Poor First Half Dooms Irish

Notre Dame made multiple crippling mistakes in the first half that helped stake Cincinnati to a 17-0 lead, and the Bearcats held off the Irish by 24-13 on Saturday. Interceptions thrown by Jack Coan and Tyler Buchner, followed by a fumbled kickoff return by Chris Tyree, proved to be too much for Drew Pyne to overcome despite his best efforts to rally his team. Notre Dame dropped to 4-1 on the season and suffered its first loss at home since September 2017.

Cincinnati was clearly the better team on this occasion. The defense smothered the Irish all day while quarterback Desmond Ridder produced an answer every time the Bearcat offense needed to make a play. Ridder’s six-yard scoring run with five minutes left capped a 75-yard drive to crush Notre Dame’s hopes after they had closed the gap to 17-13.

The game began to go south for the Irish from the opening series. Coan led the team downfield to a first and goal from the Bearcat six yard line. He was hit as he released a wobbly pass that was picked off. The teams traded punts for the rest of the quarter with no blood drawn by either side. A holding penalty against Irish tackle Josh Lugg killed Buchner’s first drive of the game, and the freshman was intercepted on the team’s next possession. This one was returned to the Notre Dame eight yard line. Ridder hit tight end Leonard Taylor for a scoring pass moments later.

Tyree tried to catch the ensuing kickoff as he was moving forward at full speed. The ball clanked off his hands and was grabbed deep in Irish territory by the Bearcats. The Notre Dame defense rose up to stop Cincinnati and force a field goal by Cole Smith, but the team was now mired in a 10-0 hole.

Coan could not get the offense going for the remainder of the quarter despite favorable field position. The offensive line simply could not protect him or clear a path for the backs to operate. As the first half drew to a close, Ridder found open seams in the Irish secondary. His passes to Taylor, Alec Pierce and Tre Turner resulted in a scoring drive capped by Turner’s 27-yard reception over Kyle Hamilton.

After Ridder found Pierce for a 45-yard bomb to open the third quarter, Smith missed a short field goal. The deficit remained at 17-0 as Coach Brian Kelly inserted Pyne into the lineup. He quickly moved the team to a first down near midfield before Kelly put Buchner into the lineup. That move backfired and essentially killed Notre Dame’s momentum.

Cincinnati appeared ready to stretch their lead as Ridder hit Michael Young to bring the Bearcats into scoring range. Notre Dame’s Isaiah Foskey sacked Ridder on the next play and stripped him of the ball. Drew White recovered and returned it to the Cincinnati 38. Williams scored moments later to put Notre Dame on the board with 1:19 remaining in the period.

Smith missed another chip shot field goal for the Bearcats and Pyne went to work again with time now a factor. He finished a scoring drive with a deep pass to Braden Lenzy, who outfought his defender for the ball. Jonathan Doerer missed the extra point, however, and the Irish trailed 17-13 with 8:20 left in the game.

Ridder backed up his pregame bravado with winning plays

Ridder was determined not to let victory slip away. He hit Taylor on a deep ball before running untouched around left end for a touchdown from six yards out. The Irish now trailed by 24-13 with five minutes left. Pyne and the offense could produce no magic from that point, and the Bearcats ran out the clock.

The string finally ran out on Notre Dame after weeks of living on the edge . Cincinnati had a slight advantage in total yards, but the three first half turnovers sealed their fate. The offensive line was once again incompetent, and one must wonder how mush longer line coach Jeff Quinn can keep his job. The quarterback question must also be settled immediately in favor of Pyne. The experiments with Coan and Buchner simply aren’t working.

Other observations:

  • Kevin Austin was shut down by the Bearcats’ Ahmed Gardner, who took him physically and mentally out of the game.
  • Cincinnati attacked cornerback Clarence Lewis and safety Houston Griffith in the deep passing game. It worked well for them.
  • The Bearcats also isolated linebacker JD Bertrand in coverage against tight end Leonard Taylor. It was no contest.
  • Irish starting tackles Michael Carmody and Josh Lugg had poor outings. Carmody was replaced by freshman Joe Alt, who was marginally better. Lugg had no healthy backup and took a beating from the Bearcat defensive line.
  • Michael Mayer was a rare bright spot for the Irish, but he was injured in the fourth quarter. Although he continued to play on one leg, it was not a pretty sight.

Let’s also review the answers to our pregame questions:

Will Ridder frustrate Notre Dame with his running ability? He ran for the clinching score with the game in the balance, but his passing was even more damaging to Notre Dame. Ridder finished 19 of 32 for 297 yards and two scores. He was not intercepted.

Can Irish tackles Carmody, Baker and Josh Lugg handle Bearcat DEs Sanders and Vann? No, it was as ugly as it gets.

Will Notre Dame find a successful solution at quarterback? Pyne is clearly the best option they have going forward. Who knows what might have happened if he started and played the whole game.

