Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 4, 2023

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

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BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM NOV. 4, 2023 21 NOTRE DAME PASSING GAME: B+ You never like to see your starting quarterback throw 2 interceptions and no touchdown passes but completing 18 of 25 throws for 288 yards was still an efficient day at the office for graduate stu- dent Sam Hartman. Add in 6-of-7 passing for 92 yards and a beautiful touchdown toss from backup Steve Angeli, and the Irish were those 2 picks away from at least earning an A- in this category. Field receivers Rico Flores Jr. and Tobias Merri- weather showed up with big gains, a 60-yard catch and run and a 42-yard go get it through the seam, all-out sprint, respectively. That was good for the Irish offense to see. They were two of 12 players who caught at least one pass in the game. It's become apparent in the meat of the sched- ule that Notre Dame's strength on offense is not through the air. But when you can still throw for 380 yards as a team, that'll work. That'll work for sure. NOTRE DAME RUNNING GAME: A Junior bell cow Audric Estimé ran 19 times for 114 yards and 3 touchdowns. Sophomore Jadarian Price complemented him well with 6 carries for 35 yards and a score of his own. Nobody else was too involved in the Notre Dame running game, but what those two provided proved more than enough after factoring in what the Fighting Irish did defensively and on special teams. The Irish need to score on the ground because the passing game just isn't what it was at the be- ginning of the year, and Estimé has responded with 12 touchdown runs this season. Price and fellow sophomore Gi'Bran Payne have proven capable of punching the ball into the end zone, too. And once again, run blocking from the offensive line, tight ends and wide receivers was satisfactory for the Irish. NOTRE DAME PASSING DEFENSE: A+ Could it have been any better? Maybe. Pitt did throw for 202 yards. But geez, you're really nitpick- ing if you're pointing at the three chunk passing plays of 25-plus yards as a reason not to stick a plus sign by the "A" here. Notre Dame intercepted Pitt quarterback Chris- tian Veilleux four times. Senior safety Xavier Watts had two of those picks. Freshman corner Christian Gray and sophomore corner Jaden Mickey had the other two. Mickey returned his for a 43-yard touchdown. Those two played most of the game because starters Benjamin Morrison and Cam Hart were unavailable due to injuries. The youngsters answered the bell. As a team, the Panthers only completed 50 per- cent of their passes. Veilleux and Nate Yarnell combined for an average of 6.3 yards per attempt. Hartman and Angeli averaged 11.9 as a pair. NOTRE DAME RUN DEFENSE: A+ Nineteen carries. Fifty-three yards. Adjusted for sacks, it wasn't much better for the Panthers. Sev- enteen for 66. The Notre Dame defensive front swarmed opposing ball carriers all night, including limiting former Irish tailback and leading rusher C'Bo Flemister to 8 carries for 24 yards. The Pan- thers' second-leading rusher, Rodney Hammond Jr., had 6 carries for 31 yards. The Irish won at the line of scrimmage on this side of the ball. Period. SPECIAL TEAMS: A It wasn't flawless for the Irish on special teams. Graduate student Spencer Shrader missed an extra point for the second time in his career, and he also booted a kickoff out of bounds for a penalty. But an 82-yard punt return for a touchdown will right a lot of wrongs. Senior wideout Chris Tyree probably had the play of the game. It got the scoring started, and from there, the Irish were off and rolling. The Irish were pretty good in the kick return de- partment as well. Price had a 37-yard return that was memorable enough for head coach Marcus Freeman to shout him out in the postgame press conference. COACHING: A Many will point to Freeman letting too much time tick off the clock at the end of the first half before Notre Dame ultimately had to settle for a field goal, but who saw an offensive pass interference call on a Notre Dame touchdown coming? If there is no PI, we aren't talking about clock management. It happens. The bigger bullet point with coaching is the fact that Freeman demanded a better performance from everybody in the second half after only being up 17-0 through 30 minutes, and he got it. The Irish scored the first 34 points of the second half before Pitt finally got on the board with just more than eight minutes left in the game. A 51-point victory is something every coach in the country would be satisfied with coming out of a bye week no matter who the opponent is. ✦ REPORT CARD BY TYLER HORKA Freshman wide receiver Rico Flores Jr. led all Notre Dame pass catchers with 72 yards receiving against Pitt. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER

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