Commence all of the gnashing of the teeth and tearing of garments.
Play Call of the Game: Rees 80-yard TD Pass to Jones
The Irish had just given up a 13-play scoring drive by Pitt aided by a controversial pass interference call but then answered with this beauty of a deep pass.
If only the defense hadn't turned right around and given up a 63-yard touchdown on a badly missed tackle.
This team needs a mobile quarterback. Nothing will ever come together for the offense unless there's a signal caller with wheels touching the ball every snap.
I don't understand some of the decisions with the play-calling and I think it's just a product of not having THE GUY at quarterback. There's little faith in the running game by the staff---and not without reason---and it's just the worst when Rees destroys the offense with bad turnovers.
This was such a messy game for play-calling and yet the Irish still gained 456 yards at 7.2 yards per play. Rees was generally poor in this game yet he still completes 18 passes for 318 yards. It's baffling and really makes me wonder what this team could do with someone more talented throwing and running from the QB spot.
It seems like Kelly has been very panicky this season, as opposed to last season, and even worse than in 2010 or 2011 too. I want to sympathize with him on this but running the ball once on the last two drives doesn't put the offense in the best position to succeed. I don't trust the running backs to carry the offense either, but they still need to get the ball and maintain some balance.
Turning Point: Rees' End Zone Interception
There were plenty of other turning points to look at but for me this one was a huge and costly mistake. The game was tied, the Irish finally got a nice kick return from George Atkinson and started a nice drive to grab back momentum as the fourth quarter began.
Then a stretch play to the boundary gets shut down by Pitt's run defense and Rees throw quite possibly the worst interception of his career.
Surprising Stat: Notre Dame Out-Rushing Pittsburgh
It certainly didn't "feel" like a game in which Notre Dame gained more rushing yards. A lot of that has to do with Notre Dame picking up 68 yards on two runs and only having 2 yards in negative rushing. Pitt also lost 33 yards in the game thanks to 6 tackles for loss by the Irish.
Even still, both of the Panther's running backs were under 4.0 YPC which was a testament to the grind it out and let the other team shoot itself in the foot gameplan.
Unheralded Star: Jaylon Smith
A tip of the hat to Jaylon Smith who led the team with 11 tackles and added another tackle for loss. I won't leave out T.J. Jones who, despite the crucial fumble, tallied 149 yards and a touchdown.
Missed Opportunity: 4th Irish Offensive Series
The Irish led 7-0 and really needed to get a two score lead to take some pressure out of the stadium. A 5-yard run by McDaniel on first down got things going but a false start on second down by Elmer brought it right back. Kelly stayed committed to the run again with McDaniel but he could only get 3 yards.
On third and long Rees couldn't connect with Daniels and Pitt would go on to the tie the game on the next series.
Bad Flag of the Game: Jackson's Pass Interference
The Tuitt ejection was controversial but there was plenty of time to re-group and win the game. Jackson's penalty came on fourth down on a drive in the second half that allowed Pitt to the tie the game.
Just like with the above missed opportunity who knows what happens in this game if the ball is turned over there and the Irish get a two score lead?
The funny things is that Rees has improved in the area (throwing deep) that was by far the thing we always complained most about prior to this season. Unfortunately, Rees is still pretty much the same quarterback.
I'll say this much: I don't think Rees is really that smart of a player. There's no way that a senior quarterback throws that interception in the end zone if he's smart. Absolutely, no way that should happen for someone with his experience. Throw the ball away!
This was a really bad game from Rees and like I mentioned above he still finished with 318 yards. That speaks a lot more to the talent surrounding Rees, I think.
I'm not sure I've ever seen Rees look like he did on the sidelines and I think I know why. He came into this game thinking, "We're going to be 8-2 heading into our last home game and I've done enough to merit respect from even my most ardent haters."
A couple of picks later and it looked like Tommy was about to burst into tears on the sideline. Now he's thinking, "We dropped to 7-3 and it's all my fault. Now I'm probably going to get a mixed welcoming on Senior Day if not outright booing."
He's just not that good but it's difficult not to feel bad for him.
Red Zone TD Success: 66%
The Irish were perfect to start the game with a touchdown pass to DaVaris Daniels and a rushing touchdown from the 1-yard line by Jones, but Rees' end zone interception destroyed this percentage.
We might have to spend 2 months during the off-season reviewing the Irish run blocking because something isn't working. I still think a lot of those issues have to do with average running backs and the lack of running ability at the quarterback position but what do I know.
Everywhere else I thought the guys in the trenches played fine. The defensive line lost Tuitt early and still kept Pitt to 112 rushing yards while getting pretty good pressure.
The offensive line pass blocking continues to amaze.
The same ten faces are still out there. Steve Elmer (right guard) and Jaylon Smith (outside linebacker) are starting. Tarean Folston was limited to 4 carries for 13 yards, while Will Fuller and James Onwualu both caught one pass each.
Max Redfield, Cole Luke, Devin Butler, Isaac Rochell, and Corey Robinson also saw the field.
Are turnovers, injuries, and bad quarterback play too easy of explanations for a game like this?
As I mentioned in the instant recap late Saturday this was a bad loss for Notre Dame and Brian Kelly. Is it a hiccup? Yes, without a doubt. Now the team really need to beat BYU to avoid ending the season with a number in the loss column that isn't too pretty.
I know the Irish lost to Michigan but when I think of bad coaching it's tough not to look at what's been going on in Ann Arbor and feel a little bit better about the job the Notre Dame staff is doing. At least on offense Michigan has the athletic and playmaking Devin Gardner yet they've rushed for negative yardage in two straight games. What's more, the Wolverines just finished a game against one of the weakest defenses in recent Nebraska history and still only put up 175 total yards at 2.7 yards per play. That looks like major problems for Michigan.
I don't think we're staring at major problems (although the defense for 2014 could be scary) for Notre Dame but that's not to say things shouldn't be better. The Irish will always be playing with one hand tied behind their back with Rees at quarterback but that doesn't explain the iffy special teams, soft coverage on defense, and questionable play-calling.
It's really important that the coaching staff moves on and doesn't let the bottom of the season fall out. A win against BYU is really, really important now.
Losses like this suck because they always turn into a referendum on the coaching staff. We're a very flawed team with an incredibly flawed quarterback but many will still say, despite Vegas calling it a 4.5 point game, that the Irish should have blown Pitt out. At times like this I go back to my Rebuilding Notre Dame posts from a couple off-seasons ago. We're not a patient fan base, and maybe worse still, there's very little understanding of the grand scheme of things in losses like this.
IT'S YEAR FOUR. KELLY LOST TO PITT. HE'S NOT ELITE. HE CAN'T BE DEFENDED.
This is the dynamic that a lot of Irish fans want our coaches to live in. Literally, if you're not competing for and winning national titles you're no different than a coach who falls flat on his face. We're almost four years into the Kelly era and he hasn't proven he's a championship coach, but he's always proven he can build something very respectable. There were will always be bad losses, even Holtz suffered them, but they shouldn't distract from the overall goal of a strengthened program.
We really need Kelly to succeed but the definition of success varies throughout the fan base. I've always believed that Kelly will not win a title at Notre Dame (and honestly that's not really going out on a limb at all) but that doesn't mean he won't be successful. Losses like this one to Pitt stink and the staff needs to do better but it doesn't mean they won't be successful. A lot of people don't want to hear it but stability is the key. The best coaches in the country will want to coach a stable Irish program, where bottoming out like 1997-2009, doesn't happen every other year.
Now Kelly & Co. have to fight the rest of 2013 to maintain a respectable record. Let's see how they respond.