By Stiofán Mac Fhilib

Last Saturday was a chance for Notre Dame to get their National Championship hopes back on track. They did just that defeating Duke on the road. Here’s our weekly Notre Dame column from Stiofán Mac Fhilib.

Looking back at last week

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As Jimmy Greaves famously never opined about college football, it truly is a funny old game, Saint. A week earlier, Notre Dame had faced arguably their biggest home game of the season. Under the lights in prime time. In a defensive struggle, they went down by two scores, only to claw their way back into the lead as the game wound down in the fourth quarter.

However, the visitors were allowed one final drive in the closing minutes to attempt to re-take the lead. And on a crucial play, needing over 15 yards to get to the line to gain, the hosts went away from their previous emphasis on pressuring the QB. Instead rushing only three, as they gave up the first down. The end result was a rushing TD that cost them the game. So, to save me from having to summarise ND’s trip to Wallace Wade Stadium last Saturday. Just replace ‘Notre Dame’ with ‘Duke’ and we’re all good! 

It was an unconvincing performance for much of the game from the Fighting Irish offense. Against likely the two best defenses they will face this season, they generated 35 points across eight quarters. Not a recipe for the success they would like to enjoy this season. 

Sam Hartman was held without a touchdown, and Audric Estimé managed only 81 yards on the ground. It was left to tight end, Mitchell Evans, to carry the Irish attack in clutch situations. An undisciplined Notre Dame team was penalised twelve times, nine for pre-snap infractions. They were out-coached by Mike Elko and his staff. Particularly when the home team began to utilise Riley Leonard’s running ability in the second half. At that point ND’s entire season was flashing before the program’s collective eyes. 

In the final two minutes, superior talent eventually overcame the coaching deficit. Hartman gave us his first great Notre Dame moment. Ironically it was with his legs rather than the arm he was brought to South Bend for. Relief was the primary emotion when a strip sack finally ended the game. The Irish know that a much greater focus and level of execution will be required to make it from here to the bye week unscathed.

The week ahead

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@ #25 Louisville Cardinals (Cardinal Stadium); 7.30pm EDT; 12.30am IST/BST

If it’s Saturday, then it must be a game in prime time. Against a ranked opponent. Who is unbeaten so far this season. This is the third consecutive such game for the Irish, with a fourth probably on deck next weekend. It is Notre Dame’s seventh straight game. After two emotionally draining performances against a pair of tough defenses, there is not likely to be much let up in a raucous Cardinal Stadium. The game is Louisville’s first sell out since ND’s last visit there back in 2019. 

The depleted Irish receiving corp should welcome back Jayden Thomas and Jaden Greathouse. It’s a much-needed boost against a team susceptible to the deep ball. Louisville has one of the better pairs of pass rushers the ND offense will face. However both threats are off the edge, which is a more favourable match up for the Irish. That’s a contrast to Duke, whose DTs terrorised Notre Dame’s relative OL weakness on it’s interior. The Cardinals are also not as strong against the run. So, expect OC, Gerad Parker, to see how they can withstand the Estimé/Love combo. 

Louisville QB, Jake Plummer, is facing Notre Dame for the third consecutive season on his third different team. His previous two outings were both defeats at Notre Dame Stadium, for Purdue and Cal respectively. Finally, he will now have a home crowd behind him. 

Jeff Brohm has relied on the run more heavily this year than in recent seasons. Though with frequent play action deep shots thrown in. That is his most likely path to success against the Irish. Especially as Plummer has not fared as well in pure passing situations. ND will rely on its effective run defense and exceptional CBs to stifle Louisville on early downs.  Should that prove successful then it could be a long night for the home side.

Game Prediction

Notre Dame 24-17 Louisville

A tired Irish team may have to rely on out-talenting a home side that will start with plenty of energy. Plummer has yet to throw for over 200 yards against ND and will not be able to make enough big plays to overcome Sam Hartman and the weapons at his disposal.

Where to watch:

No coverage in Ireland and Britain

ABC (in the USA)

Playoff Picture

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Virtually all the top ranked sides came through last week unscathed, though LSU’s second loss means that Notre Dame fans should be cheering them on the rest of the season (yes, I know…).

This week includes the Red River Rivalry, which will see one unbeaten team fall, as will the Maryland @ Ohio State clash, where a home win is in Irish interests. Georgia host a dangerous Kentucky team in the Bulldogs’ first real test of the season, while Alabama travel to Texas A&M in a game that should eliminate the loser.