SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame’s offensive struggles caught up to the No. 9 Irish to such an extreme, they basically scored for No. 7 Cincinnati on Saturday in a 24-13 Bearcats victory. The first Notre Dame turnover cost the Irish one of their few genuine scoring opportunities, and the next two gifts set up Bearcats scores. Those 10 points off turnovers set up Cincinnati on a day when Notre Dame could hardly sustain a drive in the first half, creating too large a deficit to overcome late.
The self-inflicted Irish debacle began when Bearcats defensive end Myjai Sanders hit freshman quarterback Tyler Buchner as he threw a pass near his own end zone. The wounded duck was easily intercepted and returned to the 8-yard-line, only not a defensive score because of Notre Dame senior receiver Kevin Austin’s hustle.
Austin was merely delaying the inevitable, as Cincinnati (4-0) found the end zone three plays later for a lead it would not relinquish.
On the ensuing kickoff, Irish sophomore running back Chris Tyree muffed his catch, the ball bouncing off his upper body back upfield toward the Bearcats coverage unit. Cincinnati’s fumble recovery set up a field goal soon after.
By the time Notre Dame (4-1) could force a turnover of its own, the Bearcats had staked themselves to a 17-0 lead.
“You have to match your play with a high level of competency in terms of the mundane things,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “We didn’t take care of the basics today. All we needed to do was be efficient at the basics today, and we weren’t efficient at the basics.”
Late in the third quarter, Irish junior defensive end Isaiah Foskey forced a fumble which fifth-year linebacker Drew White returned well into Cincinnati territory.
“We always felt like were in the game,” Foskey said. “… That was a great momentum changer for us to get the offense going.”
The following 3-yard touchdown from junior running back Kyren Williams restored some momentum to Notre Dame, momentum that grew throughout the fourth quarter and peaked when sophomore quarterback Drew Pyne found senior receiver Braden Lenzy for a 32-yard score.
But the Bearcats responded with a quick and efficient touchdown drive to snuff out any hopes of an Irish miracle, star quarterback Desmond Ridder taking a designed run six yards into the end zone.
“We didn’t coach very well today and we didn’t play very well,” Kelly said. “… Cincinnati was the better team today.”
Kelly turning to Pyne to start the second half gave the Irish a spark — a spark maintained by avoiding any second-half turnovers. Pyne completed 9 of 22 passes for 143 yards and the score, adding four rushes for 10 yards, compared to starter Jack Coan‘s 14-of-22 for 114 yards and an interception in the first half.
“As we got to the half, clearly we thought, I thought, [offensive coordinator Tommy Rees] thought that we needed to shift course quickly, and we did,” Kelly said.
Coan’s interception did not lead to a Cincinnati score, but it came at the goal line to end Notre Dame’s opening drive, a scoring chance squandered and a long afternoon foreshadowed.
“At the end of the day, I think Notre Dame beat Notre Dame today, made too many mistakes,” fifth-year linebacker and captain Drew White said.
Beyond the afternoon, that turnover and the general offensive ineffectiveness afterward spawned at least a week of Irish quarterback questions, ones Kelly did not resolve in the postgame press conference, not that such a setting is conducive to making personnel decisions.
“Clearly we can’t continue down this road of, who’s the flavor of the week here?” Kelly said when asked if Pyne had done enough to establish himself as the starter. “We’re going to have to sit down and figure this out and decide which direction we want to go.”
Oh right I almost forgot. Cincinnati made bank today. https://t.co/9Zo1MYwU6L
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) October 2, 2021
QUOTE OF THE GAME
“That’s part of college football, that’s part of sports, that’s part of life. You have to move on, and now we’re on to [Virignia] Tech.” — Irish sophomore tight end Michael Mayer on refocusing after a setback. Mayer finished with 93 yards on eight catches despite battling a bothersome groin that he apparently first aggravated in preseason practices. Mayer said he “tweaked it pretty bad” in the fourth quarter Saturday.
STAT OF THE GAME
The end of Notre Dame’s 26-game home winning streak, a modern-era record, marks the first loss at Notre Dame Stadium for the entirety of the Irish roster aside from fifth-year seniors Avery Davis, Jonathan Doerer, Drew White, Kurt Hinish, Josh Lugg and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa. Even those six had lost only once in South Bend, the 20-19 defeat to Georgia in the second week of the 2017 season.
12:09 — Cincinnati touchdown. Leonard Taylor 1-yard pass from Desmond Ridder. Cole Smith PAT good. Cincinnati 7, Notre Dame 0. (3 plays, 8 yards, 1:12)
10:32 — Cincinnati field goal. Smith 23 yards. Cincinnati 10, Notre Dame 0. (5 plays, 12 yards, 1:32)
0:40 — Cincinnati touchdown. Tre Tucker 27-yard pass from Ridder. Smith PAT good. Cincinnati 17, Notre Dame 0. (5 plays, 80 yards, 1:08)
1:19 — Notre Dame touchdown. Kyren Williams 3-yard rush. Jonathan Doerer PAT good. Cincinnati 17, Notre Dame 7. (4 plays, 38 yards, 2:01)
8:20 — Notre Dame touchdown. Braden Lenzy 32-yard pass from Drew Pyne. Doerer PAT no good. Cincinnati 17, Notre Dame 13. (8 plays, 80 yards, 3:08)
5:08 — Cincinnati touchdown. Ridder 6-yard run. Smith PAT good. Cincinnati 24, Notre Dame 13. (6 plays, 75 yards, 3:12)