Well, no need to dwell on that one for too much longer. Whichever way you spin it, Saturday’s contest was nervy and frustrating, and it was also a win. ND gets a mulligan because they got that win; the consequence of taking that mulligan is perhaps the least exciting #3 national ranking in a while. We don’t get to be realistically included with the likes of Alabama and Clemson until that’s earned again, but the important part is that it can still be earned. Here are a few scattered thoughts on the 12-7 victory, and then we can all move on.
- The defense being this good without generating turnovers and big negative plays is a testament to what Clark Lea has built; culture, talent, depth, scheme — it all means that this unit is solid almost no matter what. The Cardinals arrived in South Bend averaging 29 points per game and 5.9 yards per play, but had suffered the consequences of 11 turnovers in four games. The Irish weren’t exactly able to exploit that sloppiness, but instead suffocated Scott Satterfield’s offense to the tune of 4.9 yards per play and one measly touchdown. Tutu Atwell was a non-factor when just *one* missed tackle could have meant a very different end result. Gooooood shit.
- 106 passing yards for Ian Book quite clearly won’t cut it. Yes, Louisville’s defensive line applied pressure effectively. Yes, the receiver rotation is still confounding. Yes, the play-calling could use some additional creativity. There’s work to do on the offensive side of the ball.
- The best case scenario is Braden Lenzy getting healthy and Kevin Austin finally becoming a full-time contributor and starter, duh (it’s cool that Javon McKinley has mostly put it together but those drops were not good and this offense needs more of #4). Michael Mayer needs to keep getting lots of snaps and targets. Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree also need the ball in their hands as much as possible — keep working the screen game to those guys (maybe not on third and long, though).
- Let’s not move the goalposts too far from their original location — entering the season, this game was widely regarded as quite a dangerous one, and for good reason. A few tough losses doesn’t necessarily change that reality.
- Red zone struggles are always frustrating but, for now, don’t necessitate pressing the panic button. This offense has a lot of weapons at its disposal to use inside the 20, and I’d expect Book and crew to revert to the mean in the coming weeks.
- Brian Kelly was tactically as bad as you thought at the end of the first half (and throwing a fade on a two-point conversion, lord have mercy). Real bonehead stuff from an experienced coaching staff, and we’re just lucky it didn’t lead to a loss like it would have almost certainly done in, I don’t know, 2014. Tighten up, Brian!
- For a week, at least, we will be a humble number three — we’re good! Dinner was great! You can have the last chicken wing! No it’s- no, I couldn’t, you’re the host, go on- well- well okay if you insist— that’s how I feel about being ranked this high. It was there. All the other party guests declined. It would be rude not to assume the mantle, at least for the time being.