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The good, the bad, the ugly: Notre Dame vs. Pitt

Nov 5, 2012, 12:31 AM EST

Pittsburgh v Notre Dame Getty Images

As you could probably imagine from the uproar on the web, there’s been quite a bit of discussion about Notre Dame’s triple-overtime 29-26 victory. The close shave, along with the impressive Oregon victory over USC, was enough to drop Notre Dame down to the No. 4 spot in the BCS rankings, their same ranking in both the AP and USA Today Coaches’ Poll.

Brian Kelly talked about the challenges his team faced and how they need to continue to compete at a high level.

“I really didn’t have any problem with their preparation during the week,” Kelly said. “We just didn’t play with the same focus and intensity that we need to each and every week against quality opposition. There can’t be any difference between Oklahoma and Pittsburgh, because they’re going to play at the same level, and we’re not good enough not to play our A‑game. So I think the learning experience is that, listen, you’re 9‑0, but you have to play your very, very best or all these games are going to come down to one or two plays. So hopefully they’ve learned from that.”

With that, let’s take a quick run through the good, the bad, and the ugly from Notre Dame’s 29-26 victory.

THE GOOD

Everett Golson’s rally. We’ve spent more than a few words talking about Golson’s rebound from a shaky first half, but the sophomore quarterback, who still has three more seasons of eligibility, was a special player in the game’s final quarter and overtime.

His numbers — 23 of 42 for 227 yards, two touchdowns, one interception, and a rush score to boot — are some of his most prolific of the season, and also show that the young quarterback has a flair for the dramatic.  But more important than any heroics are his ability to keep his confidence and rally after making mistakes, something Kelly seems more confident about now than ever.

“I think we’re getting close to playing through it because of what he did in the second half. I don’t think we could have done that earlier in the year, quite frankly,” Kelly said. “So, in truthfulness, I would tell you that he’s closer to getting to that level where let’s just keep fighting through it, because we saw him respond with that competitiveness in the fourth quarter and overtime.”

Golson didn’t play a perfect game by any means and still struggles to pull the trigger and be decisive with some quick throws. But his ability to save the Irish season with natural gifts like a rocket arm and great feet sure make things easier for an offense that needs every advantage it can get.

Wide receiver play. It’s time to start acknowledging the good work of an underrated wide receiving corps. DaVaris Daniels had his most prolific day with the Irish, making seven catches for 86 yards, including an absolutely clutch 45-yarder in the fourth quarter. Robby Toma had six big catches and outside of an easy drop before the half, TJ Jones also played well. Add in the contributions of Daniel Smith, the Irish’s best blocking wide receiver, and this team is getting big-time help from its receivers not named Tyler Eifert.

Speaking of Tyler Eifert… A great step forward in the chemistry between Golson and Eifert. The senior All-American had six catches for 62 yards. While he didn’t break a catch for more than 11 yards, a hint that Golson still isn’t comfortable working the seams where Eifert is so effective, just targeting the big tight end is progress enough.

KeiVarae Russell. What’s not to like about this kid? The freshman ran down Ray Graham, saving a touchdown on Pitt’s first big offensive play and notched five more tackles. He’s already playing at a level higher than graduated veteran Gary Gray, something nobody saw happening at the field corner position.

Dan Fox. He may never be a true leading man opposite Manti Te’o, but Fox has kicked his play into high gear, making it harder and harder to take him off the field and sub in Carlo Calabrese. Fox is great against the pass and shows the type of sideline-to-sideline athleticism that makes you think he will only get better the more comfortable he gets.

The Pass Rush. Any game with five sacks is a good one. And with Prince Shembo, Manti Te’o, Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix, and Kapron Lewis-Moore getting into the action, the Irish front put some heat on Tino Sunseri as the game went on, making things tough on the Panthers offense when they needed it most.

It’s nice to see a guy like Lewis-Moore, who plays a key role on this defense as a captain, but is often overlooked by the dynamic Tuitt, put together a huge game with 1.5 sacks, getting pressure on Sunseri early and playing with great intensity. As for Tuitt, don’t look now, but he’s got 10 sacks on the season, well within range of Justin Tuck’s school record of 13.5.

The Win. Every win is a good win, especially when you dig a hole as deep as the Irish did for themselves. This point can’t go understated, and while there’s been a ridiculous amount of bellyaching and finger-pointing, the Irish are 9-0, and live to fight another day.

THE BAD

Early field goals. You just can’t get a total of six points out of 14 and 18 point drives like Notre Dame did in the first quarter. After eating 16 minutes of the clock the Irish scuffled in the scoring zone, something that just can’t happen when you’re playing a team in November.

Ball possession is a nice step forward for this offense. But if you possess the ball without getting points, you’re your own worst enemy.

