Aftermath: Notre Dame vs. Louisville

Day-after analysis and observations following Notre Dame's 31-28 loss to Louisville

1. "Outstanding, except we didn't get the match-up on the touchdown. We had matched them up all day and didn't get that match up and they threw a touchdown." - Brian Kelly

Not difficult to figure out who and what Kelly was referring to there in his post-game presser.

Sophomore cornerback Cole Luke is transforming into an elite cornerback, and admist Notre Dame's three-game skid, Luke's performances have been a consistent silver lining. Luke has a knack for preventing the big play, and it's something that comes inherent to the Arizona native and didn't need to be coached. Technique, rather, was the area of his game that needed most improvement entering 2014, and Kelly pointed out earlier this year he's taken a giant step forward in that department.

"He has been technically a much sounder corner, a much more dedicated corner to his technique, which has made him a better corner as a result," Kelly said in September. "Now, along the way, he's gained a lot of confidence... Once he became a starter you could see everything elevate in the way he walked, the way he talked, the way he went to meetings. There was that sense of urgency in everything that he did. I think since that day, we've seen a growth in elevation in everything he has done within practice."

Yesterday, Luke was credited with three tackles and two passes defended. Of note, he also combined with Austin Collinsworth on the blitz during Louisville's first drive to bring down running back Michael Dyer for a loss of one. Most impressive was his performance defending Louisville star wide out DeVante Parker. As time dwindled in the first half, he managed a skilled pass-breakup against Parker, and in the third quarter, he played tremendous defense on a pass intended for an in-stride Parker down the left hash.

In his fourth game back from injury, Parker finished the day with just four receptions for 65 yards and one touchdown. In his first three games, he totaled nine, eight, and eight receptions, respectively and had 132, 214 and and 144 yards, respectively.

One has to wonder if momentum would have continued to build in Notre Dame's favor had Luke been lined up against Parker in the third quarter on a Louisville 2nd-and-eight at Notre Dame's 21-yard line. Instead, it was a less experienced and less reliable Devin Butler going one-on-one vs. the lethal combination of range and speed in the red zone. The play resulted in Parker's only score of the game and Louisville retaking the lead.

Luke offered an explanation of the call after the game:

"We talked about it during the week, saying that I would follow him (Parker), and then we got word during the week that Cody (Riggs) was feeling a little healthier, so we stayed on our sides, and it's a little tiring running back and forth trying to figure out where he is every play."

That one's on the coaching staff, and it was a defining moment of the game.

Next year Cole Luke and KeiVarare Russell will be Notre Dame's starting cornerbacks. The rotation at safety must be sorted out. And, getting a head start on that dilemma before 2015 enters the picture would be ideal, but there's encouragement to draw from the fact Notre Dame will field at least two elite players in the secondary, an area that has been grey for the Irish in recent years.

2. Greer Martini has earned the right to play four quarters vs. USC.

In the past two games, Nyles Morgan has been called for a personal foul, face mask, and targeting. The hit to the head on Bonnafon will sideline him for the first half against the Trojans. Martini's play in his absence yesterday should keep him sidelined for the second half as well.

The unquestioned effort play of the game was produced by Martini. On a Louisville 3rd-and-goal at the Notre Dame six-yard line, Martini broke Louisville's offensive line and wrapped up Bonnafon for a loss of 14 yards. Louisville missed its field goal attempt, and Notre Dame got the ball back back with five minutes remaining down by just three.

With Martini, Notre Dame allowed just 13 yards on the ground on five rushes. Prior, Notre Dame was gashed for 216 yards on the ground on 38 Louisville carries.

In a limited number of snaps, that makes North Carolina's Ryan Switzer, Arizona State's Keenan Allen and now Louisville's Reggie Bonnafon as players Martini has chased down for a big defensive play. Cue deceptive speed.

Kelly said of the targeting call:

"It was a penalty that did not need to occur. I mean, he had a free shot at him. He did not need to go high. It was a careless, careless mistake. He's a young player that has got to understand he's got to play within himself. He's extremely athletic, and he's got to understand that he's got to play within himself and meaning that when he gets a shot, and he gets a clear shot, finish it off the right way. He's taught the right way to do it, and he's a little bit out of control at times. We've got to obviously get him to mature in that area."

3. Game-defining mistakes were plentiful.

- Less obvious than the others, but still a key part of the game, Notre Dame began its first offensive drive of the game with a 27-yard completion to Will Fuller followed by an 11-yard rush from Tarean Folson to move Notre Dame into red zone territory. That was on the heels of a 29-yard kickoff return by Amir Carlisle and a 15-yard personal foul penally called on Louisville. Result: Notre Dame's offensive line failed to produce much from there, and the Irish were forced to settle for three after a promising start.

- Golson forced a bad pass to Fuller on a corner route, and Louisville's defender easily steped in front to make the interception. Two offensive drives later, Golson fumbled after pressure from the Cardinals. Result: Notre Dame faces 3rd-and-38 after a comedy of errors.

- The decision (or lack of execution) from Kelly and VanGorder not to match Luke with an isolated Parker on 2nd-and-eight in the red zone. Result: Notre Dame gives up its 20-17 lead as Parker hauls in a touchdown pass over Butler to give the Cardinals a 24-20 advantage.

- The abuse Martin took on the designed draw on 2nd-and-goal from the nine-yard line late in the 4th quarter as Notre Dame attempted to take the lead. Result: Golson sacked for a loss of six.

- The mishandled hold by Malik Zaire and subsequent missed 32-yard field goal by Kyle Brindza that would have likely sent the game into overtime. Result: Notre Dame drops to 7-4.

Kelly said after the game:

"I mean, they played with great effort, just made some mistakes. Zone read, we're in great coverage, (but) we've got two guys playing the wrong coverage, we made mistakes. When we were lined up properly, and in our right fits and doing the right things, we did a pretty good job. I think we battled. We played with effort and great attitude, and we had a chance with the ball with the ball in our own hands with a minute to go and a chance to win and we've got to cash that in and score. That's how I see it."

4. Slow and steady, but C.J. Prosise continues to progress.

Notre Dame's wide out unit doesn't lack speed, playmakers or depth. An underrated area, though, where Notre Dame's youthful but talented unit has failed to contribute is coming back for the ball or making the effort to re-route once it's obvious Golson is in trouble and shows signs of scrambling. That's likely at least in some ways contributed to the lofty number of forced passes thrown by Golson this season.

Yesterday, though, Golson found Prosise for a gain of 21 on 2nd-and-10 to bring Notre Dame to Louisville's 25-yard line.

The play appeared broken when everyone down the field was well-covered and Prosise was well-defended as the check down option. But, Prosise turned on the jets to beat Louisville's defender down the left sideline and Golson hit him in stride to keep the drive alive.

Three plays later, Notre Dame scored, and the Irish were back in business down by just three early in the 4th quarter.

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