Duranko’s Digest: What Did We See Against Pitt?

Torii Hunter - Notre Dame WR
Photo: Charles LeClaire // USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame, with the usual and perplexing ebbs and flows, moved to 8-1 with a 42-30 win over the Pitt Panthers.

The Irish start was as easy as 1-2-3.

  • Prosise around left end
  • Prosise up the middle
  • Flag pattern to Fuller for a touchdown

The Irish defense kept Pittsburgh bottled up and moved to a methodical 21-3 lead at halftime.

Pitt inducted Jimbo Covert into its Hall of Fame at halftime and assembled the Panther Legends: Iron Mike Ditka, Tony Dorsett, Johnny Majors, Bill Fralic, Dan Marino and Jackie Sherill.   Cool story, bro! Pitt won the battle of the archives, Notre Dame the football game.

Pitt took the Second Half kickoff and scored. After the Irish answered Pitt countered to make it 28-17.

Narduzzi Went All In: Coney Won the Hand

After Pitt scored to close it to 28-17, Pat Narduzzi called for an onside kick, and while it eluded the Irish front wave, future star Tevon Coney pounced on it. Notre Dame pushed it in to make it a temporarily comfortable 35-17. An insurance touchdown on a Kizer keeper made it 42-17. The Panther fans strolled out of Heinz, and the focus strolled out of the Irish.

Failure to Finish: “Georgia Tech Syndrome”

The Irish finished poorly with KeiVarae deciding to criticize Redfield during a play rather than selling out to chase down Tyler Boyd. Boyd scored, and then Brandon Wimbush handed Pitt a final touchdown. The Irish, in an eerie deja vu of the Georgia Tech game, don’t quite close games.

Josh Adams

He will not have a good career at Notre Dame. He will have a GREAT career. He plants and plows between the tackles, has great vision, some elusiveness and fine speed.

Defensive Improvement

The pass rush is quietly improving. Redfield, despite the brain cramp against boy, is close, very close. But Joe Schmidt is deteriorating before our eyes. Schmidt now specializes in getting caught in traffic, stuck on blocks and late arrivals.

Red Zone Problems?

Say What?

Hunter, Fuller, Adams and Kizer contend that there are no red zone problems. Pat Narduzzi declined comment.

Will Fuller

At press time there was an unconfirmed rumor that Fuller was being detained in Pittsburgh for questioning regarding potential arraignment on charges of “Aggravated Cornerback Abuse” against Devonte Maddox.

Notre Dame Against Pitt by the Numbers

Coming into the game Pitt was scoring 26.1 ppg. The Irish allowed 30, with Wimbush pushing Pitt over the top.   The Panthers were averaging 364.9 ypg total offense. The Irish allowed 398.

The Panthers had allowed 22.1 points per game. The Irish lit up the Heinz scoreboard for 42. The Panthers defense, with architecture by Pat Narduzzi, had been allowing just 325.9 ypg. The Irish amassed 437.


The last time he missed a field goal was in his second game in a Notre Dame uniform against Virginia in Charlottesville.

Notre Dame Plays Two Opponents Each Week

There is the listed opponent, Pitt earlier today, Wake on the 14th and BC in Fenway on the 21st.

“You don’t play against opponents. You play against the game of basketball.” Robert Montgomery Knight

Team 127 is also playing against its own potential each week to become the kind of football teams it needs to beat Stanford in Palo Alto (something Kelly has never accomplished) and a game, or even two, after that.

There are many areas that need improvement: power running between the tackles, red zone efficiency, defensive line depth and pass rush, the linebacker issue and the safeties making everything safe. Notre Dame is now 8-1 but it is neither close to its potential nor close to the level it needs to be to survive on November 28th and New Year’s Eve. Coaches know it, players know it.  This is rare, intoxicating air: Team 127 both has a great record and a rarer hunger for so much more.

Notre Dame Senior Day, November 14th

This bunch was recruited during 2011 and their signing day was in February 2012. They came before the 2012 unbeaten season, so they had faith in Notre Dame before Notre Dame had warranted it. They came before the recruiting classes gave themselves clever nicknames. But they sure made a difference.!

