Let’s just say it: that was not quite what we were looking for. Let’s also say that it was far, faaar, far from any conceivable worst case scenario. As easy as it is to be alarmist about myriad game one jitters, it actually resembled last year’s Stanford and Virginia Tech games more than it did Ball State or Vanderbilt, albeit against a lesser opponent than the former two. It probably wasn’t as good or as bad as anyone will have you believe. ND was favored by 18, and they won by 18. To get to that outcome, sure, we would have preferred a bigger initial margin that maybe got whittled down a bit in garbage time, but here we are.
Unquestionably the strangest storyline is that Ian Book — Notre Dame single season accuracy record holder Ian Book — looked…shaky. At best. We’re on the record as being very high on Ian this year, and this isn’t reason to abandon ship. But. It’s hard to feel great about that performance, even if his statline ended up relatively clean. Chip Long and his quarterback did not do a great job on the fly against a variety of coverages thrown at them by the Cardinal defense. He had the same happy feet displayed in his worst performances last season. He missed on short throws and easy reads that are normally his bread and butter. Against Louisville. Your guess is as good as mine.
Tony Jones and Jahmir Smith looked good all night, even if their limitations were clear. The line did a decent job, but the offense wasn’t able to showcase a lot of explosiveness (Jafar returning in time for Georgia is more or less imperative at this point). Tommy Tremble (wow he’s kind of a little guy for a tight end! Sorry, not trying to be pejorative, Tommy) being ready to play a meaningful part in the offense in the wake of Cole Kmet’s injury is genuinely great news that we might actually be undervaluing. Chase Claypool was sort of quiet but effective, while Chris Finke was all but silent. Hrmm. But hey, specialists! They looked normal! Major snaps to Jonathan Doerer and Jay Bramblett for simply doing their jobs and not giving us something else to fret about.
The start of the game might be a knock on the Irish defense, but credit to Clark lea for getting the Irish to lock down after a truly scary start. They really settled down and didn’t let Louisville do much of anything the rest of the game. Nonetheless, we all know Georgia is licking its chops at the thought of the middle of the Notre Dame defense. The linebacker (and defensive tackle) rotation went more or less as expected, but the results were decidedly mixed. Not that there weren’t flashes, especially Drew White and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, but it’s hard to feel too confident. Except about Kyle Hamilton. I’m extremely confident he’s, like, almost there already.
2018 may have spoiled us, but boy I sure did not love seeing all those arm tackles. Alohi Gilman held up his end of the bargain, but our world-ender defensive ends started a bit slow. Shaun Crawford and Tariq Bracy made some nice plays at the back end of the defense, but you have to hope there’s a return to form (literally, tackling form) in short order. Okwara and Kareem simply have to make their presence felt substantially more for this defense to perform at the necessary level.
So we’re left with a few pieces to pick at. A very good start (7-0), and then a really bad stretch (0-14), and then a good, if unentertaining, finish (28-3). In the light of day, we (I) may have underestimated the Cardinals — freed from a lousy, mean, lazy coach and fired up for the primetime rebirth of the program in the friendly confines. Louisville might end up being a bit better a bit sooner than expected under Scott Satterfield, so good for them. But, in a largely uneven performance, the Irish got enough juice from their young guys to spark a +25 run to end a game, on the road, against an ACC opponent, that was never really in doubt. It doesn’t feel crazy to go out on a very short and safe ledge and predict that Ian Book and the rest of the vets will come out guns blazing against New Mexico in eleven days. Season openers under Brian Kelly tend to be predictive of how each season goes, so this all might get a little weird. Until then, a win is a win.
Photo via Matt Cashore — USA TODAY