Now that was what we were hoping to see against the Fighting Narduzzis...
It’s been a banner two weeks for our Irish as coming out of the big victory over Southern Cal, Notre Dame brought the hammer down on Pitt in the form of a 58-7 win on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. Including the stomping of the Trojans the week before, the Irish have outscored their last two opponents 106-27. The team has also scored a TD across offense, defense and special teams two weeks in a row, and let’s be honest, that is really tough to do two Saturdays back to back. It’s been a nice couple of weeks, even with us still having some questions about the Irish offense and what we can expect from them for the rest of the season.
But even that being the case, there was not a lot to complain about on Saturday, even with some key players sidelined with injuries across Benjamin Morrison, Cam Hart and a late injury to Mitchell Evans (to note on Evans, word came out today that he tore his ACL and is lost for the year which is tough news as he was having a breakout season). We also got to see Steve “Peanut Butter” Angeli running the regular offense and he shined, looking very smooth and ready to go out there.
By now, those of you who follow me, you know the drill. We are going through our countdown to eleven regular (now including the postseason ;)) season wins for our Irish and with victories in seven out of our first nine games, our original “Eleven Reasons Why...” column has now moved to “Five Reasons Why...” with wins over Navy (11), Tennessee St (10), NC State (9), Central Michigan (8), Duke (7), Southern Cal (6) and Pitt (5).
Let’s get after it, and in no particular order...
#1 - Chris Tyree continues his upward ascension:
This is the Chris Tyree that a lot of us were hoping to see in his senior year. On Saturday he was catching short passes, getting downfield for long passes (he had an incredible catch on Saturday) and returning a punt to the house. He is having a tremandous fourth year in an Irish uniform and it has a lot of us pining for him to return for his fifth year (he is eligible due to the Covid year). And it is all a credit to him and the work that he put in over the offseason. He was asked to switch positions from RB to WR and instead of being down, he went about proving himself as one of the best players on the team and one of the most reliable WRs in what has turned into a young WR room. His punt return was masterful as he made lots of guys miss in a short space and broke about five tackles. Could not be more excited for Tyree, he deserves it all.
#2 - The Depth of Notre Dame’s secondary was on full display:
Word dropped just before the start of the game that Benjamin Morrison was going to be out for the afternoon due to an injury, and then early in the game Cam Hart went out as well (good news on both these guys is they are expected back this weekend against Clemson). In years past this would have spelled doom for the Irish, but not on Saturday as all Coach Mickens did was sub in his two young backup CBs and all they did was both get an in INT, with one of them being a pick six. Jaden Mickey and Christian Gray filled in and proved themselves as more than capable backups as they both were noticeable on multiple plays across pass breakups and tackles. To note, Mickey did get beat on one play, but the pass was overthrown so no damage was done. But all in all, an awesome afternoon and add into this another two INTs by Xavier Watts, consistent play from Thomas Harper and others, and the Irish secondary is showing that they are one of the best units in the country. Amazing job by Coach Mickens and Coach O’Leary, they have done a tremendous job getting this unit coached up and playing some really strong football.
#3 - Audric Estime closes in on 1,000 yards for the season:
I think most of us were expecting a big season by Audric Estime and after the first four games of the year, we were wondering if he might be the best back in all of college football. Things slowed down in the weeks following due to a smaller number of carries (something to discuss at a later date) and the defenses stepping up in competition, but it has been great seeing Audric get back into form over the last couple of contests. Against Pitt he went over 100 yards and scored three TDs as he continues to be a candidate for the Doak Walker award. He broke a long run, he got tough yards up the middle and he was again involved in the passing game across the afternoon. He is now over 900 rushing yards on the season and with three regular season games left, he has a chance to get to over 1,200 rushing yards for the year. He’s a tremendous combination of size and speed and one that we will not see the likes of in the near future so definitely get your final looks of Audric in over the next bunch of the weeks, he will certainly be going pro after this year (as he should).
#4 - A Second Half Surge that we needed:
Being honest, we were all pretty upset at halftime of this one. The Irish were up 17-0, but a lot of us felt that the score could have been much more, certainly in the area of at least 21-0, but also 28-0 or even 35-0. There were points left on the board and while it did not feel like Pitt was going to win this one, it also seemed like it could have been a game where we were letting the Fighting Narduzzis stay in a contest they had no business doing so. Pitt received the second half kickoff and all the Irish did was the following:
Force a Pitt Punt
Touchdown Drive for the Irish (24-0)
Interception Pick Six for the Irish (31-0)
Interception by Christian Gray
Fumble Return Touchdown by Ramon Henderson on a ND Punt (37-0)
Force a Pitt Punt
Touchdown Drive for the Irish (44-0)
Force a Pitt Punt
Touchdown Drive for the Irish (51-0)
Touchdown Drive for the Panthers (against the Irish backups 51-7)
Touchdown Drive for the Irish (58-7)
Force a Pitt Punt
That’s the type of second half that we needed. It showed we wanted to dominate our lesser opponent and a great job by Coach Marcus Freeman and staff pushing the players to let them know that their first half was not good enough and that things needed to change across the final 30 minutes.
#5 - The Notre Dame Defense is superb:
We are coming to the point where there are not enough superlatives to describe the job the Irish defense has done this year. This is an all around outstanding unit, they show up each and every week and they just play lights out. Nuff said. Can’t wait to see what they do this weekend at Clemson.
The Irish only had four more Saturdays coming into the game this past weekend and the team certainly took advantage of it. Any time you can beat an opponent by a final score of 58-7, you are doing something right, and for us fans it was great to see that final result.
Now as we said earlier, there is still room for improvement and even though Sam Hartman was 18-25 for 288 yards, he did throw two INTs on the day and zero TDs. He needs to get these INTs out of his system and while we can excuse the first one, the second INT was a bad pass thrown into heavy coverage and not a play that a sixth year QB should be making.
One thing we did see from the Irish offense was some more ingenuity and some wrinkles that we have all been asking for over the last month. The team even ran some tempo which was a nice change of pace. Clearly Coach Parker needed that bye week in order to do some self-scouting and also get back to basics with regards to making this offense a little bit simpler for everyone to execute. Too many times over the Ohio State, Duke, Louisville and USC games we had seen this Irish team not execute the offense or even just make the easy play. We still need to continue to improve, but this was a step in the right direction.
The Clemson Tigers are looming large and this upcoming weekend is the last big test of the season. This is not taking anything away from Wake Forest and Stanford, but they do not have anywhere near the talent of Clemson and this will be another hard road environment for the Irish. Clemson clearly is off this year with their 4-4 record, but they will certainly remember last year’s beatdown by the Irish and Dabo will have them ready to play down there in South Carolina. The Irish will need to bring our A-game and we will need to continue to do the simple things that will get us the victory.
This Notre Dame team, to me, seems confident coming out of our bye and we seem to be refreshed and we look like we are ready to go with three more games. I am thinking this becomes another big / statement win of the CMF era and I will see you all next week for “Four Reasons Why Notre Dame Beat Clemson.”
LFG, Go Irish...