5 Things I Didn’t Like: Notre Dame v. Pitt 2018

Notre Dame enters its bye week with a 7-0 record and its playoff dreams fully intact.  They almost limped into the bye week though asking themselves “how” and “why” after trailing for the majority of the game on Saturday in a narrow win over Pitt.  The Irish were fortunate to leave Notre Dame Stadium as one of just eight undefeated teams remaining in the country so there was obviously quite a lot to not like in this one.

1. Ian Book’s “happy feet” in the pocket

From the first series of the game, Ian Book was uncomfortable in the pocket and it wasn’t just from Pitt’s pressure.  Book took a 16 yard loss when he spin into a Pitt defender when he had a clean pocket to step into.  It was a sign of things to come for the next two and a half quarters.  Even when Pitt wasn’t generating pressure, Book was feeling it and the offense was stuck in the mud.

Then the actual pressure came and the mistakes started to pile up.  Book ended up throwing two interceptions because of the pressure but amazingly, he still completed 26 of 32 passes in the game even with the pressure.  Some of that is due to Book tucking and running with the ball early instead of throwing it though.

Still, this was the first time we really saw Book uncomfortable since he took over for Brandon Wimbush.  Up until this weekend, Book seemed unflappable.  Considering this was only his 5th career start it’s perfectly understandable for this to happen.  What will be important now, however, is if Book learns from it.   If he does, he will be better for it.  If he doesn’t, opposing defensive coordinators know how to rattle him.

The good news – maybe even great news – is that Book turned things around miraculously in the 4th quarter.  After his 2nd interception, he went 10 for 10 for 134 yards and two touchdowns.  If that is how he responds to similar slow starts in the future, the Irish should be just fine.

2. Special teams

It looked like Notre Dame had this fixed at  one point, but special teams have been a problem the last two weeks.  This weekend though was the worst we’ve seen from the special teams since Brian Polian was brought back to Notre Dame last year.  Pitt’s first touchdown drive was only possible because Nicco Feritta jumped offsides on a punt on 4th and 4 after the Irish defense had Pitt stopped.  The drive stayed alive and the result was seven points for the Panthers.

Pitt’s second touchdown opened the second half when they took the opening kickoff of the half 99 yards for a touchdown.  It was the second kickoff for a touchdown Notre Dame has surrendered already this season.  The other coming week one against Michigan.  That return is what ignited a lifeless Wolverine squad up until that point.

Add in a punt into the endzone when Notre Dame needed to pin Pitt deep late in the 4th quarter and you have the recipe for a special teams disaster.   This was precisely the same type of performance that was common under Scott Booker that Polian was brought in to fix.  Polian does not have a position assignment on the coaching staff.  He is solely assigned to special teams.  He has a lot of work to do in the bye week.

3. Book’s slide short of the 1st Down

It amazed me how many people defended this play on Twitter during the game, but Ian Book’s slide on 3rd and 6 late in the game that resulted in a 4th and 1 was an error that almost cost Notre Dame dearly.  No one is suggesting that Book take on defenders head on, but if he had dove forward instead of slide, he still could have avoided major contact and picked up the first down.  Had he picked up that first down, Notre Dame might have been able to run out the clock or at least tack on some more points.

Brian Kelly alluded to it after the game as well.  “I think he had one incompletion, and if we can work on his sliding skills to get the ten full yards, he’d be flawless in the second half,” Kelly said.

In the end, Notre Dame still won the game, but if there was ever a time when it would have not only been perfectly acceptable – but maybe actually preferred – for the QB to dive for the first, this was it.

4. Notre Dame’s inability to run the football

Notre Dame struggled to run the ball in the first half of the Virginia Tech game before Dexter Williams ripped off that 97 yard run on Notre Dame’s first series of the second half.  That opened up the running for the rest of the game.  Notre Dame never got a play like that this weekend, and ultimately the Irish totaled just 80 yards on the ground this week.  Pitt was hellbent on taking away the running game for the Irish, but for a team that prides itself on running the football, they needed to do a better job running.