Remember one thing. Kelly once said “We’ll never get respect until we beat an SEC team.” Well, these guys did that against LSU.

This class, and this is the way we count these things, has 36 wins before they take the field against the Demon Deacons. They are the winningest class since the class after Jeff Burris, Aaron Taylor, Bryant Young and Tim Ruddy.

Here they are:

Nicky Baratti – Klein Oak, Spring, TX. Nicky showed flashes as a frosh in the 2012 run, with 8 tackles and an interception.   But shoulder injuries robbed him of his athleticism and strength, and he will finish as a backup.

If you see Nicky at a game 20 years from now, go easy on the handshake. He will have both a Notre Dame degree and an arthritic shoulder.

Chris Brown – Hanahan High, Hanahan SC- had 2 catches as a frosh, including a gem against the Sooners in Norman. He morphed from a one trick fly pattern pony to an every down receiver, the yin to Fuller’s yang.   And, oh yeah, Brown can block.

Scott Daly – Downers Grove South, Downers Grove IL-The gold standard for a long snapper is anonymity and Daly accomplished that, though he became memorable in 2015 for the post-kick bows with Justin Yoon and non-anonymous holder Deshone Kizer.

Sheldon Day – Warren Central, Indianapolis, IN two year captain, four year stud, he is the straw that stirs the drink of Gilmore’s defensive line.

Mark Harrell – Charlotte Catholic, Charlotte, NC a squadman but always ready.   Sometimes the best “next man in” is the one who never gets in.

Jarron Jones – Aquinas Institute, Rochester, NY-took a while to get going but arrived in 2014 before the injury. Became some kind of run stopping stud in the middle. While he could not play with his buddy Day in 2015, he will be a teammate of little brother Jamir in 2016.

Romeo Okwara – Ardrey Kell, Charlotte, NC-too young and underdeveloped to play as a frosh but roster challenges forced him to burn the redshirt. Has matured into a solid defensive end as a senior, keeping the precocious Andrew Trumbetti on the bench. As he leaves the graduation stage he passes the mystical baton to little brother Julian.

C.J. Prosise – Woodberry Forest, Petersburg VA-Ath-uh-leet. First rate, explosive slot man and migrated to be an outstanding outside runner.   Whatever elite speed is, Prosise has it.

KeiVarae Russell – Mariner High, Everett WA-H.D. Thoreau wrote about him, as KeiVarae marches to the beat of a different drum. Went from male lead in the Notre Dame school play as a sophomore to banishment to Tacoma a year later, to leaping on crates to astounding 4th quarter interceptions, when it mattered most, against USC and Temple.

Elijah Shumate – Don Bosco Prep, East Orange, NJ –Effective as a nickel as a frosh, then took time to find his niche. Ultima hombre, the last man standing, who stood his ground for 13 tackles against USC on a tough afternoon in the Coliseum last November. Solid senior season.

Ronnie Stanley – Bishop Gorman, Las Vegas, NV-an RKG, the first drip of liquid gold from the Gorman pipeline. Best ND OL since Zach Martin. And isn’t it nice that our “best since” time frame is now compressed to two years.

John Turner – Cathedral, Indianapolis, IN-moved from safety to OLB back to safety never found his niche.

And a special appearance from a guy who wasn’t around for his originally scheduled senior day:

Ishaq Williams, Abraham Lincoln Railsplitters, Brooklyn

Let’s be honest, with all the emotion, there may be two other guys with a tear in their eye. The Notre Dame way is that you don’t get a Senior Day unless you are a senior. But if these two juniors leave for the NFL and collect paychecks instead of playing for the Irish in 2016, who can blame them: Jaylon Smith and Will Fuller.

We are aware that while you play for our Irish, you are first and foremost people and God’s children. Fare thee well, lads!

What Will We See Against Wake Forest?

(1) Dave Clawson a good young coach who has picked up the Wake program after Wake alum Jim Grobe suffered program atrophy after he began fading into the sunset (it’s a familiar syndrome, ask Steve Spurrier, Norm Chow and George O’leary)

(2) A Demon Deacon squad that is sound defensively

(3) Another well-rested team, as they last played on October 30th, the eve of Halloween.

