PITTSBURGH — Letdown? What letdown? Notre Dame received the surprising news Tuesday of its No. 5 position in the season’s first College Football Playoff rankings, flew here a night earlier than usual to account for the noon start, then went out and took care of business against Pitt, scoring early and often in a 42-30 win Saturday at Heinz Field.
The Fighting Irish lost running back C.J. Prosise in the first quarter to an undisclosed injury, but freshman Josh Adams stepped up in his place, rushing for 147 yards on 20 carries as Notre Dame’s main back. Adams also had a 5-yard touchdown reception.
Pitt brought out Dan Marino as an honorary captain and retired Jimbo Covert’s No. 75 jersey, with Jackie Sherrill, Mike Ditka, Tony Dorsett and others on hand as well.
Notre Dame, meanwhile, had current NFL players Tyler Eifert and Kapron Lewis-Moore on its sideline. Those two were captains on the Irish’s 2012 team that made it to the national title game. This year’s outfit boasts similar goals, and it looked the part for most of the day in the Steel City.
What the win means for Notre Dame: The fifth-ranked Irish looked worthy of their lofty ranking on Saturday, especially against a Pitt team that has given them fits in recent years. Notre Dame and Pitt had split their previous six meetings at three wins apiece, playing seven total overtime periods during that stretch, and with no game being decided by more than seven points. That changed Saturday, as Notre Dame won its fourth straight game to improve to 8-1 before it hosts Wake Forest next Saturday on Senior Day. A game against Boston College at Fenway Park awaits after that before the regular-season finale at Stanford, which, with the way the Irish and Cardinal have been playing lately, is looking more and more like it could turn into a playoff elimination game. Notre Dame cannot look that far ahead, but the Irish sure were impressive in taking down their biggest obstacle between then and now.
What the loss means for Pitt: The Panthers have now dropped two straight games following a 6-1 start, although they are fortunate that this one was not an ACC game. They have a crucial matchup next week at Duke, which has now dropped two straight as well, including a rout Saturday from archrival North Carolina. Pitt fared much better against the Tar Heels last week in defeat, although that won’t matter much next week in Durham, North Carolina. Pitt’s defense struggled in coverage all day Saturday against Will Fuller, and though the line delivered Kizer a couple of big hits, the run defense was no match for Adams, who had a very impressive performance in his first extended action. Quarterback Nate Peterman was far from efficient, although his receivers did not help him much, dropping several catchable passes.
Player of the game: You can’t really go wrong with Kizer or Fuller here, but we’ll side with Fuller, who beat Pitt in single coverage throughout the day, finishing with seven catches for 152 yards and three touchdowns.
Stat of the game: Kizer tallied six total touchdowns, the final one a 2-yard run in the fourth quarter that led him to give way to freshman Brandon Wimbush (who then fumbled a touchdown to Pitt and got replaced for the final drive by Kizer). Kizer had five touchdown passes as well, becoming the first Irish quarterback to throw five touchdown passes in a game since Tommy Rees did it at Air Force on Oct. 26, 2013. A couple other stats of note: The sellout crowd of 68,400 was a Heinz Field record for a Pitt home game, and the second-highest attendance mark in Pitt history, behind a 1938 game at Pitt Stadium. Also: Junior receiver Tyler Boyd became Pitt’s career leader in receiving yards Saturday, as a 51-yard fourth-quarter touchdown pass put him at 3,097 receiving yards for his career.