Notre Dame really missed Alex Bars this weekend against Pitt’s defensive front and it’s clear why the staff is working in Aaron Banks along with Trevor Ruhland to replace him.  Ruhland has been great, but Notre Dame needs someone with size like Banks long term at left guard to get where they want to go.

Brian Kelly and Chip Long have the bye week to figure things out in the running game, but after the last two weeks it’s clear that there is work to be done since 97 yard runs won’t be happening every week.  Amazingly, this was the first game since 2014 in which Notre Dame ran for 80 or fewer net yards and still won.

5. Three straight sacks in the redzone

Keeping in the theme of the struggles of the offense, one series in particular stands out in summing up Notre Dame’s bad day on offense.  Late in the second quarter after a 4th and short conversion, the Irish looked poised to finally score their first touchdown of the game.  Faced with a first and goal, Ian Book dropped back to pass and was sacked.  Then he was sacked again.  And then he was sacked again.  From first and goal at the 9 to fourth and goal at the 24.

The series had a little bit of everything.  Some real pressure that forced Book out of the pocket, some pressure Book felt that wasn’t quite there, and then Kelly and Long inserting their least experienced running back – Avery Davis – to pass protect on 3rd and long.  No one should fault Davis there for not picking up the blitzer, the kid was a quarterback not too long ago and isn’t experienced in pass protection yet.  That one falls on the staff.

It was just one series of plays, but it perfectly encapsulated all of the struggles of the Notre Dame offense pretty perfectly.

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  1. Kelly’s totally random conversion decisions.
    Chasing 2 points with 17+ minutes left? Sure.
    Having Mr. Automatic Points Yoon then kick off, and hurt his groin doing it, for no reason? Sure.
    And then having the same Mr. Yoon, now risking serious injury, kick more extra points? Sure.

    Kelly is a completely incompetent fraud.

    1. Boycotting the team and not watching the games, yet noting everything that happens within said game. Sure

      1. We’re all still waiting for an original, ND football-oriented thought.
        Not this year ?
        Maybe 2022?

    2. WOW still watching every game stomping your feet, screaming in your room till mommy tells you to turn off your tv! You are a pathetic little boy dopey davey!! POOR davey hows NEBRASKA and your great coach FROSTY THE DOPEMAN doing!! The IRISH ARE #4 NOW dopey!! YOU ARE A COMPLETELY INCOMETENT FOOL!!!

      1. I spend Saturdays watching what I know will be high quality entertainment.
        I DVR ND games. It costs nothing…least of all, my Saturday.

        …are you and Ron Siamese twins who share no brain ?

      2. “Ndcrazy”,

        I have to disagree. How is it possible for little “Davey” to have a lobotomy? Doesn’t that presuppose he has a brain to begin with?!


  2. BGC,

    Yes, I’m also serious about believing that this is in fact a new “Duranko” based on my own TA of past and present posts.

    As a historian, I also have training in TA. Any historian worth his or her salt could, e.g., discern the redaction chronology of “The Didache,” “The Didascalia,” and “The Apostolic Constitutions.” It would be relatively easy for a trained historian to trace the development of doctrines from the earliest and most primitive document to the most sophisticated and later in time.

    As you may recall, “BGC,” I left this site right around Lent. I fasted from UHND for more than forty days. I asked that “Duranko” before I went away for the season to reconcile as a sign of Christian charity and solidarity. You might recall his ungracious and un-Christian response, “BGC.” Since my return I have avoided all contacts with any of the so-called “Durankos” at UHND.

    Don’t waste your time with “Burgy,” “BGC.” His grade school education (as witnessed by his repostes here) wouldn’t permit him to undertake any kind of TA. I’m not sure “Burgy” could spell “B-i-b-l-e” much less read it or comment on it.

    Go Irish!

  3. I know this is a little off topic, but I happened to catch the last few minutes of the number 18 Irish beat number 16 Michigan in men’s soccer last night. It’s always good to beat the Meatchickens in any sport (that goes for Thug U also). The Maize and Blue had a shot in the last few seconds to score but luckily the Irish defense deflected the ball out of harms way.

