Kizer’s aerial attack leads No. 5 Notre Dame over Pitt, 42-30


Jeff Ahearn | Assistant Visual Editor

By Jeremy Tepper / Senior Staff Writer

Notre Dame didn’t need the luck of the Irish against Pitt, as overwhelming talent and execution thoroughly got the job done for the visitors.

Led by five touchdown passes from DeShone Kizer — three to wide receiver Will Fuller — the No. 5 Fighting Irish defeated the Panthers 42-30 at Heinz Field on Saturday.

Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said his team missed several opportunities, which hindered its momentum.

“We left a lot of plays on the field,” Narduzzi said. “There’s opportunities for us, we just have to finish plays. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t. Maybe it’s the competition, maybe it’s us.”

Of the competition, it seemed that Notre Dame was the more talented team, physically besting Pitt offensively and defensively. Still, defensive end Ejuan Price said it was execution, not talent, that led to the outcome.

“We could play tomorrow and the chips could fall differently. Today was just their day,” Price said.

Notre Dame received the ball first and struck quickly, traveling 75 yards in 1:11, capping off the drive when Kizer found a wide open Fuller for a 47-yard touchdown, thoroughly beating his Pitt defender, cornerback Avonte Maddox. It was one of six total touchdowns for Kizer, who accumulated 262 yards, five passing scores and one rushing score.

Three of those touchdowns went to Fuller, who caught seven passes for 152 yard. Narduzzi said he altered coverages, but it was ineffective due to Fuller’s talent level.

“We did, we changed it up a little bit. [But he’s] a good football player, what are you gonna do,” Narduzzi said.

Though Pitt’s first drive stalled out, it slowed Notre Dame on the ensuing drive, aided by a sack from Price, Pitt’s first sack since they played Georgia Tech.

With a 37-yard end around run by wide receiver Tyler Boyd, Pitt started quickly when it received the ball back. Three plays later, quarterback Nathan Peterman faked a handoff and ran the ball himself for 26 yards to bring it to the Notre Dame seven yard line. After a three-yard Boyd run and two incomplete passes, through, the drive stalled out. Pitt would instead settle for a field goal, as Chris Blewitt hit a 22-yard kick to bring the score to 7-3.

Boyd said a quicker start and converting drives for touchdowns would have created a closer game.

“I believe if we started fast, punched in points instead of field goals, we would have been neck and neck the whole way,” Boyd said.

Notre Dame answered right back, driving 75 yards in 10 plays and capping off the drive with a 12-yard bullet from Kizer to Torii Hunter Jr, giving Notre Dame a 14-3 lead with 12:48 remaining in the first half.

Notre Dame’s offense had its way with Pitt’s defense all game, amassing 437 yards on 68 plays, good for 6.4 yards per play.

[It was] nothing we didn’t really expect. I feel like we were really well prepared, it’s just we did need to execute and we didn’t,” Price said. “At the end of the day, one side of the ball needs to make plays, and they did.”

After Pitt and Notre Dame each stalled out drives twice, Pitt gained some steam with a 27-yard completion to tight end JP Holtz, bringing the Panthers to Notre Dame’s 21-yard line. A play later, Peterman targeted Jordan Whitehead, Pitt’s starting strong safety who saw some time on offense, but Notre Dame cornerback Matthias Farley intercepted the pass.

Late in the half, Fuller struck again, besting Maddox this time on a 46-yard touchdown catch to complete a 22-second, 70-yard drive to put the Fighting Irish up 21-3.

Pitt would try to answer back before the end of the half, but incomplete passes halted the drive. At the half, Peterman had completed just 3 of 18 passes for 44 yards.

Pitt, though, received the ball to open the second half and would take advantage quickly. Led by a 21-yard completion to Holtz and a 37-yard catch by wide receiver Dontez Ford, Pitt reached Notre Dame’s 10-yard line. Whitehead then received a handoff, weaved through some holes and scored from 10 yards out to narrow the lead to 21-10 for his first career touchdown.

Narduzzi was impressed with Whitehead’s performance, and he questioned himself for not using the freshman in previous games.

“Maybe I’m really dumb and we should have started it earlier. He’s an explosive player. He can be electric for us on offense,” Narduzzi said.

The Fighting Irish matched that touchdown with some effective runs by running back Josh Adams and another Fuller score, this time on a 14-yard catch for his third of the day. The performance gave Fuller sole possession of second place on Notre Dame’s career touchdowns list with 29.

Similarly, Pitt had no problem marching down the field to answer, with Whitehead finishing off a 75-yard drive with a three yard touchdown run, his second of the day.

But again, the Fighting Irish easily drove down the field, as Kizer tore through Pitt’s defense with six completions, the last of the drive coming on a five-yard touchdown pass to Adams to give his team a 35-17 lead.

A two-yard Kizer touchdown run, a consolation 51-yard Boyd catch and a 32 yard fumble return  by Price brought the game to its final score of 42-30.

Pitt will return to play next Saturday when it travels to Durham, North Carolina, to face off against Duke. Despite the loss, Narduzzi said his players will not hang their heads and will quickly turn their attention to the Blue Devils.

“You only get 12 guaranteed opportunities. I think our kids are fired up,” Narduzzi said. “We get to go down and play Duke. We’re playing for an ACC championship.”

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