Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct 9, 2021

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 26 of 55 OCT. 9, 2021 27 DEFENSE BREAKS CHARACTER LATE Notre Dame had life. Sophomore quarterback Drew Pyne had injected a spark into the Irish's offense. He had just connected on a much-needed deep shot — a 32-yard touchdown to senior wide receiver Braden Lenzy — that cut Cincin- nati's lead to 17-13 at the 8:20 mark of the fourth quarter. The contingent of Bearcats fans in the southeast corner of Notre Dame Stadium had lowered its volume to the quietest level of the afternoon. The Irish defense had been stringing together stops all half, including two red-zone clampdowns and a strip sack. It needed one more to give the offense the ball with a chance to take the lead. Instead, Notre Dame allowed a decisive dagger drive. Six plays, 75 yards, three gains of at least 10 yards in 3:12. A rip cord and a silencer. Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder capped it with a six- yard touchdown run, putting the Bearcats up 24-13 and all but sealing a win. On this drive, a defense that had eradi- cated big-play problems in recent weeks reverted back to its early season form. Notre Dame began the drive in a three-man front and sent six rushers on the first play. None of them affected Ridder, who completed a six-yard pass to wide receiver Michael Young Jr. Then he handed off to running back Jerome Ford, who broke free for 16 yards when Notre Dame junior linebacker JD Ber- trand whiffed on a tackle attempt at the line of scrimmage. Two plays later, Ridder connected with tight end Leonard Taylor for 36 yards. He saw a one-on-one matchup with Bertrand on Taylor and delivered the throw to him in stride. "You're in zone. You're trying to pro- tect," Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. "They're hitting some intermediate routes, keeping things alive. We got into Cover 2. They hit us in the seam." Notre Dame needed another red zone stop. It didn't get one. Ford broke through for 11 yards, dodging another tackle in the hole. Ridder drew the curtains with his run on a read-option when Bertrand lost edge contain. "It just goes back to a lack of execu- tion and missed tackles," graduate stu- dent linebacker Drew White said. "Dur- ing those key moments, those impact moments, we need a stop. We need to be better than that." For a few stretches in the game, Notre Dame's defense was better. Cincinnati averaged 3.2 yards per play in the first quarter. The Bearcats sputtered in the red zone twice thanks to some stout defense. They opened the second half with four straight scoreless drives, one of which ended with junior defensive end Isaiah Foskey's strip sack. They converted just 2 of 11 third downs. But lapses were more common. Too common. Notre Dame allowed five passing plays of 25 or more yards, in- cluding a 27-yard touchdown right be- fore halftime on an 80-yard drive that took just 68 seconds. Cincinnati aver- aged 6.2 yards per play. "There's a litany of things relative to pass coverage," Kelly said. "The fact of the matter is it wasn't good enough. I could take bits and pieces for each unit and say, 'Well, that was pretty good for them.' "It wasn't good enough across the board. We didn't coach well enough, and we didn't play well enough." It wasn't a defensive disaster. But it was a step backward for a unit on the rise over the prior two weeks, especially in a high-leverage moment. "I think Notre Dame beat Notre Dame today," White said. "We made too many mistakes and didn't execute well." NOTRE DAME HAS SOUL SEARCHING TO DO AFTER FIRST LOSS Notre Dame teams of Brian Kelly's past could have potentially overcome the costly mistakes the Fighting Irish made in their 24-13 loss to Cincinnati. But if anything became apparent as the Golden Domers' demise unfolded, it's that this is not a Notre Dame team of Kelly's past. Not one resemblance of the two that made the College Football Playoff in the last three seasons, anyway. "We didn't take care of the basics to- day," Kelly said. The basics are the bare minimum. And Notre Dame couldn't get them done. Subsequently, any hope of three CFP in appearances in four years likely went south along with thousands of Cincinnati fans that invaded Notre Dame Stadium. "It sucks to lose," a subdued junior defensive end Isaiah Foskey said. "It sucks to lose at home." CINCINNATI GAME NOTES BY PATRICK ENGEL AND TYLER HORKA After the Irish cut the deficit to 17-13 with 8:20 to go in the fourth quarter, Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder calmly directed a six-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to put the game away. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER

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