Struggles on the offensive line. I’m looping in the tight ends in this criticism as well, since most times the protection included Troy Niklas, Tyler Eifert, or Ben Koyack. In the red zone — especially close to the goal line — Harry Hiestand’s team came up empty, with protecting breaking down on both second and third down runs. That kind of thing can’t happen from inside the one yard-line.

Defending the screen pass. Paul Chryst is one of the best at the screen game in college football. But after Danny Spond made a crucial one-on-one tackle to blow the play up early, J.P. Holtz broke loose for a huge gain after Notre Dame’s linebackers flowed downhill and ran themselves out of the play.

Expect to see teams — especially USC, a pretty good screen team as well — take advantage of the Irish’s over-aggressiveness.

Davonte Neal’s punt returns. The freshman from Arizona will have some electric days for the Irish, but Saturday wasn’t one of them. Neal’s decision making was spotty on returns and he actually had some opportunities to put together a return but couldn’t capitalize, muffing one catch and making a bad decision to let another punt roll.

Kelly wouldn’t even entertain the idea of replacing Neal in the return game. But it wasn’t No. 19’s best afternoon at the office.

Notre Dame’s “Desperado” Brain cramp. The Irish’s game-saving break on Kevin Harper’s missed 33-yard field goal could’ve been erased because of a special teams snafu, with both Bennett Jackson and Chris Brown being a part of the Irish’s kick block team. Since both players wear the number two, they aren’t allowed to be on the field at the same time unless one of them switches jerseys and declares himself to the refs. But that didn’t happen, and while the refs didn’t spot it, it could’ve been called for a penalty, a situation that already happened when Danny McCarthy and Justin Ferguson both wore No. 15.

Kelly didn’t sugarcoat the mistake when he discussed it Sunday.

“It was a coaching mistake. We had put our Desperado team on there, and Chris Brown is part of Desperado,” Kelly explained. “Just we’ve got to do a better job. An oversight that can’t happen.”

The Irish struggles at home. This is getting to a point where it’s no longer coincidental. This football team plays better when its on the road. Whether its the circus that comes with a Notre Dame home game or better concentration on the road, Notre Dame’s home field advantage has been more than nullified this season, much to the chagrin of a head coach that continues to seek the right formula for getting his team ready.

“We’re really trying to figure that out. It might just be it is what it is. I don’t know. We’ve looked at schedule. We’ve looked at trying to limit distractions. I wish I had a really good answer. I don’t have one. I know this:  We’ll battle you at home. We’ll protect our turf. We’ll find a way to win. But it seems as though for some reason we don’t get the points on the board at the opportune time or convert when we need to offensively.

“I don’t think there is any question that there’s a lot going on here at Notre Dame. We really think we’ve streamlined our schedule to eliminate a lot of those distractions. But ultimately it comes down to the players, and whether it’s ticket requests or family and friends want a tour of the football building or they want to go to the Basilica. We’ve talked about it ad nauseam with our team about how important it is to really focus the last 48 hours in on the football game.”

The Red Zone. This is an area where a championship team just can’t struggle. Kelly talked about the team’s issue near the goal line.

“BK: The quarterback’s got to do a better job down there. We fumbled the football, threw an interception and missed a couple of really easy opportunities to score. As you know, a 15‑play drive, 18‑play drive to come up with only six points. You can’t leave those points out there. It’s a process of continuing to develop at the quarterback position, taking care of the football.”

Notre Dame got a nice touchdown on a nifty playcall with a back-side screen pass to TJ Jones. But don’t expect the Irish to scheme their way to seven points.

“I think you have to be even more simpler in terms of execution and repeating the same plays and making sure that you make progress during the week,” Kelly said. “We thought we did, and then the game starts and we don’t get the kind of production down there. So we’re on it as much as you guys are in terms of understanding how important it is to put points on the board when you get down there.”

Cierre Wood’s fumble. There’s no question that Wood is the team’s most gifted running back. But a senior leader can’t cough the ball up on the goal line. It didn’t end up costing the Irish the game, but it was a back-breaking mistake for a running back that can’t get enough quality touches as it is.

THE UGLY

The uncertain future of Tate Nichols. The mammoth right tackle, who battled with Christian Lombard for a starting job before an injury slowed him down, suffered a major setback to his injured knee. It’s a situation that’s unsettled though one that’s also potentially serious to a guy that looked like a starter entering the season.

We’re going to get an MRI on his knee,” Kelly said. “We’re not certain until we get more results and talk to (team doctor) Brian Ratigan today and meet with his parents. We’re still in the process of getting more information. But he did suffer an injury, and we won’t have any definitive information for a couple more days.”

Irish Illustrated is reporting that a source told them that Nichols’ injury is a career-threatening one, a devastating end to a career and an injury that would certainly thin out the offensive line depth chart.

