For the second consecutive week, Notre Dame traveled to Pennsylvania and beat a quality team. Last week the Irish battled for a 24-20 victory over Temple. This past Saturday they went to Pittsburgh and beat the Panthers 42-30 in a game that was not as close as the score would indicate.
The fifth-ranked Irish were looking for a convincing win to impress the selection committee and despite troubles in garbage time, Notre Dame did just that. With some other Playoff contenders going down, it is very possible, if not likely, that Notre Dame is one of the top four teams when the committee releases their rankings on Tuesday evening.
Here are five thoughts on the Irish following the Pittsburgh game.
1. DeShone Kizer
By now, we all know his story and the legend continues to grow. The sophomore from Toledo was 19 of 26 for 262 yards with five touchdowns and he also ran in for another score. On the year, Kizer has completed 66 percent of his passes for 1,931 yards with 16 touchdowns against six interceptions. But most importantly, as the moment gets bigger, Kizer gets better. Yes, it helps having one of the best wide receivers in the country to throw to in Will Fuller. But Kizer knows when to get the ball to his star playmaker and when to look at other options. Those that say he will be a star are wrong. He already is.
2. Josh Adams
Head coach Brian Kelly said after the game that running back C.J. Prosise is day-to-day and that his shoulder injury is not serious. That is good news, but Adams proved that he is up to the challenge of being the every-down back. This 100-yard game was not like his first, which came in the rout of UMass. His 147 yards on Saturday came against a top-40 rushing defense and he gained those yards when the Irish needed it most. Adams proved in this game that he is more than capable of easing Prosise’s workload going forward.
3. Allowing Big Plays Again on Defense
Though Notre Dame’s defense gave up just three points in the first half, that field goal was set up by a big play on a jet sweep by Pitt’s Tyler Boyd. In the second half, the Irish surrendered six plays of 20-plus yards, including a 51-yard pass from Nate Peterman to Boyd. On that play, miscommunication between KeiVarae Russell and Max Redfield led to the easy Pitt touchdown. At this stage of the season, it’s hard to accept these types of breakdowns. Allowing big plays has been an issue throughout the season and is something that needs to be corrected.
4. Tyler Newsome is a Weapon
Newsome has had a nice season, averaging 43.3 yards per punt on the year. But last week was his weakest game when his punts traveled an average of just 33.8 yards. The Pittsburgh game was an exceptional bounce-back performance. Newsome averaged 51.8 yards per kick on four chances and was able to flip field position when necessary. Following Matthias Farley’s second quarter interception, the Irish went three and out and had to punt from their own 9-yard line. Down 14-3, Pittsburgh hoped for possession in plus territory in an effort to make it a one-score game at the half. But Newsome boomed a 55-yard punt that Notre Dame effectively covered. Pitt quickly had to give the ball back and it was the Irish that scored before the break to go up 21-3. Newsome’s leg has been a huge asset for the Irish this fall and was a big part of the win on Saturday.
The players won’t say it. Brian Kelly certainly won’t say it. But we know it’s true. With Wake Forest and Boston College as the next two games, Notre Dame should be 10-1 when it heads out to Palo Alto in three weeks, setting up a possible play-in game for a Playoff spot. At worst, a New Year’s Six bowl bid is in ND’s future. And at a time when Notre Dame is finalizing its 2016 recruiting class, as well as making inroads on '17 prospects, it is nice that the Irish will remain in the national conversation.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.