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History of the matchup: Notre Dame vs. Louisville

| Tuesday, October 3, 2023

On Saturday, No. 10 Notre Dame and No. 25 Louisville will meet in a primetime football showdown. And though Louisville ranks among the closest Power Five cities to South Bend, the Irish and Cardinals have clashed just three times – all in the past decade. Here’s a look into this shallow, but entertaining series, which has featured a senior day loss, three consecutive fumbles and one of the downright strangest games in modern Notre Dame history.

Nov. 22, 2014: Louisville 31, Notre Dame 28

The series began with a 24th-ranked Louisville squad stealing a victory in South Bend to reach 8-3. At that point, Notre Dame’s defense had spiraled out of control, yielding 30-plus points in five consecutive games after conceding no more than 15 through the season’s first five games. Additionally, the Irish had lost three out of four, including a heartbreaker at Florida State and a home stunner to Northwestern the week prior.

True freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon completed just eight of 21 Louisville passes, but it didn’t matter. The Cardinals ran all over Notre Dame, compiling 229 rushing yards to ND’s 99. Running back Brandon Radcliff totaled 134 yards on the ground, while Bonnafon added two rushing scores. On the other side, Irish tailback Tarean Folston kept the pace with 134 rushing yards, while breakout wide receiver Will Fuller garnered 109 receiving yards. But dynamic quarterback Everett Golson was stymied, finishing with a long run of just five yards.

After Notre Dame kicked a game-opening field goal, the Cards fired back immediately. Converting a third-and-14 and third-and-16 on its subsequent drives, Louisville reached the end zone twice in succession. Bonnafon scored both touchdowns on the ground, pushing the visitors ahead 14-3 through the first quarter.

Prior to halftime, Notre Dame’s offense wouldn’t offer up much resistance. After the Irish kicked a field goal early in quarter two, Golson threw a pick inside his own 20-yard line, setting up Louisville to rebuild its 11-point lead. That 17-6 score would carry to the break as both teams traded three-and-outs.

The Irish finally came alive after halftime, scoring back-to-back touchdowns after Cardinal three-and-outs. Each drive required three plays, with Folston capping off the first after consecutive 20-plus-yard pickups. On the second, Greg Bryant returned a punt to the Louisville three, setting up Corey Robinson to receive the go-ahead touchdown from Golson. 

Unsurprisingly, Notre Dame’s defense didn’t maintain the advantage for long. Louisville countered with back-to-back touchdowns from DeVante Parker and Radcliff, opening the fourth quarter with a 31-20 lead. 

But luck sided with the rallying Irish down the stretch. On the ensuing drive, a third-and-13 hail mary from Golson deflected into the arms of Fuller for a score. Then, at the end of an 11-play Cardinal death march, Greer Martini’s goal-line sack resulted in a missed 37-yard field goal from John Wallace.

Down three with five minutes to play, Notre Dame methodically moved into scoring range. But after a pass interference penalty brought the Irish to the goal line, the drive stalled out. With 57 seconds left, Notre Dame called upon kicker Kyle Brindza to tie the game with a 32-yard field goal. Brindza, who had missed from 38 and 42 yards the previous week, sprayed it wide right. And due to questionable timeout usage by Brian Kelly, Louisville was able to kneel the game out.

Notre Dame went on to lose again at USC the next week before beating LSU on a Brindza field goal in the Music City Bowl. Louisville, meanwhile, finished the regular season by defeating Kentucky before falling to Georgia in the Belk Bowl.

Sep. 2, 2019: Notre Dame 35, Louisville 17

The Irish and Cardinals entered this Labor Day tilt in totally different conditions. Notre Dame, fresh off a perfect regular season and College Football Playoff berth, held the No. 9 ranking. Louisville had just gone 2-10 in year one post-Lamar Jackson, resulting in the departure of head coach Bobby Petrino. 

In the 2019 season opener at a near-full Cardinal Stadium, the Cards spooked the Irish early before Notre Dame settled down and won comfortably. Both quarterbacks, ND’s Ian Book and Louisville’s Jawon Pass, flashed their mobility, running for a combined 148 yards and three touchdowns. Also, Irish bellcow Tony Jones Jr. produced 110 rushing yards, while Jahmir Smith added two ground scores.

