While there may have been a lot to not like about last weekend’s win over Pitt – we’ll get to that later – there was still more than enough to be happy about Saturday night as Notre Dame improved to 9-0 for the first time in 19 years with a great chance to improve on that record over the next two weeks at least.
Dan Hicks doing the play by play for NBC
It i by no means a secret that I am not a fan of Tom Hammond as the play by play announcer for Notre Dame games on NBC. I don’t think Hammond adds much to the games and in fact think he is a poor play by play commentator. Call me narrow minded, but anyone who announces figure skating should not be allowed to announce football games as well.
Anyway, with Hammond unavailable this week, NBC tapped Dan Hicks to do the play by play and I thought it a refreshing change from Hammond – especially considering how excited Mike Mayock seemed to be the entire time Notre Dame was losing (more on this in my 5 things I Didn’t Like column). This isn’t the first time NBC has had someone fill in for Hammond that has been clearly better. For the 2007 home opener against Georgia Tech Bob Poppa filled in for Hammond and despite an awful game to watch, Poppa did a good job.
Maybe someone at NBC watching the game thought the same as me and we see a change, but after all of this time, I doubt Hammond will be leaving the booth anytime soon.
Everett Golson bouncing back in the 4th quarter
After Tommy Rees failed to spark the Notre Dame offense int he third quarter, Brian Kelly went back with his sophomore quarterback for the fourth quarter and despite one bad turnover in the endzone, Everett Golson turned in a hell of a final 15 minutes to lead the Irish back from a 14 point deficit. Golson guided two touchdown drives – on top of a 3rd drive that ended in the endzone with the aforementioned interception – and even tacked on a two point conversion on the second score after Kyle Brindza missed an earlier PAT that kept the Irish down 8.
During that 4th quarter Golson looked about as comfortable as we’ve seen him under center for the Irish. He was able to sling the ball more than he has in the past and was also able to run quite a bit when plays broke down. We got a glimpse of what Golson could do for this offense when things click for him. Golson is still missing some reads and hesitant to pull the trigger on some throws, but he is improving week to week and we all saw him grow up quite a bit in that fourth quarter.
Davaris Daniels emerging as the go to receiver for Golson
One of the most improve positions on the Notre Dame roster from week one to now is wide receiver. Notre Dame is still lacking a legit go-to, #1 wide receiver but sophomore Davaris Daniels is starting to grow into that role and Saturday was evidence of that. Daniels had a a career high 86 yards highlighted by a 45 yard bomb on a good old fashion scramble drill play. Had Golson spotted Daniels a little earlier and led his classmate, the play would have been even longer and ended in a touchdown, but the play still showed the developing chemistry between Daniels and Golson.
TJ Jones and Robby Toma have done a great job for the Irish at wide receiver as well, but of the group Daniels has the most potential and he is starting to tap into it. Look for he and Golson to continue to hook up on some downfield passes over the next few weeks.
Notre Dame’s defense stepping up in the 4th quarter and overtime
Notre Dame’s stout defense looked a little shaky at times with Ray Graham gashing them like no other running back has been able to this year, but in the 4th quarter and overtime, the Irish defense seized control and shut down the Pitt offense. After Golson’s interception with just over four minutes remaining, the defense was tasked with getting the offense the ball back and they did just that by forcing a three and out.
The Notre Dame defensive line came alive in the 4th quarter and overtime led by Louis Nix who played despite a bout with being sick earlier in the week. It wasn’t their finest performance of the season by any stretch, but in crunch time, the defense found a way to make stops when they were needed and kept Pitt out of the endzone in overtime.
Kei’Varae Russell’s hustle
In a defensive performance marred by sloppy tackling by the Irish defense, Kei’Varae Russell’s hustle was able to save two touchdowns on long Ray Graham runs that ended up saving Notre Dame points when the Panthers had to settle for field goals. Had Russell not been able to track down Graham from behind, Graham would hav likely dashed into the endzone and Golson and offenses 4th quarter heroics wouldn’t have been enough.
Because he has played so well this year I think people tend to forget that Russell is starting at one of the toughest positions to start as a true freshman and he is doing it after being recruited to play offense. If there is an unsung hero on this team, it’s got to be Russell.