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Eifert steps up with Floyd covered

Andrew Owens | Monday, September 26, 2011

PITTSBURGH — It isn’t easy to replace an All-American receiver who is responsible for 41 percent of the team’s receptions through three games, especially when facing a five-point fourth-quarter deficit in enemy territory. Tyler Eifert was up to the task however, and almost singlehandedly drove Notre Dame to victory Saturday.

“Tyler Eifert was huge,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “He went up in traffic two or three times, got hit, held on to the football.”

The junior tight end caught eight passes for 75 yards and a touchdown in the 15-12 Irish victory over Pittsburgh, but most important were his four receptions on Notre Dame’s game-winning drive, including the eventual touchdown toss from sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees.

“I wasn’t surprised [about the coverage],” Eifert said. “I turned and showed Tommy my numbers and there was a window there and he squeezed it in.

“It would normally go to Floyd or one of the outside guys. They backed off underneath Floyd, which left me open.”

Eifert slid between two defenders and snared the six-yard pass from Rees to culminate an 11-play, 85-yard drive.

Senior receiver Michael Floyd, who entered the contest with 31 receptions in three games, was bottled up for most of the afternoon and caught only one pass after the opening drive. He finished the day with four receptions and 27 yards.

Pittsburgh double-teamed Floyd for most of the game.

“[Eifert] was really big [on the final drive], obviously,” Kelly said. “He’s the one guy if you’re going to double Mike out and try to play three-on-two with our other two receivers, he got a lot of singular coverage and we found him and he made a lot of big catches.”

Rees also found an open Eifert in the end zone for the two-point conversion, which ensured Notre Dame would not lose on a field goal in regulation. Rees completed all eight passes on the drive and connected with Eifert for 34 yards. The junior said his role had more to do with responding to Pittsburgh’s coverage than the design of the play.

“It’s not like we call a play and say ‘throw it to Eifert,'” he said. “It’s just what their coverage is, how they’re playing and where the holes in the defense are.

As Pittsburgh continued to double-team Floyd on the drive, Kelly said the team made adjustments to get Eifert involved.

“Part of our overall passing game is you can’t take [all of the receivers] away … It was just a matter of communication with Tommy. ‘Listen, here’s the guys you have to keep sight on,’ and Tyler was going to be one of those guys,” he said. “Tommy did a nice job. The route combinations we had set up featured him. They were play calls to feature Tyler Eifert not as the third or fourth, but the primary receiver.”

Eifert said the team adjusted its plans according to the dynamic of the game.

“It’s just something that develops during the game,” Eifert said. “They come out and adjust to us and we make adjustments to them and just kind of go back and forth the whole game.”

While the offensive performance overall was sloppy, Kelly said it was important for the Irish to pull off the road victory and have the players elevate their game, as Eifert did in the final stanza.

“[Scoring] came a little easy for us the first three weeks, but this was a struggle for us, but we kept finding ways to move the football,” Kelly said. “You’re going to be presented with some of these kinds of closely-fought last drive and come up with a big stop or a big conversion.”

Eifert said it was a special feeling to catch the eventual game-winning touchdown, the first such experience of his collegiate career.

“I’ve been waiting,” he said. “It’s pretty cool to get a touchdown at that time … Anytime you get a win at the college level it’s always exciting and something to be proud of.”