Notre Dame had an effective business trip to Pittsburgh over the weekend. The Irish tamed the Panthers 45-3 on their way to their fourth win in four tries in conference play and fifth overall in five attempts. There was a lot to like from the Irish output on Saturday, but even in a 42 point win on the road against a tough defense, there’s always room to find a few things that weren’t the most likable.
Penalties on Notre Dame
Notre Dame came into the game averaging only three penalties a game for just under 30 yards. Against Pitt, the Irish tallied 7 for 63 yards, more than doubling their season average. They came early in the game, too, and they weren’t cheap ones.
On Notre Dame’s first touchdown drive of the game, Aaron Banks was flagged for a face mask penalty that wiped out that turned a 2nd and 6 at the 25 to a 1st and 21 from the 44. Ian Book helped erase that flag with his 34-yard touchdown to Bennett Skowronek, but that could have been a drive killer.
After getting to their own 48 on their second drive of the game, a personal foul penalty on Liam Eichenberg set the Irish back and put the offense into a 1st and 24. The drive stalled – more on this later.
I’m not going to count the pass interference penalty on Kyle Hamilton because that was just good defense. We can forgive the referee for never seeing a safety be able to run and cover as well as young Kyle before.
It was a bit of a sloppy afternoon penalty wise, and something Brian Kelly and staff need to clean up, all kidding aside.
Tommy Rees play-calling after Eichenberg’s personal foul penalty
Overall, Tommy Rees had a pretty good afternoon calling plays. The Irish scored 45 points – and should have scored more. Notre Dame finally threw for over 300 yards, and Ian Book doubled his touchdown total on the year in a single afternoon. Overall, not bad.
But can we talk about the second drive of the game and what Rees did following Eichenberg’s personal foul?
Notre Dame faced a 1st and 21 from the Pitt 38 yard line after moving the ball down the field and scored a touchdown – despite a similar 15-yard penalty – the drive before. Rees proceeded to call three surrender runs in a row, and the Irish punted three plays later on 4th and 31. Three runs netted a total of -6 yards.
Notre Dame was moving the ball well at the time. I get not wanting to force a turnover, but maybe a screen instead of a couple of draws and pitches into the teether of the nation’s top-ranked run defense?
Pitt’s alternate uniforms
I thought we were getting past some of these uniform monstrosities, but apparently not. Whoever approved those Pitt jerseys might need an eye exam because they were dreadful. I didn’t even realize that there were names on the backs of the jerseys until late in the game because the grey nameplates on grey jerseys made them illegible.
Pitt’s traditional blue and yellow uniforms with the script “Pitt” on the helmet are iconic and would have been fitting for a rivalry game where the programs have met over 70 times. I get wanting to do something special for a big game for the program – Notre Dame’s forced some bad uniforms too over the years – but those unis need to go into storage and never see the light of day again.
Braden Lenzy’s injury
The afternoon started with the news of Kevin Austin’s injury. Notre Dame lost their presumed number one receiver for the year before he ever got going this year to a foot injury. Bennett Skowronek emerged as the big-bodied, sure-handed threat we all thought Notre Dame was getting when he transferred from Northwestern. That was good. However, the bad was having Braden Lenzy running go routes in the 4th quarter up 40 points.
I can see some of the logic of having Lenzy getting some more reps since he’s missed a lot of time with hamstring issues. That said, the logic backfired horribly with Lenzy pulling up lame on a go route late in the game.
There hasn’t been an official update on Lenzy’s status other than Brian Kelly saying they are hopeful he just pulled some of the scar tissue from the injury. Still, it’s hard to imagine him suiting up this weekend after getting helped off the field. Even if here is miraculously available in two weeks for Clemson, how effective will Notre Dame’s lone speed threat now be?
Lenzy and Austin were supposed to be Notre Dame’s 1-2 punch at wide receiver this year. We might not see either impact this season the way things are going with Lenzy’s hammy.
No targets for the freshman wide receivers
Jordan Johnson reportedly did not travel with the Irish to Pittsburgh, and while Xavier Watts did, he didn’t get into the game. Johnson not traveling with the team suggests some sort of internal disciplinary action, but that is just speculation at this time. Brian Kelly hasn’t confirmed anything of the such, but it’s hard to imagine a healthy Johnson not making the travel roster for any other reason.
With Austin out for the year and the potential loss of Lenzy for any period, Notre Dame could use some explosiveness to pair with Skoronek and Javon McKinley right about now. Lawrence Keys should be back at full strength next week, but just once, it’d be nice to see the Irish have an impact freshman receiver.
Turning on the Michigan game on Saturday night, AJ Henning was in the game for the Wolverines in the first half. He only ended up with 1 catch for 6 yards, but that’s more than Notre Dame has gotten from the combo of Johnson and Watts so far.
With the incoming trio of Lorenzo Styles, Jayden Thomas and Deion Colzie, Kelly, Rees, and Del Alexander will have to find a way for freshman receivers to play sooner rather than later.