Not quite the statement game most of us were expecting, but a win is a win. Granted Pitt is not a high quality opponent, but to be able to pull out a win on the road on a day when you play well in only phase of the game is a good sign. Unlike previous games this season, ND found a way to win this time.
Offense had a bad day, and the bulk of the blame falls on Rees with a big assist to the coaching staff. Rees played poorly. He seemed confused and his relative inexperience really showed. Both the INT and the fumble were on him. Sure he got hit from behind on the fumble, but he was not protecting the ball. But once again, when the team had to have him play well (on the winning TD drive), he was excellent. His ability to deliver in crunch time is remarkable. It seemed to me that the Pitt defense did a lot of things BK and Co had not prepared for, too, which contributed to Rees's confusion and bad day. Pitt knew they lacked the talent to stop ND, so they went for maximum confusion instead and it worked for most of the game. In the end, this should be a good learning experience for Rees. Future opponents will be doing exactly the same kinds of things as Pitt tried to day, so we will see if the Rees (and BK) will handle it better next time. So who had a good day on offense? Wood and Gray were excellent ... again. I will admit I was shocked by Gray's TD run. I knew he had some speed, didn't know he had that kind of speed. Apparently neither did the Pitt defenders, who took really bad angles and it cost them. Eifert was a beast. He was there it seemed every time the team and Rees needed him.
Defense carried the day. The defense may not be generating enough TOs yet, but I think that will come in time as the pass rush gets more effective. BTW, if the DBs learn to locate the ball better, they would have a few more INTs. The DL was solid against the run and came up with big sacks and pressures when it was needed the most. The LBs did a pretty good job, especially the OLBs, Fleming and Shembo. ILBs, Te'o and Calabrese/Fox, are effective run-stuffers but struggle in space on pass defense, although props to Calabrese for the big pass break up late in the game. The DBs played okay. Gray still seems shaken by the Michigan debacle. He has not regained his confidence, and a CB without his swagger is a problem, but there is no depth behind him, so ND has to hope he works things out. The interference call on him was more of a product of the Michigan game than anything that happened on the field against Pitt. That was good defense by Gray. It appeared that the ref was anticipating interference and "found" it. Unfortunately Gray is going to have to deal with that until he starts doing things to change his rep.
Special teams, once again, did nothing special yesterday. Ruffer had little to do, and when he finally was called on, the snap/hold got messed up.Turk was fine yesterday as were the snaps to him. KO returns were okay, no big returns but no major screwups either. Punt return continues to be a black hole. It almost seems as if they should not even bother with anyone back there (for the sarcasm impaired, yes, that was sarcasm). Twice Goodman could have called for a fair catch and elected to not even try to catch it. Neither were uncatchable punts for a decent return man, but Goodman was more worried about making a bad play than making a smart play and it cost ND field position on a day when the offense needed all the help it could get. You would think with all the talent on this team, you could find a decent punt returner.
Purdue presents ND with another chance to make a big statement, to play a complete game and come away with a total victory. The talent differential overwhelmingly favors the Irish again this week, so another squeaker victory would be disappointing.