(4) An anemic offense. In Power Five games they only scored more than 20 once, by hanging 24 on the defensive juggernaut from Indiana.

(5) A chance for an unbeaten home season for the Irish, the second in Kelly’s regime, the second since Bob Davie’s masterpiece of an unbeaten home schedule in ’98!


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  1. Thanks for that Pete will look fwd. to your article. Although a staunch Irish fan since 1954 at the age of 8 I still don’t see us beating someone like Bama if their QB can put up 250-300 yds passing to allow Henry to carry the ball 20-25 yds and eat up the clock. If their Defense can shut down our running game then it becomes a question of can Kizer put up 300+ yds passing and find a way to get 3-4 touchdowns in “limited play time” If we lose to Stanford then it will be all academic and just filling in at some “lesser Bowl game” to finish the season. Still with 10 KEY injuries I have to take my hat off to the team and BK if they win 10 games and 11 would be almost miraculous. Cheers Pete.

  2. @Duranko
    Will be looking forward to that article. I was under the impression KR had NO remaining eligibility. Also acknowledging Schmidt’s threshold. I am still wondering if what we are seeing isn’t magnified by missed responsibilities from others around him. Is it really possible BK and BVG would not be playing the best personnel or option? I doubt it.

  3. For dale, in next week’s digest, we’ll put a list of the players with exhausted eligibility, sort of. This will still be up in the air until signing day, and, like last year, beyond.

    On Schmidt, last year’s defense was fragile and Schmidt was the glue guy. He went down, and then Day and Jones followed. Morgan was eager, swift and aggressive, but was easily tricked. The two long, uncharacteristic runs by Northwestern, withouot which Northwestern woul not have won. But Schmidt’s injuries have exacerbated his limited athleticism.

    I’m not at all worried about Wimbush. Tthese coaches communicate. And no doubt they tolk Wimbush, after the fumble we were going to put the starter back in. Keep the faith, Wimbush will, and the coaches will keep their faith in him. He SHOULD get snaps against both Wake Forest and Boston College.

  4. I think Kelly said so in one of the pressers. Didn’t want to risk more points/turnovers. Either way he wasn’t in a position to succeed. We don’t know where fault laid in and except his fumble. He got rocked immediately and pressured quickly previous plays. Who was supposed to check plays? Sideline, O-line or Wimbush. To bad because he needs experience. I would say he got some. He will probably audible next time. Hoping he doesn’t get any grief when doing so. Rememberimg what happened when he didn’t !!!!! Thanks.

  5. George,

    I have no issues with that philosophy under most circumstances. The only concern I have is Winbush has not had much opportunity to see the field. I think you have to have a different approach with a player who has hardly seen the field than you would an everyday player. What I don’t want, esp. in a QB, a player who’s so worried about making a mistake it stunts their development. BK should take him aside, explain what he did wrong and give him a chance to correct it next time out.

    But again, there may be some other reason he was not out there next series that we are just not aware of. I am a big believer in 2nd chances. Winbush just made a rookie mistake, and a correctable mistake.

  6. Of course he BW was being punished. That’s actually a quite common practice on all levels of football, especially when the player is not being asked to do much of anything except kill the clock. I’ll never get sick of all the “BK is too demanding” type comments.

  7. Notre Damian,

    All that is asked of the backup QB in that situation is to run the plays that are called.
    Be sound in your mechanics, be smart in your decisions, and not turn the ball over or commit clock stopping penalties.
    And if the coach should call your number, it would serve you well to keep those things in mind.
    Those are the things that he practices every day and what the coaches want to see.

    Screw it up and it’s back to ridding the pine.

    There is sure to be a time when it’s the Brandon Wimbush show, but it isn’t in a cleanup situation.

  8. I’m not really sure why Winbush did not get put back out there. I’d be interested in someone asking BK that question in a presser, I mean, maybe there was a legitimate reason–maybe he had a minor injury. Who knows? I hope it wasn’t something like he was being punished. He needs to build confidence. Yes me made a mistake in his ball handling in that scenario, but he needs to learn from that and know his coaches have faith in him. But again, it’s possible there was something we are just not aware of.

