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Louisville Impresses in Satterfield’s Debut

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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It’s not a victory on the scoreboard, but it’s a major victory for the program’s quest to return to prominence.

Moral victories.

The dreaded term that coaches hate and fans hate even more so. Sometimes, the hate is simply a means of denying reality.

Louisville can claim one of those from Monday’s 35-17 home defeat to No. 9 Notre Dame, whether first-year head coach Scott Satterfield and most of the Cardinal Stadium record crowd of 58,187 want to or not.

Satterfield wouldn’t use those two words after the game, but praised his team’s fight, energy, and spirit, adding that there were a lot of positives to take from the loss. For a team who had an 18-point defeat as its high-water mark over the last seven games of 2018, an 18-point loss to a team that played in last season’s College Football Playoff looks pretty good.

After a miserable 2-10 season, the bar was low for the Cardinals in 2019. The three-score defeat to the Fighting Irish didn’t necessarily raise it all that much for this season, but putting a minor scare into a top-10 team should offer hope that the stench left behind whenever former head coach Bobby Petrino exits a job could dissipate sooner than expected.

Sure, Louisville lost for the tenth straight time, but not all losses are created equal. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, there were loud cheers reverberating through the stadium. The fans knew exactly what they saw – a team that played hard, was well-coached and gave itself a chance. That’s why many of them stayed until 11:30 p.m. on a work-school night despite the outcome no longer being in doubt much earlier.

In building a 14-7 lead, Satterfield’s offense picked on an unproven set of Notre Dame linebackers, using the read-option game to put together two touchdown drives on the team’s first two possessions. The Cardinals didn’t find the end zone again the rest of the night, but many of those failed drives ended with self-inflicted mistakes. Notably speaking, that was three lost fumbles, including two on consecutive offensive snaps, part of a hilarious three-play sequence of fumbles recovered by the defense.

Turnovers tend to balance out over time, and Satterfield’s Appalachian State teams were always near the top of the national rankings in turnover margin. It’s too soon to deem Monday’s foibles a pervasive problem. Instead, the takeaway should be that only errors of their own doing kept Louisville from putting the outcome in serious doubt in the fourth quarter.

The game was much closer than the final score would indicate, as the Irish only outgained the Cardinals by a 423-383 margin. Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book was routinely flustered by Louisville’s pressure and blanketing of receivers, finishing the first half with more rushing yards than passing yards and failing to top 200 yards for the game – a number only national champion Clemson as able to hold Book under in his nine starts last season.

Notre Dame’s defense refocused after the first two drives, eliminating the over-aggression that aided the Cardinals’ two touchdown drives, instead forcing Louisville quarterback Jawon Pass to have to beat them through the air. The junior couldn’t do it, as only 10 of his 24 attempts resulted in completions. The Cardinals outgained the Irish on the ground, 249-230, but the necessary balance to win simply wasn’t in the Cards.

With the game even at 14-14, Book put the visitors ahead to stay with a third-down touchdown run following Pass’ second straight fumble just before halftime. His first touchdown pass of the season gave the Irish some breathing room for the first time midway through the third quarter, as tight end Tommy Tremble found open space down the seam to make it a 28-14 game. A Louisville field goal cut the deficit to 11 early in the fourth quarter, but running back Jahmir Smith added the final touchdown of the game to his earlier first touchdown of the game to ice Notre Dame’s 14th victory in its last 15 games.

A wild game settled into a quiet final nine minutes, at least until the crowd roared that one final time to salute their team for an effort unseen from the Cardinals at any point a year ago.

Satterfield can use whatever words he chooses, but there is no doubting that Monday night exceeded expectations. It’s not a victory on the scoreboard, but it’s a major victory for the program’s quest to return to prominence.

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.