The lack of style points for a team looking to win. You don’t always have to look good winning, but something a little bit more impressive wouldn’t hurt. The Irish were a sloppy team, committing three turnovers, two in the end zone. Kelly talked about making sure his team does more than just go through the motions, and not rely on luck to escape.

“The winning teams have all found ways to win games. I’ll go back to Auburn in 2010. I think they had six games that they won by three points,” Kelly recalled. “I think the most important thing to ingrain into your football team is that you’re going to win, and that confidence that you’re going to win no matter what.

“Along the way, you learn that you also have to play your very best each and every week, especially when you’re at Notre Dame. So I think the latter comes first. In other words, you want to build that belief that they can win under all circumstances. But along that journey, they also realize that each and every week, they’re going to have to bring their best.”

  1. runners00 - Nov 5, 2012 at 3:50 PM

    Honestly, I think there is a lack of intensity at home. We just stand around. I’m not sure if the commercials are longer or if the crowd is quieter or what it is, but what I see other teams, I don’t see that problem. When I see us on the road, I don’t see that problem. Oh well. A win is good. We have to come out and blow out BC and Wake to have any shot at a title. And maybe we don’t deserve a shot. I mean, I saw Oregon. They don’t play any defense. But they sure are fast. And Alabama, well they’ve pretty much shown that they’re quick and hardworking and the like. Should be tough.

    • 1notredamefan - Nov 5, 2012 at 7:09 PM

      Go to a game…. you’ll 2nd guess that statement about the loudness…. just sayin.

      • kansasirish - Nov 5, 2012 at 7:30 PM

        I was at both the OU game and the Pitt game. The atmosphere was great at both games, but it was Amazing this week in the 4th quarter. One of the loudest games I’ve ever been to anywhere!

        GO IRISH!!!!!

  2. ndirish10 - Nov 5, 2012 at 4:56 PM

    Is it just me or does your stomach also twist when you see Golson run? The ball just hanging out there mortifies me. Granted he did it for the game winner but more times than once I have seen a replay of where he kept it and the ball pops out (luckily right underneath him). Just scary. TUCK THE BALL!!! Except when you are scoring a 2 point conversion to tie the game. GO IRISH!!! BEAT THOSE eagles!!! ONWARD TO VICTORY!!!

    • 1notredamefan - Nov 5, 2012 at 6:54 PM

      just be happy we have got a running QB is what I say…

      • ndirish10 - Nov 5, 2012 at 11:49 PM

        Very true.

    • ndfaithful - Nov 5, 2012 at 8:24 PM

      I think he’s gotten a lot better about this. I didn’t see the ‘loaf of bread’ thing happening against Pitt. Maybe I missed it.

  3. 9irish - Nov 5, 2012 at 5:08 PM

    I will just say that I see too much white flag waving already…kind of surprises me. One or two of those teams DOES need to get beat (same as last week, really), but there are alot of twists and turns left out there. They are really just now going into playing the real teams.

    The Irish just need to win…convincingly. And beat the hell out of USC….they might need some help in the polls, but it is still a real possibility. Keep the faith.

    Go Irish

    • runners00 - Nov 5, 2012 at 5:29 PM

      I don’t think we’re waving flags. I think that when you watch enough college football, you can see the difference in team speed and effort. We have the speed. But in some home games, at certain times, we coast. And then all of a sudden, we dominate people. It’s a big deal.

      • 1notredamefan - Nov 5, 2012 at 6:56 PM

        Love it!!! Exactly!!!!

      • 9irish - Nov 5, 2012 at 7:36 PM

        I think you may have missed what I was saying…nothing about the team, just get the feeling that within the BCS scheme some feel we have no chance now…which is not the case yet. That’s all. The white flag means surrender, by the way. I don’t think we’re close to there at this point.

      • 1notredamefan - Nov 5, 2012 at 8:00 PM

        Close to where? If it’s beating Bama than I DO!!!

    • irish4006 - Nov 5, 2012 at 8:47 PM

      The only 2 unbeaten teams after the season will be ND and KSU, playing for the NC. You heard it here first. ;-)

      • 9irish - Nov 6, 2012 at 8:43 AM

        Hope so. Would still love to see them play Bama…it would be epic

  4. 1notredamefan - Nov 5, 2012 at 7:22 PM

    Well I feel as tho It’s time to speak up…. I am the Reece supporter and am still proud of it… tomorrows the big day in Washington as well as our press conference (Press conference taking presidency over that marble) lol…… but anyway I am a proud fan just as well as most 98 percent of the readers/ posters on this great site! What I am getting at is I have never been more proud of anything othr than my children in my entire life!! This truly is something to grasp and behold at this moment in our life and appreciate it for what it really is! A True All American Success Story!!! Where most of us fans have been and where we are at now…..Something!!!! I will never back down from my boy Reece but I will say I love YOU Brian Kelly!!! He saw exactly what we all needed him to see and we reap the reward! He did what a lot of us regretted and we reap…. now we sit looking into the stars and wonder how good we really are! GO IRISH!!!! GOLSON front runner for Heisman 2013!!!!

