SOUTH BEND – In his decade with the Irish and decades in coaching, Brian Kelly has seen games play out in a number of ways while on the sidelines.
But just like the 2020 season itself, he’d never really seen one play out like it did in South Bend on a windy Saturday afternoon. It wasn’t like his Notre Dame team played badly, they just couldn’t make the most of early trips into Louisville territory.
A tough Cardinals’ team was determined to make the Irish pay for their missed opportunities yet the couldn’t do it. Notre Dame had one more scoring drive in them in the second half to stay undefeated with a 12-7 victory on Saturday.
“I’ve coached a lot of games over 30 years. I don’t know that I’ve been in one quite like this,” said Kelly of the win. “I’ve been in a 12-7 game when it was a stinker. You’ll like, Eew. But this game was a little different. It was hard-fought.”
Just like the eventual game-winning play with quarterback Ian Book, who on third down ran across the field then down into the endzone for a 13-yard touchdown to erase Louisville’s one-point lead. The Irish couldn’t get the two-point conversion as nothing came easy on this day, but again, it was just enough to get by.
The Notre Dame defense allowed just 233 total yards for the game and one touchdown drive to start the second half to make those 12 points and that Book touchdown hold up for the game-winner.
It keeps the quarterback undefeated at home in his career, even though he might have wanted a little more production from the effort. Notre Dame drove inside the Louisville 14-yard line twice in the first two drives but settled for field goals.
They got to the 13-yard line late in the half but decided to fake the field goal to get something going. Instead, Jay Bramblett was stuffed short of the first down, leaving more points on the field going into halftime.
“I felt like that was the right time to take a shot at it. Yeah, I mean, the only thing you can question is the distance, how far it was,” said Kelly of the fake. “The rationale behind it was that the way it was set up, we felt like it was a play that we’d go for a touchdown.”
It didn’t, but finally Book got the team to the endzone after the Cardinals got on the board with an 83-yard touchdown drive that was capped by a short scoring pass from Malik Cunningham to Marshon Ford.
Book’s scoring run was the highlight of his day, one in which he was 11-of-19 for 106 yards while also picking up 47 yards on 12 carries. That along with the defense’s effort was enough to give their Irish their 22nd-consecutive victory at Notre Dame Stadium.
“One thing about this team is there was never any doubt. I could see that from the time we started to halftime through the end of the game,” said Book. “This team fights and we don’t give up.”
Even when the game was little more unusual than others.