    I mostly follow ND football and basketball (hockey sometimes too since it’s my favorite of the major sports), but if I happen to catch them on TV in some other sport I’ll take a look to see how they are doing. I figure any success they have is good for the brand.

  4. Items 1, 4 and 5 are symptomatic of one core issue: we have a line that’s unprepared, tired, and beat all to hell. I’m hoping the week off cures the tired & beat up, but as for being prepared, we’re a long, long way from the days of Harry Hiestand, folks.

    Forget everything else. The season will turn on the performance of the offensive line.

  5. SFR, You may be on to something. Textual analysis, which I learned in the Theology Department at Notre Dame (though not always in the English language, I admit) does lend some credence to your suspicion of a “new” Duranko…more samples would be needed to be sure…but as off-the-wall as your suggestion was, it actually crossed my mind recently. I’m not being glib here SFR, it really did!

    BGC ’77 ’82

      1. Oh TE is a blast, Ron. You should try it. It is one place where Artificial Intelligence is way way way behind. But although I might do analysis with it in modern texts, the pure fun ( and greatest profit) is really in TE for the Bible and the Koran, isn’t it?

        BGC ’77 ’82

      2. Sorry, TA…I meant TA, not TE. Racing thoughts are a problem with my kind of illness. I was perhaps also thinking of TEXTUAL EXEGESIS, another hobby I picked up at ND.

        But that might not be “for everybody”, right? I get that. TA is good for anyone, Ron. An example question for you, might be this: Why would “Bruce Curme” be writing what he is writing the way he is writing it, and for whom is he writing, especially culturally speaking, and what will be their predictable perceptions, reactions, to the writing? And above all, why?

        That, of course, is just a simple example. Who really cares what BC does, right? But you probably care about SOMETHING…try it in lieu of plan B, if you want to, Ron.

        BGC ’77 ’82

  6. Like everyone else, I was disappointed that Book didn’t dive for the first down. But let’s remember that there isn’t a yellow stripe showing the line of gain on the field, and I bet if you ask him, he thought he had the first down for sure when he slid. There is no issue of courage here.

    I agree with the commenters on long passes. In fact, I expected Long to start with a deep pass to show Pitt what they were in for. We’re all on the same page here – given our 6’4″ receivers a chance to make a catch or get PI calls, and lengthen the field to defend. The lack of misdirection in the running game is still irksome. Everything is a straight dive or a sweep.

    I realize that you don’t want to risk losing your back-up QB to injury, but I still would try to get Wimbush in the offense for 5-6 plays a game. Keeps his head in the game and keeps the opposition off guard.

    1. Robert,

      Good call on the misdirections. You are exactly right. We rarely run these types of plays. I remember when Kelly was still calling plays we used to run this play where we are in the gun with a RB off to one side of the QB and the entire offense would block down in one direction, we had our QB running the ball to that direction a couple steps along with our RB running in the same direction like it was an option, and then our RB would put on the brakes and go the opposite direction, almost like a misdirection draw play. I remember this play gaining all kinds of yards almost every single time Kelly ran it. But you are right on this. Our runs are pretty obvious.

    2. Agree about Wimbush. I really wish the coaches found a way to incorporate him in the game in some fashion. Because I guarantee you, as things stand now, he will be playing for someone else next year, his final year of eligibility. Like EG, like Zaire. The biggest difference with BW is that he actually could contribute. With his elusiveness and speed, his ability to turn a sure sack into a first down, or even a TD, it’s a shame he’s never on the field now.

      He’s not an elite QB. But he could be an elite player if given the chance.

  7. It sure looked like the o-line was not on game. Less like technique broke down and more like they weren’t even sure of their assignments.

    I’d like to see Kelly find the fine line between staying quite and exploding on the refs. He talked about sending game film to the ACC. How about working them a little more from the sidelines and maybe sending cakes like Pete the Cheat seeemd to do in his day.

