Post Game 6-Pack: Notre Dame Avoids Disastrous Pitt-Fall

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.

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  1. PITT did show the blueprint how to frustrate ND’S offense, but to me ND did not play with any passion or sense of urgency until the 4th qrtr!! IT was like going back to the BALL ST/ VANDY games on offense!! O-LINE was horrible BOOK was at his worst of the season, and lets b honest the play calling was mind boggling!! PITT allowed over 200 yards a game rushing, but ND came out with a game plan of passing almost what seemed like every play!! PITT lost its best def. player MLB and we still consistently passed at least 3 to 1 ratio!! THOUGHT CHIP LONGS PLAY CALLING WAS BAD START TO FINISH, ESPECIALLY WITH BOOK STRUGGLING!! THE DEFENSE was outstanding AGAIN!!! The buy week comes at a perfect time to clean things up and to GET HEALTHY!! 5 more wins to go !! GO IRISH!!

  2. To all of you: I hope now some of you come to understand now WHY Coach Kelly and Coach Long started Wimbush, who also took a beating, a lot of sacks, etc. against Michigan’s defense in game one, rather than Book. Do you really think it would have been so smart to start Book, with less than two full games experience against Michigan’s front seven? Really? David called it coaching malpractice not to have started Book on Labor day weekend! To me, it was more than smart, it was Wisdom.
    By the way – “M” looked like the Blue of old last night, didn’t they? I think LSU and Michigan have the two toughest schedules in college football this year…and they are both thriving, all things considered.

    BGC ’77 ’82

  3. Can’t argue with any of your six packs, Frank. To elaborate on a few . . .

    Defense gave up 7 points to Pitt! 7 points- in 4 quarters! 0 points after the first Pitt drive, and even that drive was aided by a couple of ND mental miscues.

    Narduzzi completely outcoached ND. Chip Long didn’t know whether to squat or wipe. I was worried about ND being outcoached by Narduzzi. He did it vs. BK regularly at MSU- did it Saturday with an inferior team. No big secret-just varied blitzes and stunts. It’s been textbook football since the Super Bowl shufflin’ World Champion ‘85 Bears.
    Get used to varied blitzes and press CB coverage. ND will see that every week most every play from here on out. Foster and Narduzzi figured that out and showed every future team how to attack NDs O’. You neutralize that by running the ball but ND wasn’t able to. The OL looked confused, neutralized, and ordinary.
    Looks like ND missES Bars big time. Pitt’s mediocre D dominated the LOS, giving Book little protection and negating any rushing game. Maybe ND doesn’t throw deep often because the OL can’t sustain their blocks long enough to provide the time it takes to throw it deep. The biggest joke in college football is u can’t hold when blocking. Nearly every big run occurred because of holding, Pitt’s longest of 17 yards because of a blatant tackle by OL against Tranquil. If an OL is called for holding he ought to feel targeted and has every right to shout, “Why on me?”
    To expect ND to win big against Pitt after two big time emotional wins was foolish. Pitt and Narduzzi don’t lose to ND by much.
    Finally, the best way to avoid KRs for TDs? High on recruiting list this year: Got to get a KO Guy who can kick it out of the EZ like most other elite teams so they can’t have critical KRs against them for TDs.
    And to finish on two positive notes, what a great catch by Boykin preceding his TD catch. ND has to throw it up to Boykin more often and take their chances. And the receivers did well catching the ball when Book had the time to find them and wasn’t running for his life.

  4. Special teams are not so special.When is Kelly going to do something? By the way, Some should tell Polian that special teams are supposed to block a punt or field goal every now and then.

    1. Agree 100% Sean. And if we are going to go for two very early in a close game, when we really don’t even need two, why not a fake extra point play…it would be totally unexpected, especially with the best extra point kicker in ND history on the field! Not saying that the play we ran shouldn’t have worked…Book just made a lousy throw…but save that play for a second half two point try when trailing significantly and everyone on the continent knows we have to go for two anyway. Use the “surprise” play when nobody would question that Yoon is simply going to kick one right through! Think dudes, think!

      BGC ’77 ’82

  5. After this, opposing defenses will come in with one goal: blitz and pressure book. His strength is decision making, so it makes sense he’s less effective when given less time to make decisions.

    We have to establish the run game to keep teams from teeing up on Book. Bars is missed, but the talent is there. We just need someone to fill that leadership vaccuum. Time for one of our many blue-chippers to step up and embrace their time to lead (looking at you Tommy).

    If teams can stop the run and come after Book, we’re going to struggle moving the ball. It’s all on the O-line, and I think that now they’ve had a wake up call, they’ll rise to the occasion.

  6. ND came out flat and the play calling was so predictable – pass on first down, run on second, and pass on third – that it looked like Pitt was in the huddle.

  7. Happy to get the “W”, but that was sloppy. Maybe the Irish needed it as a wake up call (thought we’d already been there anddone that). But, it seemed like we got out-coached and out-played. The Irish seemed slow and out of sync. Missing blocks,poor tackling and the off-sides by Fertitta (and I love the kid) were killers, as well as the special teams play. All against an un-ranked team. The Irish were too predictable on offense, clearly need to work on Special Teams, and should try some of the things that Pitt did on D.

    Still, I’m all Irish all of the time!


    1. Ian Book started only his 5th game (If I remember that correctly) yesterday. Although he has been around the program, he is inexperienced.

      The offensive line was retooled coming into the season and losing Alex Bars makes them that much more inexperienced. The running backs are inexperienced, and well, so are the receivers.

      Narduzzi threw the defense equivalent of the kitchen sink at a young team. It confused and rattled them. That should not come as a surprise, Each game is a unique challenge and you can’t prepare for everything, yet the Irish found a way to win. They are young so there is more for them to learn and they will learn from this.

      If you need evidence that they are getting better each week, Book won the game on a pass that he missed at least three times against VT.

      It’s a special team. Enjoy the ride.

      1. On the Money MR—— Book’s crucial long throw to Boykin for TD says there’s no quit in this kid. After being pressured , sacked , threw two interceptions–he just kept battling to the end — that is Joe Montana kinda stuff versus Houston a long time ago. What the Irish have here is a QB—that will go down to to the wire. Irish D are doing what has to be done to keep Irish in win column — but it sure helps to have a QB put up points when game is on the line Go Irish .

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