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Irish home win streak snapped in 24-13 loss to Cincinnati

| Saturday, October 2, 2021

It was a new experience in South Bend this Saturday for Irish fans when No. 9 Notre Dame brutally fell to No. 7 Cincinnati 24-13 at home. This marked Notre Dame’s first home game loss since 2017, resetting a 26-win clock and demonstrating the Irish’s dire need for continuity on both sides of the ball. 

“We didn’t take care of the basics today,” Head Coach Brian Kelly said. “We didn’t coach very well today and we didn’t play very well today. Cincinnati was the better football team today”. 

After the Bearcats won the coin toss and deferred, the Irish started off play with graduate transfer Jack Coan at quarterback. Notre Dame’s first drive stalled when a Coan pass was intercepted by Ahmad Gardner on the Cincinnati 1-yard line. Coan was eventually replaced by freshman Tyler Buchner at the end of the first quarter. 

The ball went back and forth between the Irish and the Bearcats until a Buchner pass was picked off by DeShawn Pace while the quarterback was getting hit. This placed the Bearcats in the red zone, and subsequently punched in a touchdown to make it 7-0. The Bearcats would hold throughout the duration of the game. According to Kelly, however, neither Coan nor Buchner can be solely blamed for the shaky first two quarters. 

“Jack looked really good at times,” said Kelly. “It’s hard to put much on Jack other than the interception. He’s dealing with pressure in the pocket too. We know what we like about Buchner and I think there were some new looks today that were first-timers.”

The Bearcats added two more scores in the first half, capitalizing on Notre Dame’s three turnovers and other missteps to bring the score to 17-0. Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder was noticeably heating up as he made a series of completed passes and fired up the Cincinnati offense. For the Irish, Coan was eventually switched back as quarterback, with sophomore Drew Pyne still yet to be seen in on the action. 

At the end of the half, it was clear that a change needed to be made in order for Notre Dame to move the chains and add more vitality to the game. Cincinnati fans began chanting “Let’s Go Bearcats” – a moment Ridder said “sounded like a home game.” At this moment, Irish fans seemed to be outnumbered in spirit, even in their own stadium. 

As the Irish marched back onto the field after halftime to try and change the narrative, Drew Pyne was placed in at quarterback. This was a decision Kelly hoped would instill a fresh sense of confidence on the field. 

“We got behind and felt like we needed to make a change and have a spark there and that’s why we went with Drew in the second half,” Kelly said. “We needed to shift course quickly and we did.”

Irish fans hoped Pyne would shake things up as he did during his debut at Soldier Field against Wisconsin a week prior. He got to work quickly and showed mobility resembling that of Ian Book, someone Pyne partially credited for his success. 

“Ian led me this way. He always dragged me along, staying at practices until 9 or 10 p.m. I am thankful for him and I’ll always be grateful. No matter what the circumstances are for the rest of my life. I’ll always be ready.”

In the last few minutes of the third quarter, graduate student linebacker Drew White was able to scoop up a Cincinnati fumble and make a 28-yard return. This set up running back Kyren Williams to score and make it 17-7 for Notre Dame. The Irish had some points on the board and seemed to come back to life in the second half. The Irish fanbase was revitalized as well, as cheers from the student section and the popular “tarps off” tradition emerged in the fourth quarter.

A 32-yard touchdown pass from Pyne to senior wide receiver Braden Lenzy resulted in an Irish touchdown, but Doerer missed the extra point. The score was now 17-13, with the Irish trailing the Bearcats by less than a touchdown. 

It was still anyone’s game until Ridder decided it was not. One nice pass by Ridder after another put Cincinnati in the position to score, and with a 6-yard touchdown run by the quarterback, the game was now 24-13.

“He played one hell of a game today,” Irish junior defensive lineman Isaiah Foskey said, “They were just the better team today.” 

With five minutes left in the game, it was too late for the Irish to make a comeback. Improved performance in the back half of the game wasn’t enough for Notre Dame to preserve the win streak and make it 5-0 on the season. Irish fans, clad in green, began to leave the stands in shock before time was even called. A devastating loss no doubt, players went back to the locker room feeling defeated. 

Everyone is just hurting right now,” said Foskey. “It sucks to lose, and it sucks to lose at home and lose our streak.”

Nevertheless, it was time for the Irish to move forward and have some much-needed discussions especially in terms of the quarterback situation. 

“Clearly we can’t continue down this road of who’s the flavor of the week here,” Kelly said. “We are going to have to sit down and figure this out and which direction we want to go. It doesn’t give us the kind of continuity and consistency that we need.” 

Though he acknowledged the need for consistency and continuity within the positions, Kelly was still unable to commit to putting one of the three players at the permanent quarterback position. Despite this uncertainty and underlying competition, the quarterbacks appeared to feel a sense of camaraderie and trust among one another. 

“There’s no controversy between us,” Pyne said. “Whoever is on the field we all have each other’s backs. We are always keeping a positive attitude.” 

Cincinnati truly proved themselves today by coming out with a win during their first top-10, regular season matchup in program history. The last team to beat the Irish at home (Georgia) went on to make it to the national championship.

Nevertheless, though the Irish are down, they are not out. White knows what needs to be done in order for the team to regroup and focus on their next game.

“It’s the 24-hour rule, same as a win,” White said. “We’ve had a lot of wins and we are back into work. We are going to be down for the next 24 hours; we are going to be watching film and not feeling good about it. But, coming in Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday we are going to be ready. We can’t let one game define the rest of our season. We need to continue to battle and come back.” 

The Irish will find themselves with another fight next week as they head to Blacksburg to take on Virginia Tech at 7:30 p.m. This is Notre Dame’s first true road game since the season opener, and it will prove whether this home defeat makes or breaks their season.

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