    1. Agree 100%. The lack of holding calls was #1 thing I didn’t like. Kelly mentioned they sent in twice the number of clips to the ACC this time (8). I understand that there has been an effort both in college and the NFL to reduce the number of holding calls and speed up the game.
      However, the integrity of the game is now at risk because you have teams with inferior linemen literally holding on every play, knowing that only a fraction of the penalties will be called. This trend that I’m seeing over the past couple of years effectively evens the playing field. I guarantee coaches are instructing their kids to hold. Why wouldn’t you?
      Problem is you’re going to see coaches not teach technique as much because it’s pointless. Teams like ND with top-notch skilled offensive linemen coach their kids to execute proper blocks and NOT hold.
      This development is equivalent to not calling fouls in basketball. It diminishes the effectiveness of truly skilled players.

  8. What is highly important is that the first seven games are done, and in the history book.

    Season One was 3-0 Great field, no hit, albeit with a win over Michigan. Wimbush made us wince.

    Season Two was 4-0, BOOK it, the offense emerged, and two massive wins over Stanford and Virgina Tech.

    Several huge questions have been answered:

    The coaching staff is sound. Last Winter, the bedwetters were bemoaning the departure of Hiestand and E;lp,bs ia J
    TElko. Lea is outstannding, as productive as elko but without the histrionics and emotional rollercoasters.

    Quinn still has some questions but his line helped outrush

    Michigan 132-58
    Stanford, yeah Stanford 272-55
    Va teCH 167-132

    The biggest fulcrum of the year was the return of the middle front four on defense:
    Hypotheticals are dangerous but it is hard to envision the irish as unbeaten without that returning quarter.

    The second year coordinators have been outstanding. Lea has shown what his defense is like when he has two genuine safeties
    and it is arguable that jalen Elliott is the most improved Irish defender.

    Long has shown the full range of his offense, and the Tight Ends are here to stay.

    Autry Denson? Assistant of the year-first half ’18. Last winter the bedwetters were weeping and gnashing teeth
    about Adams, McIntosh, Holmes. And yet, here we are. His management of the Dexter Williams situation was masterful.

    7-0. And they know where they have to improve.

    The second half of the year will be keynoted, hopefully, by stabilized offensive line play, smoother pperformance by Book
    and arrival of some help at DT and LB. Too much iron man work is no good.

    Consider August ’18, If Mephistopheles himself rang your doorbell and said that you could beat Michigan, hammer Stanford and beat Va TEch in Blacksburg
    but the cost would be an ugly squeaker against Pitt would you have made the deal.

    I would have.

    I like where we are.

    Two more seasons to go.
    The four odd games, navy, NW, FSU SYR
    the challenge in the Coliseum

    We will see.’

    ‘Go Irish

    1. National Championship already won. Of course the real Duranko did win one.

      You of course imagine an association by stealing the name. And of course anyone who dares criticize must be rooted out and sent to a concentration camp. Burn all books too. It has been the power of bloggers that have kept the Irish from all those championships for the last 29-30 years. Damn all critics. Only blind followers. On to Nuremberg.

      1. Hello, “C-Dog”,

        I think this is a new alias “Duranko”. The previous version, one so-called “Dick Arrington” (another ND great who had his name appropriated by bogus “Duranko”), the one who somehow sent out multiple unsolicited emails to my friends, seemed a bit more cantankerous than this “Duranko”.

        I might be wrong, “C-Dog”, but the previous “Duranko” might have been fired for his past offenses and truculence on this site and the powers that be on here just slipped in a new alias.

        Always good to hear from one of the “originals” (at least for me).

        GO IRISH!

      2. SteelFanRob,
        Always good to see you here. Yes the originals! We had it good with good critical conversation. Any true Irish fan wants perfection. For those of us old enough to have witnessed perfect and truly great Irish teams the standard is high. Having wanted Willingham and Weis to have turned it around, I just can’t jump on the bandwagon. They need to prove it first. After 30 years this program is essentially starting from scratch. Those who demand we pretend it’s 1964 or second game of 1977 or January 1988 need a dose of reality.
        However, I cautiously optimistic this year. If BK can get out of his own way and let the assistants call the plays they have a legitimate shot. If he brings in Holtz to motivate the team from December through the last game they have a legitimate shot at beating anyone. This team has only self inflicted deficiencies. It really feels that way.
        So yeah I’m still skeptical of BK. But there is true hope this year.

