1st Panthers Drive/2nd Quarter
The Irish open in the base 4-3 but move to their Nickel package on both 2nd and 3rd Down. The Panthers offense suffers is first three-and-out, gaining just two yards in under a minute of possession. Pitt 3 ND 0
- Panthers backup freshman tailback Ray Graham is held to two yards over the left side as Irish RDE John Ryan sheds a block to ankle-tackle Graham. SLB Harrison Smith held the right edge to keep Graham inside near defensive traffic.
- The Irish Nickel Defense brings six rushers (including LB Manti Te'o and SLB Harrison Smith) and quarterback Bill Stull's 30-yard deep corner pass to a wide open Dorin Dickerson is thrown too far inside and incomplete. Kyle McCarthy came over late to help.
- On 3rd and 2 from midfield, Stull's square-in to WR Jonathan Baldwin is broken up by a trailing Darrin Walls. A tremendous play by the Irish senior CB who covered the deep in-route perfectly.
2nd Panthers Drive/2nd Quarter
The Panthers again punt back to the Irish after a three-snap possession, gaining just three yards in 2:11. The Irish opened in their Base 4-3 before switching to Nickel personnel on 2nd and 3rd Down. Pitt 3 ND 0
- The Panthers lose 12 yards on a high snap that gets passed Stull who immediately falls on the football.
- On 2nd and 2 from his own 18-yard line, tailback Dion Lewis gains three up the gut on an inside draw. Kerry Neal came down the line (RDE) to make the stop. LB Brian Smith shed a block by tight end Dorin Dickerson to help on the play.
- Stull hits Dickerson on an out-route for 12 yards on 3rd and 19. Darrin Walls delivered an immediate blow and Manti Te'o slowed Dickerson with a chuck in his initial pattern. Kerry Neal applied pressure with an inside bull rush and Kapron Lewis-Moore came late off the edge. Ethan Johnson took a shot from fullback Henry Hynoski who dislodged the sophomore's helmet in pass protection (Hynoski was part of a double-team).
Substitutions: Neal and Fleming on 2nd and 3rd Down.
3rd Panthers Drive/2nd Quarter
After a Notre Dame field goal, the Panthers deliver the first big blow on a diving touchdown catch from super sophomore Jonathan Baldwin. Pittsburgh drove 43 yards in 9 plays (4:21 time of possession). The Irish open in a 4-3 and stay in that base set for four of the drive's six plays (including the touchdown). Pitt 10 ND 3
- Lewis is limited to two yards over the left side as John Ryan sheds a block to hit the freshman low. Manti Te'o's angle took him too far outside and Johnson was moved out of his gap. Kyle McCarthy was taken out by lead blocker Hynoski (though McCarthy sacrificed himself on the play). Nose Tackle Ian Williams had good backfield penetration to apply the initial hit to Lewis' leg.
- Lewis shows his burst with a 21-yard run over left tackle and a quick cut through the second level. Hynoski stood up Te'o with a lead block and Brian Smith's hesitation cost him an angle on the ball carrier. Ryan and Johnson were moved and turned backward on the play. Gary Gray and McCarthy combined on the downfield stop.
- Lewis loses two yards on a fine play by Harrison Smith, who shot the right B-Gap on a run blitz to track the freshman in the backfield. Ian Williams also won his battle up front as did Ethan Johnson. Brian Smith was handled by guard John Malecki.
- Stull gains two yards after the pocket collapsed around him (4-man rush). Johnson absolutely destroyed left guard Joe Thomas on the play, pushing the OL into the backfield off the snap. Lewis-Moore also created backfield penetration while Darius Fleming took away a pass to the right flat with a well-time leap (I'm willing to bet Fleming can pull off any dunk you ask for on the basketball court). Steve Filer also whipped his man, left tackle Jason Pinkston, with an inside move and then ran through the backfield help of Lewis. This might be the best 4-man rush of the season by the Notre Dame defense. (3:59 remaining in the 2nd Quarter for those of you that still have the game tape/DVR)
- On 3rd and 10 from his own 43, Stull drills a 22-yard deep square-in to Baldwin for a Panthers first down. The play was well-designed as Baldwin ran the deep-in underneath a post route that helped slow ND's deep zone coverage. (Might want to stick with Baldwin for future reference though…). Baldwin's hands were about 10-feet in the air on the catch. Notre Dame's 4-man rush was controlled on the play as Stull had all day.
- Baldwin strikes again, diving and twisting his body to catch a 32-yard go route on Darrin Walls down the right sideline. Zero pass rush pressure by the Irish (4-man rush). Walls never saw the ball though it was perfectly thrown over Baldwin's outside shoulder.
Substitutions: Steve Filer and Darius Fleming in the Nickel package.
Final Panthers Drive/1st Half
The Irish open in their Nickel defense (shift to 4-3 personnel on play #3 and #4) and force the Panthers to punt after a 6-play, 24-yard gain. The Irish ran one play to end the half. Pitt 10 ND 3
- Playing over the right slot, Harrison Smith times Stull's bubble pass in the flat for a leaping, one-handed knockdown. That pass was about 2 MPH away from an all-time highlight interception touchdown by the maligned Smith.
- Brian Smith takes a bit of a poor angle (or slow break) on a six-yard draw to Lewis over the left side as the Panthers take advantage of Fleming's inside rush which vacated the edge. Gary Gray, as usual, fought off his block. Gray mixes it up vs. the run better than any Irish cornerback.
- Ian Williams gets good backfield penetration to bother Stull but the experienced QB hit Nate Byham in an open zone between Brian Smith and Gray. It appeared to me that Smith never committed to a receiver (there were two, including Dickerson who was handled by Te'o) on the pattern. Harrison Smith correctly covered the right flat and there was no reason for Gary Gray to cover Byham in the short seam (Gray had to have deep responsibility). A well-designed play and nice read by Stull.
- Stull misses Cedric McGee on a crossing route to the right (in front of Te'o).
- Neal and Fleming re-enter in the nickel package. Stull hits McGee for a seven-yard out on 2nd and 10 from his own 43 yard line to set up 3rd and 3 with under a minute remaining.
- Stull misses Mike Shanahan over the middle as Brian Smith cut under the throw and Te'o allowed it to sail past him. I couldn't tell (live or on TV) if Te'o had an angle for the pick. Pittsburgh punted back to the Irish to end the half.
Substitutions: John Ryan and Ian Williams in the Base 4-3.
2nd Quarter Observations:
- Jonathan Baldwin is a special receiver…one of the nation's five best for 2010.
- It's maddening to see the Irish front four dominate on one play and show zero penetration on two others shortly thereafter.
- I was wrong…Harrison Smith appears much more suited playing close to the line. I don't think he can be an every down strong side linebacker (unless the Irish defensive line improves tremendously) but he can excel in the nickel role formerly manned by Sergio Brown.
- Panthers offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti deserves recognition for making Bill Stull a productive college quarterback.
Halftime Score Pittsburgh 10 ND 3