Falling behind and not bringing enough firepower to make a comeback proved to be fatal to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Saturday as they fell 24-13 to the Cincinnati Bearcats. The defeat knocks the Irish from the ranks of the undefeated and puts them in a precarious position regarding any hopes of competing in the college football playoff. That’s because one more loss will more than likely take them out of contention. One other negative is that the loss put an end to the Notre Dame home winning streak of 26 games
Below are some of the key aspects of Notre Dame’s loss:
Notre Dame forced Cincinnati to punt four times during the first half, though that mattered little because of three costly mistakes by the Irish. The first of these came on the game’s opening drive when Notre Dame converted on a clutch fourth-and-10, only to watch the Bearcats pick off a Jack Coan pass, ending the threat. After the two teams exchanged back-and-forth punts for a stretch, a Tyler Buchner pass was picked off and returned to the Irish eight-yard-line, which soon resulted in a Cincy touchdown. Disaster struck again on the ensuing kickoff when Chris Tyree‘s botched kickoff return was converted into a field goal.
Despite having the ball for nearly twice as long as Cincinnati during the first two quarters, Notre Dame was never able to capitalize on that time disparity. In some instances, the aforementioned turnovers played a damaging role, though other issues also surfaced along the way and hurt an Irish defense that kept the game scoreless after one period. Another factor was the five penalties that cost the Irish 35 yards, while the lack of a running game during the second quarter certainly didn’t help.
While the Notre Dame defense was dealt a bad hand on multiple occasions due to mistakes by the offense, they were far from perfect on the afternoon. Irish defenders gave up 386 yards of total offense, including 297 through the air. The highlight for this side of the ball came when Cincinnati was driving for what could have been the exclamation point score in the third quarter. Isaiah Foskey’s sack resulted in a fumble that Drew White picked up and brought back into Bearcat territory, with Notre Dame converting the turnovers into their first score.
Yet, the Irish defense also nearly gave up 10 more points as Cincy missed a pair of field goals inside the 40-yard-line and had a touchdown taken away by penalty. That was turned into a three-pointer. In addition, they weren’t able to stop the Bearcats from tacking on an insurance score after Notre Dame had sliced the margin to just four midway through the final period.
Running Game Blues
For the second straight week, the Notre Dame running game served as an afterthought, something that can’t continue in the weeks ahead. While the 17-0 deficit put an obvious need to focus on the passing attack, the Irish struggled to put any sort of ground game together after Kyren Williams picked up 16 yards on the first play of the game. From then on, Notre Dame could only manage 68 net yards on 27 carries for a miserable 2.5 yards per carry. Williams led all Irish rushers with 45 yards but also has averaged just 2.5 yards per carry over his past two games.
Musical Chairs at Quarterback
All three quarterbacks who had seen time on the field for Notre Dame this season were in action against Cincinnati, though only Drew Pyne’s insertion to start the second half seemed to make a difference. Jack Coan started the game and didn’t appear to have any issues after an injury that took him out of last week’s win over Wisconsin. He finished 14-of-22 on the afternoon for 114 yards and that interception on the opening drive. Tyler Buchner missed on both of his pass attempts and also suffered a pickoff, while Pyne was nine-of-22 for 143 yards and had one scoring toss to Braden Lenzy. Given the uncertainty, the quarterback questions for the week ahead could be interesting to watch.
For the third consecutive game, Notre Dame will be facing a team coming off their bye week, when they travel to face the Virginia Tech Hokies next Saturday. All three Hokies’ victories this season have come at home and this clash will take place under the lights. These two teams have only faced each other three previous times, with the Irish capturing the last two contests. The first of those victories came in their only other trip to Blacksburg in 2018, when a strong second half kept them undefeated with a 45-23 Notre Dame win.