The hand-wringing this week about the ineffective passing game from the Notre Dame Fighting Irish was a dark cloud that hung over the program, the media, and the fans. That 12-7 win over Louisville was the ultimate red flag, and most thought the game against the Pittsburgh Panthers would be filled with enough strange energy to make the game ugly and close.
With a 45-3 curb-stomping of Pitt, I think Notre Dame proved everyone wrong.
The Irish absolutely dominated in all three phases of the game:
- Offensively they had 434 yards and 35 points
- Defensively they allowed 162 yards and 3 points
- Special teams blocked a punt for a touchdown and even added a field goal for 10 points
It was Notre Dame’s most impressive victory by far this year, and they are trending in the right direction with Clemson on the schedule in 2 weeks.
Of course the most interesting part of the game wasn’t the slaughter of the Pitt offense by Clark Lea’s lads — even though it probably should be the case. No, it was how Ian Book and his receivers would perform against Pitt.
We know how to beat Pat Narduzzi. Because of the way his defenses defend the run (load up the box and run blitz) the secondary is left vulnerable as it plays press coverage most of the game. This often leads to a lot of physical play from the secondary that can end up being flagged — if the refs “feel like it.” You HAVE to throw deep to beat Pitt.
Before the game even started, that looked to be like a much bigger problem for Notre Dame. It was announced that Kevin Austin would be out against Pitt as he re-injured the foot that he broke in camp. Austin was someone that many were looking to as the one player that could challenge Pitt vertically on Saturday.
The ended up not being the case.
Ian Book finally was able to develop that summer connection with Ben Skowronek out on the field, and Skowronek delivered with two touchdown receptions of 34 yards and 73 yards. Add freshman Michael Mayer to the fold with his 5 catch day for 73 yards and a touchdown, and it really looks like Book found something.
But it wasn’t perfect — and fans are going to still trash Book for other things that happened on Saturday. He only completed 53% of his passes as we saw balls sail high and he missed seeing a guy here and had a pass (or two) that maybe should have been intercepted. And yet... it was so much better than anything else we have seen this year, and more than enough to dominate Pitt.
With Austin probably out for the rest of the year, and Braden Lenzy pulling up lame with a hamstring during the game — it doesn’t get easier for Book. Notre Dame is going to have to find a way become more explosive in the passing game when they need it to be more than a compliment to the running game.
But it doesn’t HAVE to be perfect in the passing game to have a dominating day. If you want to bring up the Clemson Tigers — fine — go ahead. It won’t just be Book and his receivers on the field that night. Clemson is going to have to deal with this running game, and more importantly, this defense.
It’s the ultimate team game, and you can win football games with this type of recipe. You can dominate perfectly, even when one aspect is maybe just average.