  9. Agree w/Damian on returning Wimbush after the fumble.He was virtually set up to get pounded, and Narduzzi’s late blitzes maximized the opportunity.His first carry escape was spectacular; that said more about his ability than the fumble.
    re ND D’ criticism:
    The ’85 Bears re-invented what D’ must do, with their pressure and blitzing. The blueprint became obvious – stop the run with outstanding LB play (remembering Otis Wilson, Mike Singletary and Wilbur Marshall), and pressure the QB on pass plays. Haven’t seen enough of that w/NDs D’.
    I was implying earlier that a D’ that has its best game in game one, and shows little if any recurrence of such dominance since (other than vs. Georgia Tech), prompts inquiries. ND personnel= world-class athletes. I love Joe Schmidt, nor do I blame him for his effort or limitations. He’s the consummate ND RKG, as I trust others are also who don’t play every play. But if he’s in there primarily to manage the D’ scheme when others behind him can make more plays from the middle, then that strategy might be part of the problem.”Just do your job” as BK mouths from the sideline too easily dismisses the consequences that might be the result of others knowing where to attack the ND D’ scheme. No way am I saying it’s just Schmidt. Too often have QBs had too much time to play catch w/ their receivers. Like last year, DBs can’t shut down passing when QBs have too much time. To be fair, the pressure vs. Pitt, especially the first half, gives me hope.

    Too many quarters have mediocre Os moved the ball up and down the field vs. ND. Big D’ plays have secured victories, some against opponents who shouldn’t have been that close in the first place.
    Thank God for Jaylon and Sheldon, with steady contributions from Shumate.
    BTW, all three will be gone next season! ‘Wait until next year’ only works for Cub fans. It’s been an exciting successful season at ND; the O’ under Kizer and with Fuller, Prosise and others has excelled. Time for the D’ to step up and “finish the mission”- as Jarron Jones tweeted last week, beginning with dominance over Wake and BC.
    Seize the opportunity.
    Go Irish.

  10. Romeo O had a solid game. Best I can recall anyway

    I didn’t like how ND basically took a knee after Farley’s big INT, but other than that the offense was solid until they pulled the QB.

  11. An interesting group of seniors especially if Fuller and Smith decide to get out after this season. Let’s hope they stay. Unfortunately, if they look at the many injuries this year they might run out of the stadium and into the arms of some NFL team. Regardless of how the season ends, it is refreshing to know the Irish will probably have 3 top notch QBs available to start the 2016-17 season. Unless of course one of them pulls a Golson exit. What to do if they all decide to stay. A great problem to have. Josh Adams served notice that he could be a very good replacement for Prosise next year. He is a bull in the backfield. Kelly thus far has done a great job of recruiting players that seem to be ready to play right away. if he can continue to bring in top recruits, replacing those senior will be less of a problem then expected! Go Irish!

  12. Joe Schmidt is lacking the athleticism that most others have on that Irish defense. I’m guessing he’s still out there for his intangibles (leadership, calls, etc.). They know what they are doing. If there was someone who could do it better, I’m sure he would be out there.

    I’m one who thought Chris Brown should be on the outside looking in at the start of the season. However, he has proven to be a great asset to this team. I believe the coaches are accurately evaluating the talent.

    I think KVR is still better than any alternative but he’s not ND’s #1 CB. He seems to want to make the splash play — looks like he constantly has eyes in the backfield which is why he can lose track of his man.

    Kizer is unbelievable. Count me as one who thought the season was lost after Zaire went down. Zaire may never see the field again.

    The depth on this team is unbelievable. They just keep rolling guys out.

  13. It was a good win against a program that has given ND fits every time they play.

    As a Phila. area resident, it was nice to see Josh Adams have such a great game.

    Kizer may not have been as highly touted as Zaire or Winbush coming out of high school, but he has a poise and cool under pressure that you can’t coach. Hard to believe he never took a snap at ND until this year.

    Nice to see the ND defense in the backfield so often against Pitt. Here’s hoping that trend continues.

