive tackle Howard Cross somehow leads the team in both total tackles and tackles for loss from the interior defensive line. Louisville, who has a good O-line of their own, will need to have a great performance if they want their explosive running backs to be a factor in the game.
Unfortunately, Notre Dame can’t just have a great run defense, their pass defense is top-notch. Led by returning All-American cornerback Benjamin Morrison, the Irish secondary has six interceptions so far this year. Safety Xavier Watts additionally provides great help in the run and pass game playing the role of “big-play-stopper” this year.
The bottom line
If Louisville wants to shock the world and start 6-0 for the first time since 2013 they will need to pressure Hartman, limit negative plays on offense, and utilize creative misdirection to help get the ball in the hands of the best players. In his pregame press conference, Coach Brohm stated “Once again, we’ve got to learn from the last game and how to correct some mistakes, get better, be more efficient, and try to play as solid as we can for 60 minutes.”
If the Cards can play a complete game for all four quarters, something that has yet to happen, don’t be surprised if national pundits start asking the question: “How far can this Louisville team go?”
Photo Courtesy // Taris Smith, Louisville Athletics; Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports