Notre Dame made their first road trip of the year and will return to South Bend with an unblemished record following a 45-3 beatdown Pitt. The Irish got off to a slow start in the first quarter but used a 21 point second quarter to pull away en route to another easy victory. However, the win did come with some costs as the Irish could be without two major weapons for a while.
Blowing out Pitt is cathartic
Blowing out Pitt should not be cathartic, but it is. For whatever reason, Pitt always seemed to play Notre Dame tough over the years, even when they weren’t particularly good. That last time Notre Dame beat Pitt, this badly was Lou Holtz’s final season in 1996 when the Irish won 60-6.
The Irish were only 10.5 point favorites today, and I fully expected this to be a fight for much of the game with the Irish pulling away late. That wasn’t the case. This game was over before half time when Isaiah Foskey blocked a Pitt punt and fell on it in the endzone for a touchdown right before half-time.
Notre Dame needed a win like this, not just because Pitt has tended to play them tough over the last 20 years, but also because of how average the Irish looked a week ago against Louisville.
Notre Dame’s injuries at wide receiver overshadow win
While the blowout win felt great, the losses of wide receiver Kevin Austin for the season with a foot injury and the apparent hamstring injury for Braden Lenzy loom large. Before the game, we learned that Austin reinjured his foot in practice, and Kelly confirmed at his post-game press conference that he won’t be back until the spring.
At this time, we don’t know the extent of Lenzy’s injury, but seeing him pull up lame and grab his hamstring before getting helped off the field is not a good sign.
Notre Dame’s passing game looked better today, but it’s hard to imagine the Irish offense moving the ball on Clemson without their two dynamic receivers.
Ian Book got back on track but still left plays on the field
Ian Book threw for 300 yards for the first time this season and had a season-high three touchdown passes today, but when he goes back and looks at the film, he’ll see he could have had an even more prolific day. Pitt sent all they could at Book, and he handled it well, but he also missed some passes that he usually doesn’t miss.
Today was a step in the right direction for Book and the Irish passing game, don’t get me wrong, but at just about the half-way point of the season, the passing game is still a work in progress.
Book finished 16 of 30 for 312 yards and added another 40 yards on the ground. The Ian Book we saw today is good enough to beat everyone on the schedule not named Clemson. He’s got one more game before Clemson to build on today.
Notre Dame struggled to run against an elite run defense
Pitt came into the game with the nation’s top-ranked rush defense allowing just over 60 yards a game, so we knew yards would be tough to come by. Notre Dame ended the game with only 115 yards on the ground. While that is almost double what Pitt was allowing, it was also nearly 150 yards less than the Irish were averaging a game.
Kyren Williams did about as much as he could with the room there, which wasn’t much, but he also converted when he needed to. He only had 38 yards on 17 carries, but he picked up some big third downs along the way. Without the huge lanes we’ve seen against lesser defenses, the stats weren’t gaudy, but he got the job done when needed.
C’bo Flemister was effective as well, leading the Irish with 48 yards on 13 carries. Flemister is fun to watch run, and seeing him getting carried by his offensive line in a scrum and signaling for a first down in the process was amusing.
We didn’t see much of Chris Tyree today, but given his running style and Pitt’s defense, that isn’t a huge surprise. Jafar Armstrong ended up getting eight carries in the fourth quarter but tallied -4 yards with them.
It was only a matter of time before Notre Dame’s defense produced turnovers
The only knock on the Irish defense last week, and for most of the year, was its lack of turnovers. They changed that narrative on Saturday. The Irish had just one interception on the season heading into today. They had three today alone.
Bo Bauer got the turnover party started when Joey Yellen locked on to his receiver and never saw Bauer sitting in coverage. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah joined the party with a hell of a pick covering a slot receiver. There’s only a handful of linebackers in college football who could make the play JOK did.
Nick McCloud capped it all off with another great interception on the sidelines – his first as a Fighting Irish member.
It was only a matter of time until the Irish defense got their hands on the ball. Expect that trend to continue in the second half of the season – especially since we’re sitting waiting for Kyle Hamilton’s first INT of the year.
Pat Narduzzi did not have a good game
Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi did not coach a good game. At all. The ABC commentators couldn’t understand why Narduzzi had his quarterback run to the sidelines after every play for the next play call, and I can’t blame them. Dude, no one is spending the time to steal your signals. You’re Pitt.
Narduzzi also essentially gave up at the end of the first half despite nearly two minutes of game clock and all of his timeouts. That surrender strategy backfired gloriously when Isaiah Foskey blocked that punt and scored to make it 28-3 at half-time.
Narduzzi also sent out a redshirt freshman quarterback and had him sling it 27 times with 3 interceptions before giving him the hook.
I was going to name this section “Brian Kelly outcoached Pat Narduzzi” but the decision to have Lenzy in the game in the 4th quarter when he suffered his injury was simply inexcusable.
Michael Mayer and Bennett Skowronek made plays
While Notre Dame didn’t have Austin and didn’t target Lenzy until the game was out of hand, Northwestern transfer Bennett Skowronek and freshman tight end Michael Mayer provided some firepower.
Skowronek got the Irish on the scoreboard with a great play on a 34-yard touchdown on Notre Dame’s first drive. He added a 73-yard score when he perfectly high-pointed a bomb from Book in the second quarter. Those were his only two catches on the day, but he made them count.
Notre Dame needs Skowronek to make more plays like this over where Book just throws it up and lets him make a play on the ball.
Mayer led Notre Dame with five receptions picking up 73 yards and a touchdown on the way. He could have had another touchdown, but Book missed him on a well-designed play in the 3rd quarter.
The defense was great, but Pitt’s offense was also really, really bad
Notre Dame held Pitt to 162 yards of offense. That is a week after limiting Louisville to 219 total yards. The Panthers ran for just 44 yards on 20 attempts. They were only 3 of 13 on 3rd down. They ran just 53 plays compared to Notre Dame’s 83. They held the ball for a paltry 19:01.
A lot of that had to do with Notre Dame’s defense, but some of it also had to do with Pitt’s offense just being terrible. Joey Yellen filled in for starter Kenny Pickett and struggled mightily. He connected on only 10 of 27 attempts and accounted for all three of the Pitt interceptions. He did have some chances for big plays as Notre Dame had a few secondary breakdowns while playing with TaRiq Bracy, but Pitt couldn’t capitalize.
After showing signs of vulnerability against Florida State, Clark Lea’s unit has responded by stifling Louisville and Pitt in back to back weeks.