    I feel like this is a weekly statement coming from me, but Joe Schmidt has to be benched. It seems like that’s not going to happen as long as they keep winning. I prefer to be pro-active but apparently BK prefers to be re-active.

    True freshman CJ Sanders has been the best returner BK’s had during his entire tenure (no disrespect to George Atkinson). He seems like a natural back there.

  14. Defense still needs to finish. Hopefully they can mesh and peak. Credit D-line with shutting down Pitt passing game. QB missed open receivers do to pressure. Believe O-line fared well because of although stout, but a slower front 7. Which makes me optimistic against B.C. and Stanford. ( Traditionally that is their front 7 make up also. Stanford usually has more speed though, To go along with size.)Even though those two schools have very good D’s. Have no idea about W.F. size and speed. Know that their Team D was ranked fairly well. ND will have to limit scoring in the next three games to be considered. With only one ranking, CFPC seemed to give defenses weight. Rightfully so. Last game won’t do. Of coarse, knowing they have to win out. Adams was superb, O-line gave him opportunity. He achieved. Thanks.

  15. A good win overall, though I agree with Duranko that ND needs, NEEDS to close out games. They allowed 2 late scores, that while more or less meaningless by the time they occurred, can be deadly against a team like Stanford or in a bowl-playoff game.

    Special teams has improved greatly, which is good to see. Pitt came in confident they could win “handily” I believe one of the Pitt players stated, but ND put that to rest. I think the committee will see this as a good win for the Irish. The game was not as close as the score indicated, esp. considering the final TD was on a fumble by our backup QB.

    The only complaint, other than allowing the 2 late scores, was I though BK should have put Winbush back out there even after the fumble. He will be the future QB and he needs to learn when you make a mistake you need to go back out there and take care of business. He made a mistake, but he needs to learn from that mistake.

  16. Josh Adams looks like the real deal. He’s been impressive from day one. Always gets positive yardage and seems to lean forward. Can’t wait to see him once he’s stronger. I agree with the Keivarae Russel thoughts. Gets beat deep way more than Cole Luke but I’d rather see KR than Devin Butler. Think about it. Also I try not to keep beating up on Joe Schmidt but I watched a play Saturday that made me bust out loud laughing. Pitt tosses ball to running back for a sweep around the left side. I see Joe Schmidt moving in slow motion-no way does he make the play and a streaking Jaylon Smith runs right by him to make a tackle for 1 yard gain. Coach Kelly must really love this young man because Grace, Martini, Morgan or Coney all would be an upgrade right now.

  17. Great article as always Pete. Two quick things can you give us a list of current players (who play reasonable minutes now) who have “exhausted” all eligibility for 16″ as opposed to “Red-shirt Juniors like C.J. Prosise. Also has there been any word on who of those missing all of this year that have/may be granted another year due to injury? One other comment. Have seen a lot of negative regarding the play of Joe Schmidt. Last year when he was missing there was a lot of rhetoric regarding his ability to “set” the Iriish defenses plays. A. Is he still the guy doing that? and B. Is that perhaps why he is still getting so much playing time when it appears he has dropped off from last years standard of performance? Thanks mate. Cheers from Australia

  18. I will be positive in my assessment of the defensive play. Still too many missed assignments BUT I saw a physicality I haven’t seen all year in this game. When the defense got to the ball carrier they attacked and punished. A good sign.

  19. Great article. A few comments: i) I agree with you on Josh Adams. I saw a guy playing with workmanlike efficiency and I like what I see; ii) Is the offensive line starting to live up to its potential? The last two Irish touchdowns were of the smash-mouth variety – more of that please; iii) I hate to rain on any Irish parade but K. Russel seems to be a good chaser but not a good defender. He does not seem to stick to a receiver and how many more times will he let the receiver slip behind him? Pitt dropped at least 5-6 passes and while that would not likely have changed the outcome of the game it might have made flattered the secondary; iv) Kizer is getting better each week. He just missed on a few passes that would have broken the game even further wide open.

    So… here’s hoping that they use the two weeks in advance of Stanford to really focus on execution – up and down the entire roster.

    Go Irish!!!