    • ndgoldandblue - Nov 5, 2012 at 9:12 PM

      Wow. With all those exclamation points and all-caps words, I’d say you are the # 1notredamefan.

      • 1notredamefan - Nov 6, 2012 at 7:47 PM

        just 1

    • ibleedirish - Nov 6, 2012 at 9:57 AM

      damn. that was weird.

    • bernhtp - Nov 6, 2012 at 11:31 AM

      Who’s Reece?

  5. glowplugv - Nov 5, 2012 at 7:39 PM

    Could someone please explain why players, especially those on the same side of the ball, are allowed to even wear the same number? I’m sure the refs won’t miss the next time this happens. Why have situation that could get overlooked in the heat of battle?

    • 1notredamefan - Nov 5, 2012 at 7:48 PM

      Well It’s great to see a perfectionist has joined us in the heat of all this turmoil….

      • 1notredamefan - Nov 5, 2012 at 7:51 PM

        In all reality… if you haven’t noticed a LOT of guys have switched from O to D and it puts a twist on the number deal as they were recruited… True to the coaching mishap! Pretty sure they’ll clear the air on this one this week!!

    • zap4 - Nov 5, 2012 at 7:58 PM

      Not sure why they have the same number but there are a few instances on ND, such as Manti and Everett, both number 5.

      I think in the case of Desperado it is just a special teams situation where there were two players on the field with number 2. It was funny during the OU game when Brent gave credit to Chris Brown’s catch to Bennett Jackson!

      • 9irish - Nov 6, 2012 at 8:38 AM

        they need to phase that out….too many things going on to have to worry/forget about something like that. Would’ve been the biggest disaster I can think of if they had noticed that. Everybody can’t be Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, Jeter….there are numbers above 9!

    • ndirish86 - Nov 5, 2012 at 10:48 PM

      Read in the LA Times yesterday that Lane Kiffin intentionally had one of his players change jersey numbers during the game to try and fool the opposition. USC does not have names on the jerseys. Had his backup QB switch to the holder’s jersey during a kick for a potential fake, then switch back after the play. Reason # 5,674 to despise the Trojans, pulling classless stunts like that.

    • stempke98 - Nov 9, 2012 at 11:23 AM

      It’s a combination of a couple different factors.

      1) Brown and Jackson are not on the same side of the ball, (nor are Ferguson and McCarthy) so special teams is the only area in which this situation would occur. Jackson and Brown are not on the same special teams unit other than this “last second, need a blocked FG” scenario. Ferguson and McCarthy on the other hand are on the same units regularly which is why Ferguson changed his number. You won’t ever see two offensive players or two defensive players with the same number.

      2) There are 85 scholarship players on the team and a couple dozen walk ons. Double numbers are going to happen no matter what you do. The goal is to limit the number of them and do everything possible to avoid puttin them on the field at the same time. (A lot of teams do this by having the double numbers mainly assigned to back up QBs and kickers – which gives you the chance to sneak a fake in there)

      3) Kelly was once asked what the biggest difference between recruiting nationally at ND and recruiting at Cincinatti. One of the several items he mentioned was that heavily recruited players are much more attached to certain numbers than they used to be. As petty as it sounds, promising a player that he can keep his lucky number can help you land a recruit.

  6. sullyp18 - Nov 5, 2012 at 8:56 PM

    Looks like Alzalone’s visit went well tweeted that he was shutting down recruitin and had a great visit. I know it’s not over until its over but this feels much better. He plans on enrolling early so that’s another great sign.

  7. getsome99 - Nov 6, 2012 at 4:07 AM

    Max Redfield decommitted from USC after his recent visit to South Bend. This is going to be a huge recruiting year for Kelly.

  8. irishking - Nov 6, 2012 at 4:45 AM

    ND really needs to put the whammy on BC this Saturday.

  9. seamus0317 - Nov 6, 2012 at 12:24 PM

    The Good? I have been going to Notre Dame games for 53 years. I have seen at least one game every year since 1959! With one exception – Miami in 1988 – I have never heard Notre Dame Stadium as loud as it was in the final minutes and OT!!! To the “fans” sitting around us that left when Golson threw the pick in the end zone, remember these words…what tho’ the odds be great or small…”

    That was one hell of a game to be a part of!

  10. goirishgo - Nov 6, 2012 at 8:07 PM

    Good: no quit in this team

    Bad: defense gave up big plays

    Ugly: turnovers, especially in the red zone

    Best? 9-0!

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