Notre Dame enjoyed an ideal start to the game and season. Book scampered for 37 yards on the opening play, leading to a Smith touchdown run from three yards out. Louisville punched right back, as Pass ran it home to cap off a 12-play, 88-yard drive. After an Irish three-and-out, Pass found the end zone again, following up a 44-yard run from 122-yard rusher Javian Hawkins. 

Jones Jr. would gash Louisville on the ensuing Irish drive. The senior accumulated 79 yards, gaining 35 on a third-down run before reaching paydirt from 11 yards away. With that, the Irish had tied the game at 14 with one quarter in the books.

In the final 45 minutes, Notre Dame outscored Louisville 21-3. Neither team moved the ball throughout the second quarter, but a goofy sequence pushed the Irish ahead just before halftime. On a third-and-10 at his own 20-yard line, Pass fumbled. On the very next play, Book fumbled on a sack to hand possession back over. Still, Pass coughed up the ball again one play later and Notre Dame didn’t give it up. With 17 seconds remaining, Book ran for an 11-yard touchdown, giving the Irish a 21-14 lead. 

Early in the second half, Louisville drove deep into Irish territory, but Pass fumbled yet again to keep Notre Dame in front. Minutes later, Book led a two-play touchdown drive, hitting Chase Claypool for 31 yards and Tommy Tremble for the 26-yard score. After a Cardinal field goal made it 28-17, Notre Dame put the game on ice. Marching 75 yards on 12 plays, the Irish converted three third downs, ultimately going up three possessions on White’s second touchdown run.

Notre Dame went on to an 11-2 season, featuring losses at Georgia and Michigan with a Camping World Bowl win. Louisville improved drastically, going 8-5 and winning the Music City Bowl in its first season under Scott Satterfield.

Oct. 17, 2020: Louisville 7, Notre Dame 12

A year later, the fourth-ranked Irish edged Louisville in their most recent run to the Playoff. In improving to 4-0, Notre Dame struggled to finish drives against a 1-3 Cardinals team that had played suspect defense to start the season. Though Book completed just 11 passes for 106 yards, Kyren Williams rushed for 127 yards as part of an Irish ground attack that outgained Louisville 232 to 96.

On its first two drives, Notre Dame used a combined 12:41 on 27 plays. But, unlike the previous year’s touchdown-only performance in Kentucky, two field goals resulted. Tired of scoring three points, the Irish attempted a fake field goal in the first half’s final minute but failed to convert. After Louisville missed a 52-yard field goal going the other way, Notre Dame went to halftime ahead 6-0. Both teams embarked on only four drives in the opening 30 minutes.

Unbelievably, each team possessed the ball only three more times in the second half. The Cardinals and Irish traded touchdown drives, which combined to take over 11 minutes, to start. On Louisville’s crawl to the end zone, Malik Cunningham found Marshon Ford for six after sustaining the drive with a rushing conversion on fourth down.

Up 7-6, the Cardinals initially attempted and recovered an onside kick, but the play was called back. With excellent starting field position, Notre Dame finally cashed in on a signature play from Book. On a third-and-eight from the Louisville 13, the experienced signal-caller scrambled to the left. After juking a defender to achieve the first down, Book lunged inside the pylon, restoring the Irish lead.

Trailing by five, Louisville gained a combined 24 yards on its next two drives. But when the Cardinals punted with 7:55 to play, they certainly expected to get the ball at least once more. In a game like this one? Of course not.

Running 14 plays, Notre Dame burned all three Cardinal timeouts, converting three third downs. On the last, Williams needed five yards and ran for 24, ending the game. In what could have been a four-touchdown victory, the Irish escaped with an old-school, five-point win.

Notre Dame went on to another perfect regular season, while Louisville fell back to a 4-7 mark.

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About Tyler Reidy

Tyler is a sophomore who serves as an Associate Sports Editor at The Observer. Hailing from Omaha, Nebraska, and Keough Hall, he enjoys road trips, all things collegiate athletics and Kansas City barbecue. Reach out here or @TylerJReidy on Twitter!

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