Carson: Emphatic victory against Pitt proves Notre Dame’s merits
Alex Carson | Monday, November 9, 2015
PITTSBURGH – Could you have asked for anything more?
Forget the last five minutes, after most of the 68,400 fans at Heinz Field had already vacated their seats, and look at the reality of Saturday’s Notre Dame win:
The No. 5 Irish completely dominated a quality opponent on the road.
That alone is a reason for Irish fans to celebrate.
There were a lot of different ways Notre Dame could’ve come out and played today. They could’ve been overconfident after being ranked fifth by the College Football Playoff committee Tuesday night, or they could’ve come out sluggish — with a noon kickoff on the heels of a tough game at Temple the week before, few would have been surprised.
But they came out and played like a team with business to take care of.
It took three plays for the Irish to score, and Pittsburgh’s offense didn’t punch it in the end zone until the second half — when Notre Dame had already built a sizeable enough lead to put Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi’s clock-draining team out of serious contention.
And when the Panthers attempted to claw back in the game, Irish sophomore quarterback DeShone Kizer stepped up, leading touchdown drives to stretch Notre Dame’s advantage back to 18.
Nitpick the little things all you want — the blown coverage on Panthers junior Tyler Boyd’s 51-yard touchdown reception, the seemingly-haphazard onside kick recoveries, etc. — but remember those are the little things.
Don’t listen to the talk about that: This was Notre Dame’s most complete performance of the season.
Sure, the one against Texas was maybe a little sexier on the scoreboard, but at least this one was against a team with a beating pulse, one that will be bound for a bowl game, one that’s still in with a (slim) chance to win its division.
With five minutes left, Notre Dame led Pitt 42-17 on the road, a Pitt squad that entered Saturday with two losses — a 3-point defeat at No. 9, unbeaten Iowa and a 7-point loss against 8-1 North Carolina.
The Panthers hadn’t been anywhere near dominated by anyone this year, and yet, the last five minutes were a meaningless afterthought, played in front of closer to 6,000 people than 60,000.
When senior running back C.J. Prosise went down with an injury in the first quarter, the Irish didn’t flinch. They could’ve struggled offensively without their star playmaker.
With freshman Josh Adams in the game at running back, the Irish did the complete opposite, scoring 35 points the rest of the way in a rout of Pitt’s subject secondary.
Notre Dame was smart, chipping away on the ground and underneath before taking smart, calculated risks — if you can even call them that — against a Panthers defense hell-bent on playing man coverage.
When opposing teams are foolishly hell-bent on covering junior receiver Will Fuller one-on-one all game with less talent, they deserve to pay the price. The Irish made Narduzzi and his staff pay — mightily — for the error.
Notre Dame still sits with a loss, and nothing it can do the next three weeks will rectify that situation. Regardless of how it all plays out, the Irish still don’t control their own destiny.
And Notre Dame knows this. When asked after the game what the Irish can do to make their case for the playoff, Irish head coach Brian Kelly had a simple response: win three more games.
But if chairman Jeff Long and the playoff committee were looking for vindication of their decision to slot the Irish fifth in the country despite that loss, they sure got it.
In Will Fuller, the Irish have the best playmaker this side of the Mississippi, and in DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame has a quarterback capable of getting him the ball when it’s the right time.
With a pair of matchups on the horizon against offensively inept Wake Forest and Boston College teams, Fuller alone should be enough to get Notre Dame to 10-1, playing for its playoff lives against No. 11 Stanford on Nov. 28.
If you’ve got concerns about this squad, relax.
The Irish have completed a five-game sequence against five damn good football teams. And they’re a dropped pass and a couple rain-soaked yards against the No. 1 team in the nation away from having run that gauntlet.
Let things take care of themselves.
Because this team looks ready to hold up its end of the bargain.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.