Notre Dame football welcomed the Pittsburgh Panthers to South Bend this Saturday. This was the third ACC game on Notre Dame’s 2018 schedule and the final game before the their bye week.
This was viewed as a trap game for the Irish. They were coming off two big wins against ranked teams. Notre Dame football players were taking midterms during the days leading up to this game. The warm embrace of a bye week was awaiting the team immediately afterwards.
Their opponent, the Pittsburgh Panthers, boasts a history of upset victories over top-10 teams in recent years. They also came extremely close to ending Notre Dame’s quest for a trip to the national championship in 2012.
Despite the warning signs, many Irish fans felt confident heading into a matchup against a subpar Pittsburgh team. That confidence was quickly shaken. The Panthers defense gave Ian Book all kinds of problems and kept the score close for a large part of the game.
The Irish were able to avoid disaster and remain undefeated heading into their bye week.
Woof. I wish I could omit this quarter from the recap, but, unfortunately, I cannot.
Notre Dame received the opening kickoff in this contest. The offense was able to pick up a couple of first downs, but they were eventually forced to punt the ball away.
Pittsburgh was much more productive on their first possession. They put together an impressive 17-play drive that covered 88 yards and took nearly ten minutes off the clock. Running back Qadree Ollison put the Panthers on the board first with a nine yard touchdown run.
The Irish offense was unable to respond on the ensuing possession. Ian Book committed the first turnover of the game – throwing an interception as the first quarter came to a close.
Despite having all of the momentum at this point of the game, the Pittsburgh offense was unable to gain a first down on their next two possessions – punting both times.
Notre Dame struggled to find success in the run game and was also forced to punt on their first possession of the quarter.
This Irish offense was finally able to get something going on their second possession of the quarter. The drive was aided by a roughing the passer penalty on a Pittsburgh defensive lineman. Tony Jones Jr. added some tough runs, and the Irish scored their first points of the afternoon with a 22-yard field goal from Justin Yoon.
On the following Pittsburgh possession, Julian Okwara had a couple of big tackles to help the Irish defense force a punt with just under four minutes left in the half.
Book connected with Boykin on a 30 yard pass to move the offense into the red zone. The Irish converted on a fourth and short, but the Pittsburgh defense forced three sacks on three consecutive plays.
Justin Yoon kicked his second field goal of the game, and Notre Dame went into halftime trailing Pittsburgh 7-6.
Pittsburgh rode their momentum into the second half and returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown – extending their lead to 14-6.
In their first offensive possession of the half, the Irish started to move the ball down the field. Ian Book had his arm hit during a throw, and the result was an interception.
The Panthers were able to convert on a few big third downs on their next drive, but eventually had to settle for a 47 yard field goal attempt. Kicker Alex Kessman hooked the kick – keeping the lead at eight points.
Again, Ian Book and the Irish offense drove into Pittsburgh territory. This time, they were able to come away with points. Book hit Chase Claypool on a post route for a 16-yard touchdown, which made the score 14-12. Brian Kelly elected to go for two points, but Ian Book’s pass on the conversion attempt was incomplete.
Pittsburgh’s next drive carried over into the final quarter. Julian Love was called for pass interference, which kept the drive alive. However, the Panthers were unable to take advantage. They were forced to attempt another field goal, and Kessman missed again.
Neither team could get much going on the following offensive possessions. They traded punts, and the Irish got the ball back with just over seven minutes left in the game.
Ian Book was on point on Notre Dame’s next drive. After a pass interference call against the Panthers secondary, Book hit Miles Boykin on two huge throws. The first was a 12-yard pass on third down. The second was a 35-yard touchdown pass that was thrown perfectly – giving the Irish their first lead of the game.
Pittsburgh faced a fourth down and sent their punt unit out on the field. However, they did not punt. Coach Pat Narduzzi called a fake punt play that never looked like it had a chance.
The Notre Dame offense faced a fourth down shortly afterwards and also elected to roll the dice. Again, the fourth down play never looked like it had much of a chance. The Panthers got the ball back with a chance to reclaim the lead.
After a Khalid Kareem sack and an illegal forward pass penalty, the Pittsburgh offense faced a fourth and 29. Remarkably, they almost converted it. Pickett hit a receiver just past the first down marker, but the player came down out of bounds.
The Irish took over and were able to kill the remaining time on the clock in victory formation.
One giant collective exhale from all Notre Dame fans could be heard over the NBC broadcast. All that matters, though, is that the Irish won and improved to 7-0.