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Notre Dame Football

Louisville Stomps Out No. 10 Notre Dame’s Postseason Hopes with 13-Point Beat Down

October 7, 2023

Quarterback Sam Hartman turned the ball over five times, and Notre Dame dropped its first regular-season game to an ACC opponent since 2017 with a 33-20 loss to the No. 25 Cardinals on Saturday. 

The 13-point defeat is the largest loss of the Marcus Freeman era. With two losses this season, the Fighting Irish (5-2) are effectively eliminated from College Football Playoff contention. 

“We've got to take ownership as a coaching staff first and as the head coach first. Our guys weren't prepared for whatever reason,” Freeman said. “We got to take a deep dive and figure out what it was.”

Hartman continued his struggles inside L&N Federal Credit Union Stadium. He threw an interception on his 149th pass attempt this season, his first in a Notre Dame uniform. He followed that up with two more picks and two fumbles, giving him 11 turnovers in his last two games against Louisville. 

“​​We obviously know we’ve got to take care of football,” Freeman said. “You can't turn the ball five times and expect to win, but everybody's going to point the finger at Sam, but you've to point the finger at me. We got to protect him. We’ve got to do a better job protecting the quarterback and pushing situations to have a higher percentage for success.”

He still connected on 22 of 38 pass attempts for 254 yards and two touchdowns. 

The defense kept Notre Dame in the game early on, with the Irish leading 10-7 a few minutes into the third quarter. 

The damn broke shortly after that. The Cardinals scored 26 points in the final 24 minutes of the game while averaging 6.2 yards per play in the second half. 

Quarterback Jack Plummer did well managing the game. He went 17-24 for 145 yards and a touchdown but never turned the ball over. 

Much of Louisville’s production came on the ground. Running back Jawhar Jordan set a new career high with 20 carries for 143 yards and two touchdowns on 6.3 yards per carry. His pair of scores came from distances of 45 and 21 yards.

“I thought our defense battled for the most part,” Freeman said. “They were put in some bad situations late in the game, but for the most part, I thought they did a pretty good job.”

The lone bright spot was a rebound performance from kicker Spencer Shrader, who rebounded from two straight games with a missed field goal to drill both of his attempts against Louisville for makes of 53 and 54 yards. 

Best at their Worst

It’s hard for any team to be at its best when its best players are at their worst, which was an issue for Notre Dame across the board. 

Sam Hartman turned the ball over five times. 

Cornerback Ben Morrison gave up his second touchdown of the season, looking lost on a 9-yard pass to Jamari Thrash in the corner of the end zone on Louisville’s opening drive. He also allowed passes of more than 15 yards in man and zone coverage. 

Left tackle Joe Alt was blown up by Louisville defensive lineman Mason Reiger, who sacked Hartman for a loss of 10 yards on 2nd-and-3. 

Right tackle Blake Fisher missed multiple blocking assignments and negated a 30-yard reception to Mitchell Evans with a face mask penalty. He also gave up a free rusher when Notre Dame was on 4th-and-11 from the Irish 35-yard line, which led to Hartman throwing the ball up in desperation. 

As a whole, the offensive line struggled by giving up five sacks and failing to generate much push in the run game. 

Nothing exemplifies this more than running back Audric Estimé’s lack of production. He entered Saturday leading the nation in rushing with 672 yards on the ground and 7.1 yards per attempt. Against Louisville, he had 10 carries for 20 yards for 2.0 yards per attempt. 

A Marist Liufau face mask penalty negated a Notre Dame stop on 3rd and long early in the fourth quarter. Four plays later, defensive tackle Howard Cross III was dominated on a double team that enabled Louisville running back Jawhar Jordan to break open the game for a 21-yard touchdown run for a 24-13 lead.

Of course, when nearly the entire team struggles, it likely has more to do with how they were prepared than anything else. 

“You can point your finger at any person, any specific unit,” Freeman said, “but the reality is, we better point your finger at ourselves and figure out what are the issues that lead to the lack of execution.”

3rd Down Disaster

The Irish went 3-13 on third down, which includes Notre Dame’s garbage time touchdown on 3rd-and-5 with 1:37 to go in the game. 

Notre Dame entered the game ranked 28th in the nation, converting 46.4% of third down attempts, but in the last two games, Notre Dame is 6 of 28 (21.4%) on third down. 

On the season, Charlotte ranks last out of 133 FBS programs with a 25% conversion rate. 

What’s Next?

The Irish return home for its last of four straight night games against top-25 opponents, taking on No. 9 USC (5-0).

The Trojans are led by reigning Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams.

The Irish appear emotionally and physically depleted and now need to respond from a double-digit loss with midterms coming up. 

“We're gonna have to do a deep dive into exactly where the shortcomings happened,” Freeman said, “and we've got to get this thing figured out and turned around. We've got to USC coming in next weekend, so we don't have a lot of time to feel sorry for ourselves. We better get back to work and start preparing for the game.”

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