    2. Great write up Duranko. Only two things to add: (1) We have the best strength and conditioning program I ever remember at ND right now, and we’ve had some good ones! and (2) We have the best kicker in Yoon I ever remember, and we’ve had some darn good ones of those as well. Things are as they should be at Notre Dame right now, and it is reflected in the 7-0 record and our ranking. It’s just that simple.

      BGC ’77 ’82

      1. Hmm, Bruce, and I expected you to talk about Father Lange and his “old school” methods.

        What is intriguing here, is that sometimes, the second half of the season surprises us.

        In ’70 I thought the irish were the best team in the country. Then the inexplicable scoring drought at
        home against Georgia Tech and Lsu.

        In ’77 the team that got trounced by might Ole Miss and barely escaped Purdue got so much better in the second half of the season.

        The only thing that kept any game close in the second half of ’77 was the refereeing crew in Death Valley.

        What else is noteworthy here is that Book goes into the off week (I detest the phrase “bye week” it is creeping NFLism at its worst)
        is that he Knows he is the starter and that Long Knows he must build around Book’s strengths and

        It is true every year, but particularly this year. From here on out, at least through
        Thanksgiving Saturday, the most daunting opponent for the Irish is their own potential.
        It is an interesting challenge both for the players and a surprisingly competent coaching staff.

  9. Have to mention the lack of holding calls as another thing I didn’t like. Kelly mentioned they sent in twice the number of clips to the ACC this time (8). I understand that there has been an effort both in college and the NFL to reduce the number of holding calls and speed up the game.
    However, the integrity of the game is now at risk because you have teams with inferior linemen literally holding on every play, knowing that only a fraction of the penalties will be called. This trend that I’m seeing over the past couple of years effectively evens the playing field. I guarantee coaches are instructing their kids to hold. Why wouldn’t you?
    Problem is you’re going to see coaches not teach technique as much because it’s pointless. Teams like ND with top-notch skilled offensive linemen coach their kids to execute proper blocks and NOT hold.
    This development is equivalent to not calling fouls in basketball. It diminishes the effectiveness of truly skilled players.

  10. Great write up and agree with all sore points!

    Not to bag on the kid, but Nicco Feritta had a rough day. That off sides penalty and he totally missed a tackle on the KO return for a TD. I’m sure he’ll shake it off during the bye week. Go Irish!

  11. I’m not sure who does the stock report articles, but Chip Long better be in the falling category. I am losing all confidence in this guy as a playcaller. I was at the game. Pitt played man coverage the ENTIRE game and stacked the box. It was more than obvious they planned to take away the run and make ND throw over the top. My guess is they saw the VT game film and saw that Book wasn’t exactly throwing downfield well. They probably also saw that if you give Dexter Williams any running room, he is going to gash the hell out of you. So guess what their coaches did, put together a perfect plan to play against ND’s strengths and capitalize on our weaknesses and it worked perfectly. Chip Long being the dumba** he is, decided not to go deep until the very last drive of the game and look what happened. A perfectly thrown bomb to Claypool on a post resulting in a PI and then shortly after a perfectly thrown ball to Boykin over the top for a TD. Easy peezy!

    At what point is Long going to trust our 6’5″ receivers to make a play down the field in one on one coverage against 5’9″ DBs!?!?! I mean it is unreal that you don’t take advantage of this immediately. If I’m Book and I see one on one on the outside with Claypool or Boykin, I immediately audible to a go route. He should be given this freedom. These receivers are massive and I bet more than 50% of the time, they are going to come down with a catch or draw a PI which is what we saw on that last drive. If we did this early in the game, it would have forced PITT to make an adjustment and no longer stack the box leaving Dexter with a lot more running room. It’s pretty simple.