    BTW – Heinz is a great place to play football but I still like Notre Dame Stadium the best.

  20. Archangel, you’re right about Russell being an enigma. Of all the defensive starters, he is the one with the greatest shortdfall when compared to his expectations (sorry, the #38 issue was predictable). It is very likely that Lyght will have stern words with Russell about the drama queen act on the field on the Tyler Boyd play. There may be something else at play. Russell came back and may have thought he was going to be a high draft choice. Not any more. He will have to have a much better fifth year to move up the draft ranks.

    On the Prosise injury, it would not harm ND if he rests and doesn’t play for the next two games if he is ready for Stanford. Adams is good to go and will only improve the more he plays. Dexter Williams would greatly benefit from 15-20 carries in the next two games.

    One other caveat on the defense. It is still a concern that only 6 defensive linemen play. There are future games where that simply will not do.

    Neverthleless, despite the nincompoopery faction evident in this thread, it is a much improved defense.
    Pitt got 102 of their rushing yards from Peterrman scrambles and rusn by Boyd.
    We simply would not let them run from scrimmage with the tailback. This is an improving trend with the defensive front, despite the MLB issue.

  21. Lets take a look at this “terrible defense,”

    Notre Dame is ranked 34th in avg points allowed at 23.1, down from 29.2 last year. Take away the garbage TD’s late when the game is decided and that drops further.

    34th is ahead of the likes of LSU (#36) and Michigan State (#38). Immediately ahead of the Irish? Pittsburgh and USC, and the irish dropped 42 and 41 points against them respectively.

    let’s lay off of the defense for a bit…overall this team can compete with anyone in the nation. It may not always look pretty, but BVG has them doing an effective job as evident by their 89% winning percentage this year.

  22. YEP reminds me of when Charlie Weiss ran Jonas Gray a million times in a row and Navy eventually stripped him from the ball. That is smear the queer drill….stupid football.

  23. Thanks, Duranko, for the Senior day feature tied into the Pitt analysis.
    ND will most miss Shumate, Day, and Brown, IMO. I’m hoping Prosise and J.Jones return.
    Kudos to exiting 5th year DB Farley’s versatility and Amir Carlisle’s steady improving reliability.
    As for all-world Juniors Jaylon Smith and Will Fuller,both are out-of-sight, and will soon only be seen as celebrated sideline guests of ND come this season’s end- Jaylon surpassing even the heightened expectations of which he arrived; Will , a shining example of developing into a superstar after not many regarding him as an elite recruit upon his arrival.

    Kizer continues to amaze;. Hunter keeps getting better- I look forward to more Coney and Morgan and Martini (it will take the best of all three to approach Jaylon’s contributions). I guess ND is married to Joe Schmidt ’til loss do us part. And what was the plan for Wimbush- to run on every play against nine men blitzes? If you won’t let him pass, why not just drop into the wildcat with a RB, rather than set Wimbush up to be Pitt’s late-game tackling dummy!

    K. Russell remains an enigma, with both game-saving INTs and questionable man-to-man coverage skills.

    How can a D’ peak in game one? What’s wrong with that picture? A great stop by the DL, followed by several 5+ gains with too infrequent pressure. Too rare key LB stops from anyone not named Jaylon. When they do blitz, they get there late, or the QB easily sidesteps them without absorbing any contact. Fortunate Pitt dropped so many first half passes- few were the result of either DB coverage or a pass rush forcing an errant throw.
    But 8-1 is appreciated.
    8-1 has a lot to do with Kizer, Prosise, Fuller and Jaylon Smith. Who could have predicted the first two mentioned would have joined the latter two as ND 127’s difference-makers?

  24. I think the D gave up 23 points, not 30.

    Irish are improving….especially Kizer. He is really playing well. It is almost unbelievable how good he is.

    Duranko….good one on Fuller “being detained” LMAO!!!


    PS Speedy recovery CJ!!! Great job, Frosh Josh!!!

  25. Great win
    Defense still sucks
    They gave up 30 points
    Their 22 game average under bvg is close to 28 a game
    You can’t win a national championship giving up 28 points a game on avg.

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