#4 Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs Louisville Cardinals Game Preview

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There’s a financial theory that asset prices and historical returns eventually will revert to the long-run mean or average level of the entire dataset. It’s called mean reversion. Louisville football is proving this theory correct in 2020.

Expectations were high for the Cardinals this season following a better than expected 2019 season. Under first-year head coach Scott Satterfield, the Cardinals finished second in the ACC Atlantic with an 8-5 record. Louisville hired Satterfield following the firing of the entire coaching staff following a 2-10 season in 2018. 

Game Information

Location: Notre Dame Stadium | South Bend, IN 

Date: Saturday, October 17, 2020

Time: 2:30 PM EST 

TV: NBC

Historical Information 

The series is tied 1-1 between Notre Dame and Louisville 

Last Meeting (2019)

Notre Dame: 35

Louisville: 17

BOBBY-PETRINO

For Notre Dame fans, Louisville showed a face very familiar to them the exit door after the two-win season — former ND defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder, who is now at Bowling Green.

It is human nature always to find a fresh cause for optimism. In Louisville, an 8-5 season provided that cause. After being projected to finish last in the ACC Atlantic in 2019, there was talk of the 2020 Cardinals competing for a spot in the ACC Championship game. The Cardinals’ eight wins came against opponents who had a record of 54-48 (.529), including wins against No. 19 Wake Forest, ACC Coastal Division champion, Virginia, and SEC Western Division opponent Mississippi State in the Music City Bowl.

It’s easy to see why fans and coaches alike thought this team could compete for an ACC Championship on the surface. Sure, they’re in the same division as Clemson, but aside from that, the numbers pointed towards a team on the rise. 

Bear with me for a second; I’m going to get nerdy. Homer Simpson once said, upon finding a pair of glasses in the bathroom, “The sum of the square roots of any two sides of an isosceles triangle is equal to the square root of the remaining sides.” Luckily for Homer, someone else in the bathroom corrected his math, it’s unknown who that person was, but it could’ve been Bill James. 

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The rest of this article will have nothing to do with geometric theorems, but it will talk briefly about Bill James. 

Bill James is best known as the creator of sabermetrics, also known as analytics. He has created numerous advanced metrics and statistics that have been adopted by Major League Baseball, and he was featured in Michael Lewis’s Moneyball

Please don’t take off those bathroom glasses yet readers, we’re about to do a little bit of math. 

Bill James created a formula for estimated win percentages which works like this:

Expected win percentage = Runs Scored^2 / (Runs Scored^2+Runs Allowed^2)

Despite it being a baseball formula, let’s apply it to football, and change runs scored to points for and runs allowed to points against. 

Let’s now apply that formula to Louisville from 2017-2018, look at the 2019 season, and then extrapolate the 2020 season. This data set is being used because it assumes that when Charlie Strong left in 2013, it would take four years for his recruiting class to graduate. Therefore, 2018 would be the first year the team was solely Petrino recruits, and thus, it is an accurate reflection of the team’s current talent level.

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Expected win percentage (projected win-loss record)

2018: .167 (2-10)

2017: .659 (9-4)

In 2018, Petrino’s recruits delivered two wins as expected by the formula based on their performance. 

In 2017 though, with the last remaining Charlie Strong recruits, the team managed to underperform. An 8-5 season according to the James formula should’ve been a 9-4 season. That year the Cardinals lost two games they likely should’ve won. A 45-42 loss to a 7-6 Boston College team and a 42-32 loss to an 8-5 Wake Forest team. Despite being the favorite, Louisville trailed the entire game, going into the fourth quarter down 35-17. 

But to live in the past is to die in the present, so let’s move on to the 2019 season and then the present day. After all, Louisville is a talented team that has high expectations – nationally ranked, ACC Championship level expectations. 

Expected win percentage (projected win-loss record)

2019: .495 (6-7)  

Scott Satterfield is a good coach. Not only was he able to coach Louisville to a six-game improvement from 2018, but he also outperformed the math by winning an additional two games. What’s often overlooked is that the 2019 Louisville team scored 430 points while surrendering 434. You don’t need analytics to know that you shouldn’t have a winning record if your opponent scores more than you do.

Over the past three years, an average of Louisville’s expected win percentage produces a 6-7 team. If we take an average of the actual win percentage, Louisville is still a 6-7 team. Bill James remains an influential figure in sports analytics for a reason.

In 2020, Louisville is 1-3, scoring 116 points and allowing 137. It translates to 29 points per game for vs. 34 points per game against. Extrapolated for a 12-game season, the expected win percentage of the 2020 Cardinals is .417 (5-7).

As Bo Bauer said last week, a team must always respect its opponents. Notre Dame will face two talented kids in running back Javian Hawkins and quarterback Malik Cunningham.

Hawkins is an electric runner. The 5’9, 196-pound redshirt junior can make defenders miss and is incredibly fast. Pro Football Focus rated Hawkins the third-best running back in the country on plays where he got past the scrimmage line untouched. In 2019, he rushed for 1,525 yards and nine touchdowns.

He’s off to a fast start in 2020 with 468 yards and three touchdowns in four games, averaging 5.5 yards per carry and 117 yards per game.

Malik Cunningham is reminiscent of Lamar Jackson. He’s a dual-threat quarterback with track-like speed. On designed runs or when the pocket breaks down, he makes defenders miss in space, and the Irish defense will have to be sure tacklers once again to bring him down.

As a passer, he’s skilled at throwing on the run and has excellent deep-ball accuracy. In 2019, Cunningham passed for 2,061 yards, 22 touchdowns, and five interceptions. As a runner, he added 482 yards and six touchdowns.

In 2020, he’s been off to a rocky start. On the Pittsburgh game’s final play on September 26th, Cunningham was taken off the field on a medical cart after being placed on a stretcher. He remained face down on the field and was fitted with a neck brace.

Cunningham recovered from the injury without any severe effects and will be on the field Saturday against the Irish.

This season he’s passed for 986 yards, nine touchdowns, and five interceptions. On the ground, he has 84 yards and three touchdowns. Last week against Georgia Tech, he had 14 carries for 50 yards and two touchdowns, showing no lingering effects from his neck injury.

Unlike many other sports, football is not one where one or two players can change the course of a team’s season. Cunningham and Hawkins are NFL prospects undoubtedly, yet despite their talent, the Cardinals are 1-3.

Satterfield is a coach who has shown he was able to overachieve last year, but ultimately the talent is the talent. Maybe the remaining four wins for the Cards will come against Florida State, Virginia, Wake Forest, and Syracuse, teams that are currently a combined 4-10, but it shouldn’t come against Notre Dame.

Prediction: Notre Dame wins 45-21

 

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