Notre Dame scores ugly in its win over Pitt, but it's still enough to win.
PASS OFFENSE: B-
Everett Golson looked impressive early on a near-flawless opening drive, but then couldn’t find the end zone to save his life. Tommy Rees, Notre Dame’s oft-reliable backup faced a similar problem. Both threw interceptions in the end zone, something that would have killed the Irish a year ago. But Golson’s late-game heroics, a handful of big grabs by TJ Jones, DaVaris Daniels, Tyler Eifert and Theo Riddick helped save Notre Dame’s undefeated streak. Golson’s 54-percent pass completion isn’t going to win any awards, but Golson is recognizing when to air it out and when to throw it away. His stats will suffer, but it’s a small price to pay to keep turnovers low.
RUN OFFENSE: B
Golson, Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood combined for 231 yards but only found the end zone once, on Golson’s 1-yard surge in triple overtime. While the offensive line struggled to protect Golson and the tailbacks early, all three were able to come away with 70-plus yard performances. You can’t help but grimace when Notre Dame fails to score on 1st-and-goal from the 2-yard line. Maybe that Louis Nix “Irish Chocolate” package isn’t so far-fetched now? Notre Dame also shot itself in the foot when Wood’s 63-yard run was called back by a holding call on DaVaris Daniels. As we’ve come to expect, the Irish running game was reliable when it needed to be: Late in the game.
PASS DEFENSE: B
In the first three quarters, Tino Sunseri went 14-20 for 145 yards and a touchdown while only getting sacked twice. In the last quarter and all three overtimes, Sunseri went 4-9 for 19 yards and was sacked three times. Like the running game and passing game, this pass defense banded together when it needed to. Save an ugly KeiVarae Russell pass interference penalty early in the game and Sunseri’s 43-yard pass to J.P. Holtz, and the Irish pass defense played relatively well. Credit to Prince Shembo, who finished with eight tackles, one sack and two tackles for a loss. He deserves every bit of wielding that defensive sledgehammer.
RUN DEFENSE: C
Ray Graham’s 55-yard run on the opening play of the game was a bad omen. Graham continued to run all over Notre Dame’s 9th-ranked rush defense for most of the contest, until the Irish started stuffing Graham late in the game. It seems as though all of Notre Dame’s units came together in the final 15 minutes of regulation. Graham still managed to finish with 172 total rushing yards, a touchdown and an impressive 7.2 yards per carry, but hopefully Notre Dame’s rush “D” can chalk this up to an off night and night a sign of things to come.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D-
Notre Dame’s punt return game and kickoff coverage nearly lost the Irish the game. Davonte Neal watched a handful of punts bounce behind him, which forced Notre Dame to start several drives from deep within their own territory. Neal has to realize that a fair catch on the Notre Dame 20-yard line is leaps and bounds better than letting the ball bounce to the Notre Dame 2-yard line, especially late in the game. Kyle Brindza missed another field goal and long snapper Jordan Cowart’s ugly snap led to a missed extra point that, again, almost cost Notre Dame the game. Brindza’s performance beyond his misses remain Notre Dame’s only bright spots in this unit. After all, he did have Notre Dame’s only two scores in the first half and came up big again in the first overtime.
First of all: A win is a win. You can’t dock a coaching staff too much for coming back from being down 14 points and finding a way to win in Notre Dame’s ugliest performance to date. That said, five penalties in the first quarter at home is inexcusable. The quarterback shuffle was another head-scratcher. Sure, Golson wasn’t playing his best, but he also wasn’t playing bad. Yanking a young quarterback before he can find a groove was a risky call that just barely paid off in Notre Dame’s favor. Also not sure why Kelly ran 19 consecutive plays without going to a running back, which has been Notre Dame’s bread and butter on offense this entire season. But a win is a win. And Notre Dame has yet to execute a formula that doesn’t work out in the long run.