Notre Dame went on the road this weekend for the first time, and the Irish return victors in a 45-3 blowout of conference, and long-time rival, Pitt. Pitt was a trendy upset special alert for the Irish in the preseason, but the Panthers, playing with their backup quarterback, were simply no match for the 3rd ranking Fighting Irish. Anytime you win by 42 points against a Power 5 opponent, there will be a lot to like, so let’s jump right in.
All three phases of the game contributing to a blowout
For the first time this season, we saw Notre Dame play complementary football in all three phases of the game. The offense struggled against Louisville and, to a lesser extent, Duke, special teams were rough versus Florida State; the defense actually looked vulnerable briefly in the win against Florida State. On Saturday, Notre Dame was dominant in all three phases of the game.
The Irish offense moved the ball in the air better than we had seen all season long and was efficient when they needed to be in the run game. Ian Book topped 300 yards and threw three touchdowns doubling his season total coming into the game.
Defensively, Pitt couldn’t do anything regardless of what quarterback they used to fill in for Kenny Pickett. Joey Yellen took some chances downfield, and other than two chunk plays, he had three interceptions to show for his efforts. Pitt had less than 200 yards of offense and ran 30 fewer plays than Notre Dame. It was another dominant effort from Clark Lea’s unit.
Special teams came through with a huge blocked punt at the end of the first half. Jonathan Doerer connected on his only field goal attempt. Still waiting for Chris Tyree to bust a kickoff return, but other than that, this was the best effort from the special teams all season.
For the first time this year, you could say that Notre Dame looked like a top 5 team. That’s a great sign heading into the second half of the season.
Bennett Skowronek making plays downfield in the passing game
One of the main reasons the Irish passing game looked better than it has all season was the big plays from Northwestern grad-transfer wide receiver Bennett Skowronek. “Big Ben” capped off Notre Dame’s opening drive by snatching the ball out of the air when it looked like the defender might have a chance to knock it away and then running into the endzone untouched for a 34-yard score.
Skowronek’s only other catch was even better. Ian Book went deep to Skowronek and let his big receiver make a play on the ball. He responded by high pointing the ball and racing into the endzone for a 73-yard score while the Pitt defender was more interested in looking for an offensive pass interference call. To be honest, I thought it was OPI in real-time, but upon further review, it was just a grown-man catch and run by Skowronek.
Will Skowronek be able to do the same against the Clemson defense? I don’t know yet. This was the first time we saw him truly at 100%, though. It’s clear that he has Book’s trust already, which is a great sign as well.
Notre Dame forcing three turnovers
Notre Dame’s defense has been stingy at giving up points and yards this year, but it hadn’t been able to force many turnovers before Saturday. Against Pitt, that changed with three interceptions by the Irish defense courtesy of Bo Bauer, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, and Nick McCloud.
All three interceptions were impressive for different reasons. Bauer dropped into coverage and read Joey Yellen’s eyes the entire way and snatched the ball out of the air. Yellen locked onto his receiver like a first-time starter and never saw Bauer waiting for the ball. Great play by Bauer to haul it in.
Jeremiah Owusu’s Koramoah’s interception is the kind of play one or two linebackers in college football can make. He lined up on a slot receiver and ran stride for stride with him and made a hell of a play on the ball in the air. The most surprising element of the play was that it was JOK’s first career INT. That was a 1st round draft pick type of play.
Nick McCloud’s pick came because he was in great position, and Yellen threw the ball up for grabs hoping his wide receiver could make a play. He couldn’t, and McCloud did. McCloud then did an excellent job of getting a foot inbounds to make it count.
Notre Dame will have to force turnovers against Clemson in two weeks to have a chance. Seeing them do so on the road yesterday was a very positive sign.
Notre Dame converting third downs on the nation’s top rush defense
Pitt’s run defense was mainly as advertised – tough. The Panthers stacked the line of scrimmage and forced Notre Dame to make plays downfield – which the Irish did. When Notre Dame needed to run the ball, though, they converted third downs on the ground.
Throughout the game, Notre Dame was 9 of 13 on third down before emptying the bench. Specifically, on 3rd and short, the Irish were fantastic. Here’s a rundown of every third and short before the 4th quarter and the result.
- 3rd and 1: C’Bo Flemister for 2 yards
- 3rd and 1: Kyren Williams for 1 yard
- 3rd and 1: Ian Book for 2 yards
- 3rd and 1: Kyren Williams for 1 yard
- 3rd and Goal (2): Ian Book sacked
That’s 4 of 5 on third and short on the game, with the only failed conversion coming on a pass attempt from the two-yard line. When the Irish needed to convert on third down against an elite run defense, they could do so by running the ball. That has not been the case in years past.
Even in years when Notre Dame put up some gaudy rushing numbers like 2017, the Irish struggled in short-yardage situations when opposing defenses knew the Irish would run the ball. So while the 115 yards rushing was not overly impressive – and they will have to run better against Clemson – it was encouraging to see Notre Dame convert on third and short with the ground game.
Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa sacking Yellen through the OL
There was a lot to like in this one – and I covered so more of the very likable things in my weekly overreactions post – but I am going to single out one play I loved to round out this one. It’s Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa’s first-quarter sack.
Lord Myron uses a straight bull rush to get to the quarterback and makes the sack of Yellen while he is still being blocked. He used a free arm to bring down Yellen after knocking the OL back into him off the snap.
Tagovailoa-Amosa’s first sack of the season was encouraging after the senior missed some time with an injury. He was eased back into action last weekend against Louisville but made his presence felt here against Pitt.
Anyone who has read my stuff for the last few years knows I’ve always had a soft spot for “Lord Myron,” so anytime I can fit him into a post, I am going to.