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Notre Dame Football

Uyeyama's Keys to the Game | Louisville

October 16, 2020

In the season opener last year, Louisville was projected to be a bad team when they faced Notre Dame. It turned out they were much better than expected and ended up as one of the surprise teams of the ACC in 2019.

Because of that, they had expectations heading into 2020. After a 1-3 start, it’s obvious they haven’t met them. They are looking at 1-4 as underdogs against Notre Dame this weekend. They may end up with the title of being the best 1-4 team in college football, but no one wants that distinction.

Despite their record, they are a team that will present challenges to Notre Dame, particularly on defense. Louisville’s offense is ranked 12th in SP+ and they have backs and receivers who can explode for a big play at any moment.

With that in mind, these are my keys to the game in order for Notre Dame.

Pressure on Cunningham

Malik Cunningham appeared to be on the verge of becoming a star for Louisville. He threw for 22 touchdowns against only five interceptions. His yards per attempt was a robust 11.5.

He hasn’t taken the next step this season. Though his yards per game numbers are up, his YPA is down 3.5 yards and he’s already thrown five interceptions in four games. He’s also been brutal when pressured, which has been close to 40% of the time this season. His completion percentage is 23.5% and his YPA is 4.6.

A lot of those pressures come on deep passes when he needs a bit more time in the pocket. He hasn’t been getting it and the Louisville offensive line has not done well to protect him.

Cunningham has completed 40% on deep passes this season (he was right at 50% in 2019). Notre Dame needs to pressure him when he’s throwing deep to keep those completion numbers down. He throws 6.5 passes that are 20 yards or longer each game and if Notre Dame can hold Louisville to two completions or less, that’s going to be huge.

He was only 1 of 7 on those throws against Pitt.

Swarm Hawkins

Javian Hawkins rushed for over 1,500 yards last season and is currently ninth in the country in rushing yards per game. He’s unbelievably shifty (22 forced missed tackles) and can take it the crib if he gets a crease (he had a 75-yard touchdown against Pitt).

The problem for him is that he hasn’t had enough of those creases in 2020. He’s had to make defenders miss in the hole far too often and has been hit in the backfield a lot. Louisville’s offense is 68th out of 74 teams in Stuff Rate (runs that are tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage). Teams averaged 10 tackles for loss per game against them (72nd).

Even with those poor numbers, Hawkins still manages to be productive. Notre Dame, eighth in the country in Stuff Rate and tied for ninth in TFLs per game, has to swarm Hawkins and not let him get loose. He might be the second best back in the ACC and they won’t want to let him have many running lanes where he is one on one with a safety.


Run. The. Ball.

This isn’t saying anything that Tommy Rees and the Notre Dame coaching staff don’t already know. They are aware of the strength of their team and have been very good running the football. It just so happens that they are facing a defense that isn’t very good at stopping it.

Louisville is giving up 4.88 yards per carry against ACC opponents. That includes a Pitt team that hadn’t run for more than 3.0 YPC against three other ACC teams. They’ve allowed 25 runs of 10 yards or more and the Irish are averaging nine of those each game so far.

Their defense is built on being disruptive with linemen slanting and linebackers and defensive backs blitzing to try and create plays behind the line of scrimmage. They are pretty good at doing that too (19th in Stuff Rate). It’s those runs that aren’t stopped for losses or no gain that are a problem.

They sell out to try and make plays a lot and can get burned. So even if Louisville is having some success stopping the run early with negative plays, Notre Dame needs to keep to their game plan because the running game should eventually hit for them as it has in previous weeks.

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