For Brian Kelly’s Notre Dame Football team, the win over Pittsburgh was anything but pretty. But the Irish survived to reach 7-0.
Notre Dame football fans have become accustomed to the proverbial “trap game” over the years. Six years ago, in similar fashion, the Pittsburgh Panthers stormed into South Bend with an eye on derailing the dreams of a Notre Dame team destined to compete for a National Championship.
On that day, the Panthers game the Irish all they could handle, but came up short. On this day, it took a championship-level defensive effort by the Irish defense and just enough magic from Ian Book and Miles Boykin for the Irish to stave off the pesky Panthers.
And while there are plenty of ways to analyze the why and the how of what happened on the field on Saturday, the bottom line is this: The Irish are 7-0 and are clearly in the mix for one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff comes season’s end. In and of itself, that is much better than many experts predicted before the season.
The recipe for an unranked team to beat a top-5 team is to benefit from costly penalties (check), force sloppy turnovers (check), and hit on a few big plays. As the saying goes, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad, but for Pittsburgh, it wasn’t quite enough.
For Notre Dame, the defense held the fort admirably on Saturday, at least enough to make the Notre Dame coaching staff proud. And that is the story of the game.
If it wasn’t for an offside penalty on 4th and 4 on Pittsburgh’s first drive, the Panthers’ 17-play drive that covered 88 yards and amassed 9:43 of game clock gets stopped before it gets out of the starting blocks.
And if it weren’t for that play and another special teams gaffe that allowed Pittsburgh to take the opening kickoff of the second half to the house, Notre Dame’s defense may have pitched a shutout.
In short, the defense lived up to its billing, while the offense played its least efficient game since Ian Book took over at quarterback. Still, though, the Irish were able to muster enough to win the game and head to the bye week 7-0.
The sloppy game is likely just that–a sloppy game. A fluke. It likely is not an indication that the Irish lack the talent and the wherewithal to compete with the big boys. With a defense that can dominate the way Notre Dame’s can and an offense that continues to gel, the Irish are still one of the best teams in college football, despite what the experts in the national media try to tell you.