Head to Head: Louisville vs. Notre Dame
Observer Sports Staff | Thursday, November 20, 2014
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Will Gardner, Louisville’s starter in seven of its 10 games, won’t play after suffering a knee injury Saturday in the Cardinals’ 38-19 win over Boston College. But Louisville has a viable if inconsistent option in freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon.
Gardner had injured his knee earlier in the season against FIU, and Bonnafon earned his first career start in the next game against Wake Forest, a 20-10 win for Louisville. Bonnafon also started against Syracuse and Clemson. Bonnafon’s best passing performance came against Wake Forest when he threw for 206 yards. He also threw for 174 yards against Syracuse. Bonnafon has thrown for only four touchdowns on the season, and Gardner took over partway through the loss to Clemson.
The Irish secondary has had its struggles this year, but Bonnafon has yet to turn in an eye-opening passing performance.
Senior wide receiver DeVante Parker is the Cardinals’ most dangerous receiving threat, as the 6-3, 211-pounder creates matchup problems. Parker has averaged 122.5 yards since returning from a broken foot suffered in the preseason. He could provide Louisville with big yardage plays, but the rest of the Cardinals receivers have not been nearly as productive in terms of yardage.
Louisville hasn’t had a particularly consistent run game this season.
Several running backs have had good games, but the production hasn’t come reliably. Redshirt sophomore Brandon Radcliff rushed for 97 yards against Murray State, 129 against Wake Forest and 110 against Syracuse. He has had three multiple touchdown games. Senior running back Michael Dyer posted 134 yards and three touchdowns against Florida State. Freshman running back L.J. Scott rushed for 126 yards and one touchdown against Murray State.
Despite the backs’ production, their big games have not coincided or come in streaks.
The Cardinals have the tools. The question is whether they will execute, and against a depleted Irish defensive line missing junior and captain Sheldon Day, Louisville has the edge.
CARDINALS OFFENSIVE COACHING
Cardinals offensive coordinator Shawn Watson has guided a high-scoring offense this season. Louisville has an 84.4 percent conversion rate in the red zone and has scored 31.6 points per game. He also has coached two very different quarterbacks with success this season.
Bonnafon has running ability that could give the Irish fits with the right play calls, as happened against Boston College. Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder and Notre Dame’s defense haven’t been able to pull the right strings to stop similarly mobile quarterbacks this season, and this could turn into a problem Saturday.
CARDINALS SPECIAL TEAMS
Louisville has performed well on returns, and redshirt junior kicker John Wallace hasn’t missed a point-after attempt all season. He has made 13 of 16 field goals with one of his misses coming between 30 and 39 yards and two between 40 and 49.
Notre Dame’s coverage units have been solid, however, allowing no punt or kickoff return touchdowns. The Irish will be able to limit the Cardinals’ return game and win this part of the matchup.
EDGE: NOTRE DAME
After a four-interception debacle against Arizona State, the Irish offensive line provided Everett Golson with more decision-making room and time against Northwestern. Golson threw one interception against the Wildcats but also threw for 287 yards. And even against Arizona State, he threw for a season-high 446 yards. In four of his last four games, Golson has thrown three touchdown passes, the exception being Arizona State.
At this point, one can feel confident Golson will produce. His lowest-yardage game was a 226-yard performance against Michigan, and he hasn’t thrown fewer than two touchdowns in any game.
Louisville leads FBS with 22 interceptions, even better than Northwestern’s No. 22 rank with 12 interceptions. If the offensive line does a good job protecting Golson, however, he has a chance to play a clean game and keep miscues from marring his productive numbers. He also has an arsenal of receiving options in wide receivers Will Fuller, Corey Robinson, Chris Brown, C.J. Prosise and Amir Carlisle as well as tight end Ben Koyack. Fuller has amassed 853 yards on the season and has been part of several long plays for the Irish. Notre Dame should win some of the matchups against Louisville’s secondary.
EDGE: NOTRE DAME
Sophomore running back Tarean Folston returned to his effective ways last Saturday against Northwestern. He rushed for 106 yards and one touchdown against the Wildcats after a 30-yard performance against Arizona State. Folston has a touchdown in three of the last five games and has rushed for more than 100 yards three times (plus a 98-yard, two-touchdown showing against North Carolina).
But Louisville has allowed just 87.4 rushing yards per game, good for second in FBS. Opponents have managed just 2.80 yards per carry. Folston’s talent will prevent him from being shut down, but he likely won’t have the kind of big game he has turned in recently. The Irish offensive line hasn’t been dominant enough to overcome a stout Louisville defensive line. Against Arizona State’s physical defensive line, Folston ran for just 30 yards although he received fewer carries than he has recently, as Notre Dame played needed to play catchup quickly throughout the game.
IRISH OFFENSIVE COACHING
Other than in the 17-14 win over Stanford, Notre Dame hasn’t failed to score a lot of points. Talent and coaching seem to have aligned, as the play-calling has been working for the Irish, the two-point conversion attempt against Northwestern notwithstanding.
There’s no reason to believe that will change against Louisville, despite Cdardinals defensive coordinator Todd Grantham leading a defense keeping opponents at an average of 17.8 points per game.
EDGE: NOTRE DAME
IRISH SPECIAL TEAMS
The kicking unit’s woes hurt Notre Dame again versus Northwestern. Senior kicker Kyle Brindza’s field goal percentage is now 57.9 percent on the season. He hasn’t benefited from sloppy holds and inconsistent blocking on his attempts.
Kelly demonstrated how much the kicking unit has lost confidence when he elected to go for a two-point conversion against Northwestern while the Irish were leading by 11 points.