Notre Dame Football: Grading All 22 Starters from the Pitt Game
It hasn't been easy for Notre Dame at home this season. The Fighting Irish have flirted with disaster in all five of their games at Notre Dame Stadium this season, but have somehow survived to get to 9-0 on the season despite the five wins in South Bend coming by a combined 23 points.
Never were the Irish seemingly more out of it than on Saturday against Pittsburgh, as Notre Dame needed a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns and a missed 33-yard field goal by Panthers kicker Kevin Harper in the second overtime to survive.
When it requires triple overtime to defeat a 4-4 team at home, clearly not all 22 starters played their best. Which ones rose to the challenge and which ones would care to forget most of Saturday's game? Let's find out as we hand out grades for each Fighting Irish starter.
QB Everett Golson: B
Golson almost made it through a whole game for the first time ever at Notre Dame Stadium. He missed the late stages of the first half and the first two series of the second half while Tommy Rees took over.
The sophomore played well overall outside of an almost deadly interception in the fourth quarter as the Irish were poised to tie the game. His pocket presence was the best it has been all season, as he repeatedly bought himself additional time to make plays with either his arm or his legs.
Stats: 23-42, 227 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT, 74 rushing yards, 1 rushing TD
RB Cierre Wood: B-
Wood was nearly the goat on Saturday, as his fumble in the second overtime appeared to end Notre Dame's undefeated season. It overshadowed a productive day for the senior; he ran for 70 yards while averaging more than five yards per carry.
The dive that caused Wood to fumble was probably unnecessary; it was only second down and he may have been able to reach the end zone on the play without diving. Alas, the lasting image of the game is not Wood's fumble, thanks to the luck of the Irish.
Stats: 13 carries, 70 yards, 1 lost fumble
WR Davaris Daniels: A-
The sophomore continues to show flashes of brilliance, and it appears just a matter of time until he becomes the clear-cut No. 1 receiver for the Fighting Irish. His 45-yard catch helped set up Notre Dame's game-tying touchdown late in the game.
He did have a holding penalty that nullified a long run by Cierre Wood in the first half, his only negative moment of the day.
Stats: 7 catches, 86 yards
WR Robby Toma: A-
Robby Toma did what Robby Toma does. The senior caught a number of short out routes to move the chains and set up short-yardage situations. He has a very defined role with this team, and he again performed admirably.
He made two key catches on a potential game-tying drive in the fourth quarter that eventually ended with an interception in the end zone.
Stats: 6 catches, 50 yards
WR T.J. Jones: B+
It was a blue-collar performance from the junior as he overcame an injury to turn in a five-catch day. He did have a crucial drop late in the first half that could have made Kyle Brindza's field goal attempt shorter, a kick that Brindza ended up missing.
He did catch a touchdown in the fourth quarter that pulled the Irish within eight on a quick screen pass in the red zone.
Stats: 5 catches, 53 yards, 1 TD
TE Tyler Eifert: B+
The All-American tight end was once again a mismatch for an opposing defense. He made six catches and drew multiple pass interference penalties, one to keep a drive alive in the fourth quarter.
He had no catches longer than 11 yards, but his receptions helped extend drives. Pittsburgh didn't allow him to stretch the field like he's capable of, but Eifert made the most of what was given to him.
Stats: 6 catches, 62 yards
OT Zack Martin: A
The stalwart of the Notre Dame offensive line was excellent on Saturday, helping keep Everett Golson upright all afternoon.
Pittsburgh generated a bit of pressure up the middle, but the outside was clear of pass rushers thanks to the play of Martin.
OG Chris Watt: A-
The running game was able to get going when it needed to as it has for most of the season. Watt and the interior linemen had their struggles with Panthers defensive tackle Aaron Donald, but only allowed one sack.
Watt played a sound, penalty-free game to help the Irish to victory.
C Braxston Cave: B+
The fifth-year senior again played with good command of the offense and aided Everett Golson in recognition of defensive looks.
