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Pitt routed by Notre Dame in ugly 45-3 loss

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NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The slide for the Pitt football team continues as the Panthers were dominated by Notre Dame on Saturday, 45-3.

While I picked the Panthers to lose this game, I thought it was one in which they would compete. Frankly, I didn’t see this coming at all — even while facing the No. 3 team in the country. It just felt like a game that would/should be closer and I give the Irish all the credit in the world. They didn’t just outplay Pitt, they dominated them. It was flat out ugly and Notre Dame was every bit that much better than the Panthers today.

Part of the problem, as I noted this week, was that I questioned how much Pitt could do offensively against a strong defensive team. The Panthers not only have no running game right now but were also missing starting quarterback Kenny Pickett. That proved to be a problem.

We’ve talked about the lack of a running game this year but the Panthers barely had any passing game, either. Quarterback Joey Yellen looked pretty good last week against Miami, so his final stat line of 10-27 for 101 yards and three interceptions really surprised me. Yellen’s performance was solid last weekend but it’s clear that he’s still pretty raw and needs work. For those questioning if Pickett would even be missed much after Yellen’s game last week, I think that question’s been answered. The Panthers did not get great quarterback play today.

Pitt tried backup Davis Beville on a series and then Nick Patti — neither did much and barely threw the ball. At that point, I think Pitt would have been better off just playing Beville and letting him throw after they yanked Yellen but, whatever. There were bigger problems today.

The good news for Pitt is that they’ve got a bye week, which possibly allows Pickett the time he needs to return. The reality is that Pickett is head and shoulders better than everyone else on the roster at the position.

Oh yeah, and let’s not let that running game off the hook. Pitt barely even tried to run the ball today. Part of the problem is that Todd Sibley, who Narduzzi said would play a bigger role, missed the game due to an injury. That the Panthers didn’t run a ton was not surprising but one thing that was interesting was that Daniel Carter, who returned this week after missing a few games, was not given any real looks. He’s Pitt’s most bullish back and somehow managed to get only one carry (on which he got nine yards, by the way).

Officially, Pitt had 20 carries for 44 yards and that even included a few yards from the quarterbacks. Vincent Davis had a 19-yard run but that was really it. Otherwise, the Panthers were completely bottled up.

The running game at this point is so bad that you sort of move forward expecting nothing there. You are essentially forced into passing the bulk of the time and when you’re starting quarterback is out, that’s kind of a problem. But going forward, if Pitt gets anything meaningful in the game, it’s got to be considered a bonus. When you’re out there getting 40 and 50 yards a game rushing, I don’t know what you can possibly expect.

Now, as bad as the offense was, I expected more from the defense. This certainly isn’t all on them. They were on the field quite a bit, thanks in part to Yellen’s three interceptions. But to still give up the kind of game they did against Notre Dame is just another reminder that maybe these guys weren’t quite as good as advertised.

Pitt is great against the run — no doubt there. And they were pretty good in that regard today, with C’Bo Flemister and Kyren Williams both being held under 50 yards each. The problem for Pitt’s defense was, and is, in the passing game.

Notre Dame came into today struggling badly throwing the ball. They didn’t have much of a running game, either, but made Ian Book look like a Heisman candidate. Book had 312 yards for three touchdowns and no interceptions after having a weak season.

How bad has the Irish passing game been? The announcers made a great point as Notre Dame continued to pass even with a big lead in the third quarter. Notre Dame was trying to work on its passing game and trying to get that fixed. Coming into this game, Book averaged only 178 yards per game. Today he threw for more than 300 yards while playing only three quarters.

One really frustrating thing is that you’d look at Book’s numbers and think that Pitt just didn’t pressure him enough. But they brought plenty of pressure and had lots of opportunities in the backfield. But Book eluded tacklers — sometimes due to him making great plays with his legs and other times due to guys either missing tackles or simply taking bad angles and running past him. It just shows you that applying pressure is only part of the pass rush. Pitt missed countless sack opportunities, Book capitalized, and Notre Dame had a field day on offense.

Pitt was bad defensively, worse offensively, and even the coaching was lacking. One situation was interesting in that, down 21-3 near the end of the first half, Pitt was trying to run out the clock, opting to let it run down even with more than a minute left. But the Irish took a timeout and ended up blocking the Panthers’ punt before recovering it in the end zone for a touchdown. The amount of viewers lost after that play was probably catastrophic.

If you’re looking for a single play today that was symbolic of the game, that’s probably it. It’s not the reason the Panthers lost but it was a microcosm of the game.

I really didn’t understand what head coach Pat Narduzzi was thinking there. You’re a home underdog, down 18 at the half, and needing points. The logic, surely, was to go into halftime down 21-3 instead of going fast tempo on offense and potentially giving the ball back with time on the clock. But at the same time, that play proved that trying to play it safe isn’t always best.

Further, I didn’t understand the play given the specific circumstances of the game. In a close game, I’d understand it a bit more. Your offense is struggling and maybe you are content to go into halftime if it’s a 10-3 game or something. But down 21-3, you just don’t have much to lose at that point. Scoring 18 more points with no running game and a backup quarterback was going to be a reach as it was.

At that point, instead, you’ve got decent field position with the ball around your own 40-yard line. You’ve got a kicker with an amazing leg. You realistically need only 20 yards to get him a shot with a minute on the clock. Maybe you get lucky and kicker Alex Kessman gives you a long field goal and a smidge of momentum. I just didn’t get it — especially for a guy like Narduzzi that sort of prides himself on taking risks. It was as if Narduzzi’s body had been taken over by 1990s Johnny Majors. The decision didn’t make any sense for any coach and it really didn’t make any sense given what we typically see from the gun-slinging Narduzzi.

The game was a disaster from start to finish. You can usually point to something and claim that as a win but I’m at a loss here. I don’t know what went well for the Panthers today. The best news for Pitt, quite honestly, is probably that they have a bye week coming up. That and maybe the fact that this game, no matter how ugly, still only counts for one loss, and it wasn’t a game you were expected to win. That’s it — that’s the highlight.

Players need to sort of reset themselves and, well, I’m guessing the fans could use a break, too.

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