Sep 26, 2020; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Louisville Cardinals quarterback Malik Cunningham (3) runs the ball as Pittsburgh Panthers defensive lineman Rashad Weaver (17) chases during the fourth quarter  at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh won 23-20. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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No. 4 Notre Dame aims to keep Cunningham, Louisville in check

Little has gone according to plan for No. 4 Notre Dame this season.

But after a teamwide COVID-19 outbreak forced a two-week layoff between games, the Fighting Irish (3-0, 2-0 ACC) are looking forward to a clean work week before hosting Louisville on Saturday (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC).

“For us, getting into a normal work week is enjoyable,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “Certainly, getting back a routine gets back to a feeling of normalcy.”

Notre Dame showed signs of rust, particularly on defense, from its long layoff in a 42-26 win over Florida State last Saturday. The Irish allowed 405 yards of total offense and 96 yards of rushing from FSU quarterback Jordan Travis in the win. Starting quarterback Ian Book continued his strong play for Notre Dame with 201 yards passing, 58 yards rushing and three TDs (two passing, one rushing) to lift the Irish to the win.

“There were some uncharacteristic defensive lapses that occurred that we don’t normally see,” Kelly said. “But we will address those, and our guys are aware of them and they will be corrected for this weekend.”

Louisville (1-3, 0-3 ACC) has lost three straight, its longest losing streak since the 2018 season. The Cardinals have allowed an average of 38.7 points per game in losses to Miami (Fla.), Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech.

“When you put in the kind of work we put in and you go out and you’re not able to celebrate in the locker room, it’s very frustrating,” Louisville coach Scott Satterfield said.

Overall, Louisville ranks 12th in the ACC in scoring defense, allowing 34.3 points per game. But big plays, which were the staple of Louisville’s offense in its first season under Satterfield in 2019, have been harder to come by in 2020. Louisville had just three plays of 50 or more yards through its first four games. Despite being unable to connect on big plays, Louisville junior Malik Cunningham remains one of the top quarterbacks in the ACC, ranking sixth in the league in passing at 246.5 yards per game.

“Malik’s overthrown a few of them,” Satterfield said, when asked about big plays. “But it seems like there’s been something different, whether it be Malik not throwing the proper ball or the receiver not running the proper route or the O line or tight ends not protecting. So, in the course of the season, it’s been a little bit of everybody, I think, that have attributed to some of those shots not being there.”

Kelly said keeping Cunningham in check is one of the keys for Notre Dame’s beleaguered defense.

“Defending him out of the pocket is going to be a big concern for us,” Kelly said. “He is very good at creating and that is probably as big a concern as anything.”

Notre Dame is hoping to get starting defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and redshirt freshman linebacker Jack Kiser back this week after both sat out the FSU game.

Satterfield said that Louisville is facing a huge test going into its third straight road game at Notre Dame Stadium.

“They recruit some of the best players in the country year-in and year-out,” Satterfield said. “They have depth. It’s just an outstanding program. So as you look at them, there’s not a ton of weaknesses on this football team.”

–Field Level Media

Field Level Media
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