Cave avoided penalties and did not allow a sack, but the run-blocking from the entire unit could have been better in the red zone on a first-half drive that should have resulted in a touchdown.
OG Mike Golic Jr.: B
Golic Jr. allowed Pittsburgh's lone sack of the game, coming in the third quarter by the Panthers' Aaron Donald.
Overall, Golic Jr. played well in pass protection against a decent defensive front.
OT Christian Lombard: B
Lombard was penalized for holding, but kept the right side clear of pressure for Everett Golson and Tommy Rees.
The junior hasn't wowed anyone this year, but has been very steady and consistent, as he was for most of Saturday.
DE Kapron Lewis-Moore: B+
Lewis-Moore's strength is against the run, and Saturday was the worst performance of the season by the Irish run defense.
He was a factor in the pass rush, however, recording two sacks of Pittsburgh quarterback Tino Sunseri.
Stats: 3 tackles, 2 sacks, 1.5 tackles for loss
NG Kona Schwenke: B
Schwenke got the start at nose guard for Louis Nix, who missed much of the week leading up to the game after coming down with the flu. The two rotated for most of the day with Nix needing to take more snaps off than he would normally.
The junior isn't the massive body that Nix is, but he's a gritty, productive player when called upon.
Stats: 1 tackle
DE Stephon Tuitt: A
Tuitt has been overshadowed a bit by Manti Te'o this season, but he's been equally as dominant. Saturday was no different; he was again a fixture in the backfield.
The sophomore played a key role on a fourth-down stop late in the first half and helped completely shut down the Pittsburgh offense in overtime.
Stats: 6 tackles, 3 sacks, 1.5 tackles for loss
LB Prince Shembo: B+
The run defense was a little too porous, but Shembo continues to bring consistent pressure of the edge and make a variety of plays.
He had two tackles in the second overtime that forced Pittsburgh to settle for a field goal that ultimately missed.
Stats: 8 tackles, 1 sack, 2 tackles for loss
LB Carlo Calabrese: B-
The senior got the start ahead of Dan Fox on Saturday, but the two again shared time at WILL linebacker.
For someone who's speciality is against the run, it was a bit of an unsatisfying day for Calabrese as the Panthers amassed 144 yards on the ground.
Stats: 3 tackles
LB Manti Te'o: B+
There wasn't the game-changing play from Te'o to which we have become so accustomed, but he again had a solid performance as the Irish rallied to win.
Te'o registered a sack for the second straight week as his pass-rushing skills continue to improve.
Stats: 7 tackles, 1 sack, 1 tackle for loss
LB Danny Spond: B
It was a fairly mundane performance from Spond, who has emerged over the past few weeks as a legitimate force at Dog linebacker.
There was nothing to complain about from Spond, but nothing stood out as overly impressive either.
Stats: 3 tackles
CB Bennett Jackson: B+
Jackson played another strong game, but his jersey number is what nearly cost the Irish dearly, as officials missed that Notre Dame had Jackson and Chris Brown (both No. 2) on the field during Pittsburgh's missed field goal in the second overtime, a 15-yard penalty if called.
The junior helped hold leading receiver Devin Street to just three catches on the day.
Stats: 6 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss
CB KeiVarae Russell: A-
Russell showed off his speed on an early run by Pittsburgh's Ray Graham to bring down the Panthers running back and prevent a touchdown.
He also was again effective in pass coverage, holding the Panthers to just 164 yards through the air.
Stats: 5 tackles
S Zeke Motta: B+
The captain of the Irish secondary helped completely shut down the Panthers' deep passing game, as Tino Sunseri had only one completion longer than 18 yards.
Pittsburgh's big plays came either on runs or short passes with yardage coming after the catch.
Stats: 3 tackles
S Matthias Farley: B
Farley had to have surprise surgery on his hand last week, so he was limited by a cast.
He played a smart game, but missed some tackles due to not being able to fully wrap up opponents.
Stats: 3 tackles