Notre Dame avoided joining the ranks of top 10 teams to lose on Saturday with a come from behind victory over Pitt to stay unbeaten on the season. The Irish, a three touchdown favorite, shouldn’t have needed to come from behind or hang on late to stay unbeaten, but it beats losing. Just ask Penn State. There’s a lot to unpack from this one still – luckily we have a bye week to give us some more time – so let’s crack open the post game sixer.
Okay, it was a trap, but that doesn’t excuse it
We knew all of the outside factors working against Notre Dame going into this game, but let’s be clear – they are not excuses. Yes it was midterms week, Notre Dame was coming off back to back big games, and there were the internet rumors surrounding Book this week. Still, this was a bad Pitt team and it should have never been this close.
The good news is that the Irish avoided the disaster while teams like Penn State and Miami lost to unranked teams and a total of four top 10 teams ended up losing. Notre Dame still won and is still undefeated so there is a lot of time left to wash off the stink from this one before the end of the season.
While we are all still happy that the Irish are undefeated too, let’s not forget that if Pitt had a half decent quarterback and kicker, this might have ended very differently. Pitt’s offense was ugly all day and they missed two second half field goals that could have made this one much different.
Pat Narduzzi has given Notre Dame’s remaining opponents a blueprint
Chip Long has two weeks with the bye week coming up to breakdown what Pat Narduzzi schemed up to confuse Ian Book and stop the Irish offense because we know that opposing defensive coordinators will be doing the same. Pitt had Ian Book uncomfortable from the get go and the Irish offense that had been so dynamic the last three weeks was stuck in neutral most of the day.
Pitt brought a lot of pressure that not only confused Ian Book but also the Notre Dame offensive line. They also crashed down on the Notre Dame running game and kept Dexter Williams corralled all day long. After averaging almost 170 yards a game in his first two games back from suspension, Williams has just 31 yards on 13 carries.
Ian Book’s numbers ended up looking pretty good with 26 of 32 passing for 264 yards with 2 touchdowns but 2 very costly interceptions. Still, the pressure had Book out of sorts and while his completion percentage was still high, his decision making was greatly impacting by Pitt’s pressure.
Notre Dame’s defense was fantastic
While the offense struggled, the Notre Dame defense was absolutely fantastic. Pitt scored 14 points but both can directly be placed on the Notre Dame special teams units. Without the special teams gaffes, Notre Dame might have pitched a shutout yesterday though they were bailed out a bit by those missed field goals as well.
Pitt gained 88 yards on their first drive of the game but just 152 the rest of the way. That first drive was stopped very early on as well, but an offsides on Nico Fertitta kept the drive alive after Pitt was lined up to punt the ball. The negative plays weren’t exactly there – they forced no turnovers and had just one sack – but they kept Pitt off the scoreboard most of the day.
Red-zone was an issue for the first time in a while
Notre Dame’s first three trips into the redzone yesterday resulted in just six points – two field goals and an interception. The fourth trip finally produced a touchdown at the end of the third quarter, but this is not the redzone offense that we have begun to become accustomed to with Ian Book as the quarterback for the Fighting Irish.
One trip in particular to the redzone highlighted Notre Dame’s woes yesterday. Late in the second half Notre Dame drove down inside the Pitt 10 and even converted a 4th and 1 with a nice little pass to Michael Young to set up a first and goal. The next three plays all ended with Pitt sacks of Ian Book, the last of which came with Avery Davis in the backfield for pass protection looking lost with who he was supposed to be blocking. That shouldn’t be on Davis either – he’s brand new to the position – that was a terrible coaching decision to have in the least experienced RB in that situation. Three straight sacks just can’t happen – especially after you have the momentum from converting a 4th down.
Notre Dame missed Alex Bars yesterday
For the first time since his injury, Notre Dame really missed Alex Bars out there yesterday and not just because the Notre Dame offensive line was under siege all day. Notre Dame could have used Bars’s leadership as well in a tight game when everything was seamingly going wrong for Notre Dame early.
On the field, Notre Dame really could have used Bars yesterday too as Notre Dame struggled to run the ball and protect Ian Book. Book didn’t help at times by rolling into pressure instead of stepping up into the pocket when the line did deliver a pocket.
Notre Dame has been working Aaron Banks into the mix because they know they’ll need a bigger guard long term to replace Bars even though Trevor Ruhland has been pretty solid most of the time. Yesterday was a good example of the problem not having Bars can present against physical defenses.
Special teams returned to early season form – in a bad way
Notre Dame’s special teams started the season really poorly. but bounced back for a few weeks until rearing their ugly head last week.. Yesterday was another trip back to the early season for the special teams. There is no other way to describe them other than bad. The Fertitta offsides penalty early on extended a drive that resulted in Pitt’s only offensive touchdown of the game.
The second half kickoff didn’t go through the endzone and instead landed at the one and 99 yards later, Pitt had their second touchdown of the day that could be attributed to the special teams.
Notre Dame had a chance to pin Pitt deep in their own territory late in the game after Brian Kelly contemplated going for it on 4th and 2. Tyler Newsome knocked the punt into the endzone though for a fairly minimal net gain.
All in all, it was a very forgettable day for Brian Polian’s units who will now have a whole lot of film work over the bye week.