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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
The Observer

Irish overcome shaky start, rout Panthers 58-7

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Sophomore corner back Jaden Mickey runs the ball in the Notre Dame game against Pittsburgh on Oct. 28.


Notre Dame kept their momentum going after the bye week with a 58-7 win over Pittsburgh. The Irish overcame a shaky start that included two first-quarter interceptions from graduate student quarterback Sam Hartman to notch a convincing win over a middling Panthers team.

The game went to halftime at only 17-0 after some poor offensive execution for Notre Dame in the red zone kept Pitt in touch with the Irish. After halftime any nerves that might have existed quickly dissipated as Notre Dame poured it on Pittsburgh, scoring 27 points in the third quarter to effectively put the game away.

It was a dominant performance in all three phases of the game for Notre Dame. Tonight marked their second consecutive game with a touchdown on offense, defense and special teams.

Al Golden’s defense was outstanding again, holding Pitt to just 255 total yards and shutting them out until deep into the fourth quarter. They did so without star cornerback Benjamin Morrison who didn’t play because of a quad strain. It was a game time decision that came after the sophomore warmed up with the team.

“Ben strained his quad during the week but he was getting closer and closer to playing,” head coach Marcus Freeman said. “He just wasn’t in a position to go.”

Morrison’s absence didn’t hinder the secondary much as they held Pitt’s Christian Veilleux well in check all game. The Panthers’ quarterback completed only 48% of his passes for 127 yards and threw four interceptions.

Senior safety Xavier Watts followed up his outstanding performance against USC with another impressive effort, picking off two passes in the first half to counter the Hartman turnovers. The contest also saw two young corners, sophomore Jaden Mickey — who started in Morrisson’s place — and freshman Christian Gray, make their first career interceptions. Mickey returned his interception 43 yards for an Irish touchdown.

“I love Jaden Mickey, man,” Freeman said. “He’s a great player, and he’s doing great things for us.”

It was also a banner day for Irish special teams after a USC game that featured a 99-yard kickoff return touchdown. Senior Ramon Henderson pounced on a muffed punt in the end zone to score another special teams touchdown for the Irish. Senior wide receiver Chris Tyree also provided the only Irish points of the first quarter on an 82-yard punt return touchdown.

When asked about the play, Tyree kept it short: “Don’t think, just run.”

Tyree, who converted from running back to receiver during the offseason, had an terrific game, accruing 147 all-purpose yards to lead the Irish on the day. Most of it was punt return yardage, but he also managed 62 receiving yards on just three targets. Most of it came on a big 47-yard reception in the first half.

“Last two weeks, he’s had opportunities to make big plays on the field and he does it,” Freeman said about Tyree. “He’s unselfish and he works tirelessly at his craft, and the rewards ... we’re seeing them on Saturdays.”

Tyree’s punt return touchdown made him just the fourth Notre Dame player ever to score a rushing, receiving, punt return and kickoff return touchdown. He joins a group with Julius Jones, Raghib “Rocket” Ismail and Tim Brown.

Tyree was one of 12 different Notre Dame players with a reception during the game, highlighting some of the depth that Hartman and, as it was tonight, sophomore quarterback Steve Angeli, can rely on.

The running game was also back in full force with junior Audric Estime powering his way to 114 yards and a career-high three touchdowns on the ground. He averaged more than six yards per carry and notably, stayed on the field with the game well in hand.

”The O-line was in there, and I felt like we still had some things to do” Estime said. “[It's about] finishing the game with the brothers that I started the season with.”

Outside of the shaky start and the early turnovers, there was little for Notre Dame to be pick apart on the execution side of things. However, some injury concerns came up during the game as starting tight end Mitchell Evans had to be helped off the field in the third quarter. Freeman also confirmed that starting cornerback Cam Hart picked up an injury during the game, leading to increased game time for Gray.