Notre Dame returned to the field on Saturday following their bye week and sent home Pitt and their boisterous head coach Pat Narduzzi with a 58-7 shellacking. All three phases of the game contributed for the Irish in the blowout win that improved them to 7-2 on the season. Xavier Watts continued to play out of his mind, the Irish found explosive plays in the passing game, and special teams continued their recent surge.
Xavier Watts is playing his way toward Sundays already
What else can be said about Xavier Watts right now? After another week with two interceptions – his second in a row – he now leads the NCAA in interceptions with 6 on the season. Watts was the best offense for Notre Dame in the first half – just like he was against USC – with a pair of interceptions that set up the Irish with scoring opportunities after the offense sputtered out of the gates.
The only downside of Watts sudden, meteoric rise is that he could be playing his way into the NFL Draft earlier than initially imagined. Entering the season, it seemed like a given that Watts would be back next year if the staff wanted him back. Now the staff is going to have a re-recruiting job on their hands with Watts, who has one year of eligibility left and would be massive to have back.
Al Golden is on an absolute heater
A week after shutting down the high-powered USC offense, Golden’s task wasn’t nearly as challenging against Pitt, but the results were still impressive. Pitt didn’t score a single point until the fourth quarter once backups entered the game, and the Irish had a 51-0 lead at the time. Golden called another masterful game that had Pitt quarterback Christian Veilleux seeing ghosts a few days ahead of Halloween.
What makes the defensive performance even more impressive is the Irish secondary was playing wounded. Benjamin Morrison was ruled out with a quad injury before kickoff, and Cam Hart left the contest with either an arm or shoulder injury – Marcus Freeman couldn’t confirm post-game. Sophomore Jaden Mickey and freshman Christian Gray stepped in and didn’t miss a beat. Both recorded an interception, and Mickey returned his for six.
Like Watts, we’ll have to hope the NFL doesn’t pull Golden back to coaching on Sundays again because his work this year will have the eyes of NFL teams in need of a new defensive coordinator.
Notre Dame’s passing game struggled early but found footing
Saying the Irish passing game struggled early would be putting it mildly. Sam Hartman threw interceptions on both of the Irish first two drives of the game. On the third drive of the game, the Irish turned the ball over on downs when Pitt sent the house on 4th and 4, and the Irish didn’t check into a blitz-beater. Things got better from there – they had to.
In looking at the post-game box score, I was actually shocked that the Irish put up 535 yards of offense on the day – it just didn’t feel like the offense was rolling enough to have that many yards. The early miscues, however, marred what turned into a solid afternoon against a pretty good defense.
Hartman ended up with 288 yards thanks in large part to some explosive plays – a 60-yarder to Rico Flores to start the 3rd, a brilliant 47-yard catch from Chris Tyree, and a 42-yarder to Tobias Merriweather that was a breath of fresh air for the sophomore.
It wasn’t a pristine performance from the Notre Dame passing attack, but by the end, the Irish found their way. Hartman struggled throughout his ACC career against Louisville and Pitt, and those struggles followed him. The good news? Hartman absolutely lit the Clemson defense on fie in 2022.
Chris Tyree is developing into a bonafide receiver
Speaking of Tyree, his over-the-shoulder 47-yard catch was the best catch of his young receiving career. He’s come a long way in a short time at the position, especially considering his drop of a walk-in touchdown in the Louisville game. He’s not a finished product by any means at receiver yet, but he is developing every week and has the potential to be very good at the position for a long time.
Tyree ended the game with 3 catches for 62 yards, giving him 60+ yards in back-to-back weeks for the first time this season. He has had a 40+ yard catch now in four out of nine games on the season as well. If he can continue to improve on his short and intermediate routes, he will have a chance to play on Sundays in the future. Tyree has a year of eligibility remaining, and with his development arc so far, it would be wise for him to use it and continue developing as a receiver.
All eyes are on the injuries moving forward
While a 58-7 victory is fun in almost every way, the Irish paid a price with injuries. Morrison’s quad injury didn’t sound serious based on Freeman’s post-game comments. Given Cam Hart’s history with shoulder injuries, though, Notre Dame fans should be holding their breath right now. Hart was playing at a HIGH level before the injury, and the Irish need him back not only for Clemson but for what looks like it could be a big bowl game.
In addition to Morrison and Hart, Notre Dame lost Mitchell Evans after a shot to the knee knocked him out. Freeman wouldn’t confirm what kind of injury he had other than to say it was ankle, leg, or knee. The hit looked rough though, so again, we need to hold our breath here. Lastly, Jayden Thomas looked a little gimpy off his hamstring injury after a late deep shot (which couldn’t help but make me remember the same happening to Braden Lenzy in the 2020 Pitt blowout).
Despite Clemson’s struggles, Notre Dame needs all hands on deck next weekend.
Pat Narduzzi loses on and off the field at Notre Dame
Oh, Pat Narduzzi. Some coaches just can’t help themselves, can they? After a second massive beat down at the hands of Notre Dame in his last two attempts, Narduzzi made some comments that sure sounded like he was blaming his roster for the loss.
Narduzzi: "We lost a lot of good players last year. We thought we'd replace them and we obviously didn't do a good job with that."— Noah Hiles (@_NoahHiles) October 28, 2023
Numerous Pitt players quote tweeted Narduzzi’s comment, voicing their displeasure. It was so bad for Narduzzi that he sent a damage-control tweet following the comments. You know it’s bad when you lose by 51 points, and that’s not even the worst thing that happened to you as a coach on the day.
Given how insufferable Narduzzi has been during his tenure at Pitt, you just love to see it.
Letting Steve Angeli throw late was a great call
Once the starters were pulled, Notre Dame didn’t have backup Steve Angeli just hand the ball off for the entire fourth quarter. They let him sling it a bit, and he looked solid. He completed 6 of 7 attempts for 92 yards with a late touchdown to Cooper Flanagan.
Notre Dame has a decision to make at quarterback this season – ride with Angeli, freshman Kenny Minchey, and CJ Carr incoming or dip into the portal one more time for 2024. All of the data they can get from Angeli over the final few weeks of the season will be a huge piece of information they use in determining how comfortable they are with internal resources versus needing another bridge quarterback. Hopefully, he gets the same chance against Wake Forest and Stanford.
Another lesson in clock management for Marcus Freeman
While everything mostly went Notre Dame’s way on Saturday, there was another learning experience for head coach Marcus Freeman at the end of the first half. With less than a minute remaining, Freeman let the clock bleed to 12 seconds before calling a time-out with the Irish facing a third down.
As luck would have it, after a touchdown was nullified on a TERRIBLE offensive pass interference call on Mitchell Evans – the Irish were gifted a new set of downs on the ensuing play thanks to a Pitt pass interference penalty. The problem? There was no time left to try and score a touchdown since Freeman played it conservatively and let the clock bleed. The thought process was not to let Pitt get the ball back, but we’re talking about a terrible Pitt offense, not, say, Ohio State or USC. Learning opportunities like this for a young head coach are easy to deal with in blowout wins.