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Leftovers & Links: A Notre Dame win warrants celebration, for one couple more than others

Brian Kelly says the Fighting Irish did a nice job defensively and the offense controlled the football, but he sees plenty of room for improvement, especially in the red zone.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — There was a wedding reception at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday. This isn’t a football analogy. A small wedding reception found its way into the east side of Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday to watch the now-No. 3 Irish scramble by Louisville, 12-7, and, of course, to celebrate nuptials and whatnot.

One of the caterers earns most of his income behind the bar of a local microbrewery. He paused there while pouring an amber Sunday when he overheard talk of Notre Dame’s 4-0 record. He told his customers he had been at the game — more precisely, he was at a wedding reception.

Some things just cannot be made up, even if said bartender/caterer was confounded as he delivered food to the ninth floor of Corbett Family Hall. “Why am I bringing food to a football game?”

It makes sense, given the Irish were originally supposed to be at Pittsburgh on Oct. 17. The University typically hosts weddings on road-game weekends. Amid everything of the last seven months, negotiating to move a couple’s wedding date could have certainly fallen through the cracks when the ACC released the current version of the schedule in early August.

It was not a big reception. Maybe it was a faculty member’s family’s celebration. The bartender — err, the caterer did not remember the names as he poured Sunday’s beers, just that it was a “small party.” From a practical standpoint, the gathering hardly differs from players’ and opponents’ families in suites.

The frivolity did not catch the attention of any beat writer with a nose for vice, thus failing to entice such an individual to meander to the event half of the press box level of the Stadium.

But the comedy is, there was a wedding reception at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday, which is to say, someday that couple will boast to their children how much they celebrated when the Irish beat Louisville by grinding the final 7:55 off the clock with nine Kyren Williams rushes for 45 yards.

“And then Kyren, just a sophomore back then, broke one to the left for 24 yards!”“I know, Mom, you tell me every year when Notre Dame wins its fourth game.”“But he got kno/”“Knocked out of bounds, right.”“But there was still no/”“Nothing the Cardinals could do. The Irish could just kneel out the clock.”“And it was Notre Dame’s te/”“Tenth win in a row, yep, and 22nd in a row at home. You tell me every year.”“We were basically the only ones there.”“Except for the 10,182 other people, right?”“Yeah, but — every year?”“Every year. Until 2007 recurs, I expect you will keep doing so every year, too.”

Hey, it beats the alternative. The story would lose muster if the Irish had lost, if fifth-year quarterback Ian Book had not converted two third-and-longs on the final drive with completions to fifth-year receiver Javon McKinley and graduate transfer Ben Skowronek, the only non-Williams runs on the drive until the kneeling commenced.

A win is a win is a [insert four-syllable pause] win.

“He wins,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said Saturday of Book’s 11-of-19 for 106 passing yards. “I get asked the same question each and every week, he’s a winner. He wins football games. He hasn’t lost at home. When it’s time to make plays, he made huge third-down conversions on this last drive.

Ben Skowronek

Ben Skowronek’s fourth-quarter catch kept alive Notre Dame’s clinching drive. (ACC Media)

Notre Dame Athletics

“When the game is on the line, you can count on Ian Book to come up and make big plays for us.”

Indeed, those two completions for 19 yards were the most important passes of Book’s day, and they sealed the game for the Irish as much as Williams’ 24-yard carry did. The hypothetical retelling to an annoyed child years from now should mention Book, McKinley and Skowronek.

The Northwestern graduate transfer, in particular, should warrant inclusion.

“I don’t know that he wants to be called a safety blanket,” Kelly said. “He’s certainly a guy that we’re going to count on moving forward.”

Coming off a season-ending ankle injury in 2019, Skowronek did not make it a half into 2020 before pulling his hamstring. Frustration and doubt crept in more than many players would acknowledge.

“I wasn’t in a great place mentally,” Skowronek said before pivoting to the good news, more than a month after that hamstring injury. “... I was kind of like a kid before Christmas last night, I was so excited to play.”

Skowronek alone will not solve the Irish passing game struggles. They go too deep for any one quick fix, whether that is Skowronek, junior Kevin Austin or classmate Braden Lenzy (out with a “soft tissue” injury, per Kelly). If Austin had worn shoes two sizes smaller on his second-quarter fade route, the highlight-worthy 13-yard touchdown would have simply glossed over the underlying issues.

Similarly, throwing through 30 miles per winds does not explain the totality of those struggles, though it undoubtedly did play a role in Book’s 57.9 percent completion rate.

“There’s a 30 mile-an-hour wind that doesn’t necessarily help,” Kelly said. “... They weren’t as explosive of an offense as they normally are. The weather conditions weren’t great today and conducive for that.”

Just like any football evaluation, the most-recent showing is not the entire reality; Notre Dame’s passing game is not as bad as that wind and Austin’s big feet made it appear, but the Irish are well aware of those troubles.

“There’s not a game you play that you can’t take something from it,” Kelly said. “Certainly in this game, there’s a number of things that we’re going to be able to take. It’s going to help us set our lineup, it’s going to help us set our calls, how we move forward.

“You’re building your football team off these types of games, these kind of gritty, tough games where the game is in the balance in the last 7-8 minutes.”

Just think if this gritty, tough game had gone the other way, a pair of newlyweds would have had quite the damper on their unique reception.

Not yet, but not long from now, Lenzy’s physical hindrances will gain as much note as Austin’s availability issues. While the latter quietly sat at the end of his freshman season and then spent his entire sophomore year silently suspended before breaking his foot to start this season, Lenzy has now missed action due to sleep issues, a balky hamstring and this “soft tissue injury.”

Kelly should offer more detail on the latest malady today (Monday).

Louisville lost for a number of reasons, but committing eight penalties for 65 yards was among them. A personal foul negated a sack, a hold countered a third-down stop, a seven-yard first-down gain was taken off the board, and a false start turned second-and-long into second-and-longer.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, committed three penalties for only 18 yards. On the season, the Irish have been flagged 13 times for 110 yards.

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