SOUTH BEND, Ind. – When it came time to deliver, Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book stopped beating himself up and kept the No. 4 Fighting Irish unbeaten.
“I'm definitely hard on myself, but my job at the end of the day is to get the ‘W’,” said Book, whose 13-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter together with Kyren Williams' 127 rushing yards helped Notre Dame hold off the Cardinals 12-7 Saturday.
Williams ran 25 times and had his third 100-yard game of the season as the Irish (4-0, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) won their 22nd straight at Notre Dame Stadium.
It came against an inspired Louisville 3-4 defense that spent most of the afternoon on the field. Notre Dame controlled the clock for 36:15 including a game-ending 14-play drive that burned the final 7:55.
“When the game is on the line, you can count on Ian Book to come up and make big plays for us,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “The preparation was outstanding, their mindset was great, but when you’re a top-five team, you’re going to get the opposition’s best game, period."
Book completed 11 of 19 for 106 yards and ran 12 times for 47 yards.
“I felt like I was able to pick myself up and get the energy going,” he said.
The loss was the fourth straight for the Cardinals (1-4, 0-4), who got 118 yards passing and 49 rushing from Malik Cunningham. Javian Hawkins, the nation’s No. 3 rusher coming into the game, was limited to 51 yards on 15 carries.
“I told our guys in our locker room that I was proud of them,” Louisville coach Scott Satterfield said. “We were in this game and had an opportunity at the end to get a victory. The guys went out there and competed today.”
The Irish outgained the Cardinals 338-219 and controlled the clock for 21:57 of the first half, running 45 plays and gaining 212 yards to Louisville’s 23 plays for 90. But all that got Notre Dame was a 6-0 halftime lead on Jonathan Doerer’s field goals of 32 and 30 yards.
The Cardinals opened the second half with an 83-yard touchdown drive, including a 29-yard pass to a wide-open Hawkins at the Irish one. Cunningham followed with a 1-yard TD pass to Marshon Ford to make it 7-6.
Cunningham completed 16 of 19 passes and also left for a brief time with cramps but returned.
“They didn’t let us get over the top today so we had to take what we had underneath,” Cunningham said. “Not turning the ball over was something we harped on all week. But the chances we got we have to execute them a little better.”
The Cardinals tried an onside kick after their touchdown but were penalized for an illegal block. After the re-kick, Book drove the Irish 56 yards in eight plays, going the final 13 yards on a cross-field scramble on a third-and-8, escaping the tackle of Chandler Jones and getting into the end zone to put the Irish up 12-7. A 2-point conversion pass failed but Notre Dame led 12-7 going into the final quarter.
Louisville: The Cardinals, who entered the game with a turnover margin of minus-2 and having allowed 14 sacks, moved the ball when they were able to get it from the Irish. With the Irish defensive attention on Hawkins, Cunningham shouldered most of the Louisville offense. The Cardinals finished with no turnovers and no sacks.
“When you don’t even run 50 plays it’s hard to get into any rhythm throwing the ball,” Satterfield said. “We only had the ball 45 plays and we threw it 22. We’ve got to do a much better job running the ball.”
Notre Dame: The Irish marched up and down the field on three of their four first-half drives, totaling 42 plays and 219 yards and taking 20 minutes off the clock. On their third drive just before half, holder Jay Bramblett came up 2 yards short on a faked field-goal attempt at the Louisville 6.
“I don’t even know if aesthetically we looked bad,” Kelly said. “We controlled the line of scrimmage, we controlled the time of possession, we had I think one or two penalties, we didn’t turn the football over. I’ve coached a lot of games over 30 years, (and) I don’t know if I’ve been in one quite like this. I’ve been in a 12-7 game when it was a stinker and you’re like, eww, but this game was a little different.”
MY, OH, MAYER
The best play of the first half may have been Book’s 12-yard completion to freshman tight end Michael Mayer, who stiff-armed linebacker C.J. Avery and then leaped over cornerback Kei’Trel Clark to give the Irish a first down at the Louisville 14, much to the delight of the announced crowd of 10,182.
Louisville's defense came in allowing 475.0 yards a game and 270.7 yards on the ground. Notre Dame finished with 338 total yards and 232 on the ground.
Linebacker Monty Montgomery led the Cardinals with 13 tackles and had a pair of sacks.
“We’re much better, much more developed, much more precise with everything we’ve been working on,” Montgomery said. “We're going to keep getting better each week.”
A week after rushing for a season-high 353 yards in a 42-26 victory over Florida State, No. 4 Notre Dame could take a short tumble after its lowest scoring output of the season.
Louisville: Cardinals home to play Florida State Saturday.
Notre Dame: Irish on road for first time at Pittsburgh on Saturday.
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