Louisville and Notre Dame both enter Week 13 at 7-3, and each program still has plenty left at stake despite sporting a three-loss resume. The Orange Bowl is a possibility for both programs, with the Cardinals having a better shot at a trip to Miami than the Fighting Irish. In order for Louisville to reach the Orange Bowl, coach Bobby Petrino’s team needs to win out and have Georgia Tech lose its finale against Georgia. There are a couple of other dominoes that needs to fall, but a 9-3 Louisville team could be the ACC’s highest-ranked team outside of Florida State.
Notre Dame has lost two in a row and three out of its last four matchups. Offense certainly hasn’t been a problem for the Fighting Irish during that span, as coach Brian Kelly’s team has scored at least 31 points in four out of the last five games. However, turnovers and a struggling defense have been problematic for the Fighting Irish. Louisville lost to Florida State 42-31 on Oct. 30, but the Cardinals rebounded by defeating Boston College 38-19 on Nov. 8.
This will be the first meeting between Louisville and Notre Dame.
Louisville at Notre Dame
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Notre Dame -3
Louisville’s Key to Victory: Get the Ball to DeVante Parker and Michael Dyer
Both teams enter this matchup with some uncertainty under center. Louisville lost quarterback Will Gardner to a season-ending knee injury against Boston College, which elevates true freshman Reggie Bonnafon into the starting lineup. Bonnafon already has three starts under his belt this year and has completed 51 of 92 passes for 662 yards and four scores. The true freshman also has 138 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Bonnafon should see plenty of opportunities to exploit a Notre Dame defense that has struggled in recent weeks. The Fighting Irish did not allow an opponent to score more than 17 points in each of their first five games. However, Notre Dame’s defense has allowed its last five opponents to average at least 5.6 yards per play, and this unit allowed 40 in a loss to Northwestern, 55 in a loss to Arizona State and 39 in a victory over Navy. While Bonnafon’s performance in a road tough environment will be under the spotlight, his supporting cast should chip in plenty of help. Running back Michael Dyer faces a rush defense allowing 150.6 yards per game. Receiver DeVante Parker has recorded 490 receiving yards since returning from a foot injury against NC State. Petrino and coordinator Garrick McGee can ease Bonnafon into this game with a heavy dose of Dyer and play-action passes downfield to Parker. And keep an eye on Bonnafon’s mobility. The true freshman’s mobility could be an underrated part of Louisville’s offense on Saturday.
Notre Dame’s Key to Victory: Limit the Turnovers
The Fighting Irish’s outlook on Saturday could be as simple as winning the turnover battle. Coach Brian Kelly’s team has recorded a negative turnover margin in four out of the last seven games, including a -4 mark against Arizona State. Notre Dame also had a costly fumble in the final minutes against Northwestern last Saturday. Quarterback Everett Golson is dealing with a sprained shoulder but is expected to play. Golson is to blame for some of the Fighting Irish’s problems with turnovers, as the junior has tossed 12 picks in 2014. The rash of turnovers this season has to be a major concern for Kelly against Louisville’s defense, which leads the ACC with 25 takeaways this year. Safety Gerod Holliman has intercepted 13 passes in 10 games and has been one of the nation’s top defenders through the first 12 weeks of the year. Golson has an array of options at receiver to choose from, including William Fuller (61 receptions, 13 TDs), Corey Robinson (13.7 ypc, 34 rec.) and running back Tarean Folston (5.1 ypc, 668 yards) is also capable of churning out 100 yards on the ground. Louisville should have linebacker/defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin back on the field after the standout senior missed the victory over Boston College due to a hamstring injury, which is a boost to the defense’s pass rush and overall depth in the front seven. Notre Dame’s offense is one of the best Louisville has played this year, and if Golson can limit his mistakes, the Fighting Irish should be able to move the ball on a unit that limits opponents to just 4.4 yards per play.
Week 13 is full of matchups that are difficult to evaluate. With rivalry games coming in Week 14, teams may be looking ahead to next week, and there are a lot of even matchups on the schedule. The Louisville-Notre Dame meeting in South Bend fits that mold. These two teams are fairly even, and there’s uncertainty for both offenses with the quarterback position. If the Cardinals continue to force turnovers and Bonnafon doesn’t many any big mistakes, Louisville has a good shot to leave South Bend with a victory. Golson's health is a major concern for coach Brian Kelly, but Notre Dame's biggest issue remains turnovers. Will the Fighting Irish avoid a loss due to its own mistakes? The guess here is Notre Dame bounces back after disappointing loss to Northwestern and edges the Cardinals for a 27-24 victory.