Saturday’s 19-14 win over Pitt was, without question, Notre Dame’s worst performance all season. There is zero need to look for historical comparisons — it’s of no moment how six years ago it took a different Notre Dame squad eleven days and twenty-three hours to beat Pitt on a field goal that should have been disallowed. The only meaning the game should have is that the Irish are undefeated and now rank fourth overall. That, and the defense is fantastic.
Here are the top plays. Somehow they found more than one.
Pitt is a team that combines Purdue-level talent with an SEC-worthy sense of entitlement. They brought a defense that gives cheesecloth a good name to South Bend, but something happened as they ran out of the visitor’s maze. They transmogrified. They sacked Ian Book a billion times, gave ND’s usually competent offensive line fits, and held the running game to 80 yards, or just about fourteen yards fewer than Dexter Williams’ longest run against Virginia Tech.
Notre Dame could do nothing to solve Pitt’s corner blitzes. Whatever genius there had been in the blocking, in the play-calling, or whatever was there, was gone. There’s a good chance the players were exhausted from a week of beating Virginia Tech, listening to Enter Sandman, and then having to study for mid-terms. There’s a good chance the coaches and players were sluggish from an awkward early-afternoon kickoff. Whatever it was, the Irish of games one through six didn’t show up until the fourth quarter.
Pitt scored a touchdown in the first quarter on its first possession, after a hot mess of a Notre Dame possession in which Ian Book made a great case to sit his ass down in favor of Brandon Wimbush. He was awful. Then Pitt marched down the field for an eighty-eight yard drive and score. You knew it was “that” game at that very moment. Evening passed, morning came. It was the second quarter.
Justin Yoon did his thing in the second quarter, hitting FG’s from twenty and forty-something yards. Then it was half time and it was just gut-churning listening to Flutie and, frankly, anything. My dog started to aggravate me. Then Pitt ran the opening kick for a touchdown to make it 14-6 and the wheels were off the crazy train.
Then, inexplicably, Pitt decided to help us put the wheels back on. The second half saw them miss not one, but two — two! — field goals and, then, somehow trailing 19-14, they tried the dumbest fake punt in the history of dumb fake punts. This was freshman year on South Padre Island-level bad decision making. With about four minutes to go, and trailing, the Panther sent some guy who turned out to be Jeff George, Jr. out to “punt.” Now, I am no super spy, but if your regular punter’s name is Nick Papagiorgio and you put that name on his shirt, you might want to do better than run no name Nelson out there to “punt.” It ended badly, and the Irish won.
Notwithstanding any of that, or his two interceptions, Ian Book woke up Sunday with the highest passing percentage — 75.2 — despite his worst performance as a starter. Notwithstanding any of that, Notre Dame did something that neither Auburn, West Virginia, Penn State, nor Miami could do: beat an unranked team. Notwithstanding any of that, all we have to do is beat Navy on the road.