    Book has to know in that situation where he slid short of the first down that he must do everything he can to make it there. That would have sealed the game for sure. Wimbush did something similar last year against GA that would have kept a crucial drive going which may have allowed us to beat GA but we ended up punting. If you’re a gamer, you put your shoulder down and get that first down to seal it. Remember Elway in the SB going head over heels getting that first down. That’s what a gamer does. It doesn’t matter that it is PITT. You sell out to win at all costs.

    And don’t even get me started on Chip Long and the 4th and 1 play call to not QB sneak to end the game. No fan is going to be upset if we don’t get a 1st down on a QB sneak call where we need 1 yard. If we get stopped then we do but it’s the right play call. I think QB sneaks from 1 yard or less convert like 90% of the time. But fans are going to get real pissed if you call a play action rollout where it looks like it was some sort of designed QB run and you actually lose yards and turn the ball over for the other team to win. Seriously how much money does this guy make?

    1. Not sure how much he makes…maybe less than half what Elko makes now. In what sense do we think that is too much to pay a “Coach Long”? Should he be making less than a third of what Elko makes instead?

      BGC ’77 ’82

      1. Bruce,

        I wasn’t being literal with that payment question, haha!! The whole point is basic fans could have done a better job that probably make waaayyyyy less than this dude does.

  12. ST’s was a mess. It all started with that offsides which led directly to a TD. I noted in another column I don’t even blame the defense for that one because Pitt started a methodical drive after that one that seemed to take hours. Any defense would have trouble by the end of that. Thankfully Pitt missed 2 FG’s to help us out.

    On offense they better address their deficiencies because Pitt just gave the remaining teams on our schedule the formula for stopping our offense. Now, not every team will be able to capitalize on that, but you can bet USC and FSU can, and probably Syracuse too. We’ve seen this happen before in the BK regime. They get in a rhythm on offense until some team figures out a weakness and exposes it, and they are never able to answer it and we end up with a couple losses and looking for a new QB because the current one never recovers. I hope that doesn’t happen to our offense and Book this year.

    And this game demonstrates we still have a long way to go to beat a team like Alabama, because if you want a NC, it will have to go through Bama.

    One bright spot is the defense. They didn’t give up much. A touchdown after a drive that seemed to last an eternity was the biggest. And once again they saved the day when it counted most. I’ve said before it’s nice to actually not cringe when our defense has to take the field or when we have to punt. It’s nice to think at the end of the day when we have to punt the ball with a small lead that yeah, our defense got this.

  13. I have a feeling over the next five games and in the playoffs if Notredame makes it Kelly may replace Davis with Armstrong.I also look for Kelly to incorporate Winbush into the offense in some capacity.If Notredame makes it to the playoffs and plays Clemson Alabama or Ohio State those teams are big and fast up front and Winbushes legs will be needed in the run game

    1. Pete,

      When Armstrong comes back healthy, it is already a given that it is going to be Dexter and Armstrong as a 1-2 punch. Armstrong is our next great running back. If our coaches and fans don’t see this, then they’re blind. Armstrong is the real deal at RB and he is also a great pass catcher. He is basically a bigger and faster version of Theo Riddick, a little less shifty, but great vision and overall top speed is better. I can’t wait to watch this kid run the next couple of years. Let’s hope he is ready for Navy.

      1. I don’t see the Riddick comparison at all. Riddick ran low, like a RB should. Jafar is verticals, which can work. But a completely different style. Armstrong has to show more before he’s “the next great RB.”

      2. Cig,

        The comparison to Riddick was in vision and pass catching ability. Riddick did both very well and Jafar has proven this in a short period of time already. I’m not sure how much more you want to see out of Armstrong. In 47 carries, he is averaging over 5 yards a carry, has 5 TDs, a long of 47 yards, 7 catches for 87 yards with a long of 27. I’d say with only 4 games and splitting time with other RBs, that’s a pretty good freakin start to a RB career at ND, especially considering he moved from WR, wouldn’t you agree??

  14. You wanna be the champs, we’ll, you gotta take risks now and then. I remember John Elway finally started going head first and He claimed a ring. Book already goes head first in QB sneaks.

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