Which secondary will best defend the deep pass? The Irish were torched on multiple occasions, while Lenzy’s touchdown catch was the only play allowed by the Bearcats.

Will Notre Dame win the turnover battle again this week? No, and it cost them dearly.

Can the Irish finally get the running game on track? What running game?

Which special teams will have the most positive impact on the game? Although Smith missed two easy field goals for Cincinnati, Tyree’s fumble and Doerer’s blown extra point were more egregious.

Where can the Bearcats spend $1.2 million on a Saturday night in Cincinnati? Wherever and however they want. They are by no means a great team, but put themselves on the map today.

The recent poor performances by Notre Dame’s first four opponents underscores the fact that the Irish are not nearly as good as we hoped. They have been able to overcome obvious weaknesses with strong performances by their star players, but that bubble burst today in convincing fashion. Hats off to the Cincinnati coaching staff, particularly Offensive Coordinator Mike Denbrock, for developing an excellent plan of attack. The Bearcat defense also played beyond expectations, particularly in the secondary. The Irish receivers missed a number of potential receptions because the Cincinnati defenders beat them for contested balls. Lenzy’s touchdown was the lone exception.

It’s obvious now that the first loss of the season won’t be the last.

68 thoughts on “Poor First Half Dooms Irish

    • Notre Dame sent out an email from the athletics department advertising two North Carolina tickets to “honor” Kelly’s 106 wins. My nephew, a Notre Dame alum, sent this email to the athletics department and I concur with what he said. I am quoting him now:

      “I’ll pay $85 dollars to commemorate the number of wins that haven’t been vacated for playing ineligible players. Or Zip, Zero, None to commemorate Kelly, Swarbrick, and Jenkins acceptance of responsibility. This is embarrassing.”

      I agree and if there was any ill will with Cincy fans when Kelly left for ND, I am sure they are so happy now that they have Luke Fickell. After Pyne’s performance last week, he should have been named starter. Who knows what could have been, had he started, but it was obvious that CIncy outcoached ND. Very frustrating to watch.

      I understand Mission BBQ has sponsored the offensive line at ND and they can eat for free. If I was there I would say, gentleman, you have to work to get the reward and go eat at Notre Dame. No more free meals here until you learn how to block!!!!

      I guess Kelly does not like pep rally’s or think they are needed anymore because the only one was before Toledo. I guess he can’t be bothered and does not want to the team to be distracted. Not that the pep rallys were all that great anymore, but another tradition gone by the wayside.


      ND is not supposed to be about money and the good life and being recognized, etc. If is supposed to be about the Catholic Faith and all that goes with it. That is first and foremost. Everything else is secondary. That being said, when ND gets back to that, all else will flow from it. If ND and the rest of the “Catholic” high schools in the country followed that, ND would have the best talent every year and they would automatically win every year. Until that happens, a NC will probably never be achieved.

  1. Need to move on from Jack. Great kid, but obviously not the future and the OL’s inability to protect doesn’t help his game. Start Drew the rest of the season and by his senior year there will be dividends.

    • Irish in the South says:

      Have to give Jack some credit for our first drive of some 75 yards ending with an interception on the 2 yard line because OL could not stop the pass rush. Jack had to throw off balance…Bad things happened. If that interception does not happen and we score first….It’s a whole different game.

      OL was responsible at least in part for the 2 interceptions.

      • Deadhead Dean says:

        Kelly has a real problem recognizing and developing quarterback talent. And I’m sick of all the excuses for the o line. Yes, there are a lot of injuries. There are also other options if Kelly was willing to reshuffle some players. As Kelly said years ago, “Get used to it.”

    • Coan doesn’t have an O-line that can work properly. While he has made some mistakes, the blame rests primarily on the O-line. They are a sieve. Coan has already been injured due to the exceptionally poor O-line performance. At this rate they are going to get him injured to the point he will have to end his career.

  2. Another big home game, another sellout by our alumni season ticket holders. When will this stop? When will the administration put the clamps down on this? I am absolutely disgusted with our fan base. We are a bunch of sellouts.

    • When Cincy with less talent in recruiting rankings can come to ND and push the home team around and out coach ND its time for the man with most victories without an NC to go.
      If they place a bronze Kelly statue on campus I will puke.

    • Completely agree. They aren’t N D fans. They value a few bucks more than embarrassing our house. Need to somehow weed these traitors out.

    • Kevin: the administration would like to join the Ivy League. Academically and Athletically. At this point, I’m all for it!

  3. If Kelly starts Drew Pyne,and sticks with him the entire game , i believe its a different story. Coan is a great kid, but we’ve seen enough of him to know he is not the guy, besides he’s done at the end of the year. Let Pyne play and sprinkle Buchner in. Let Buchner develop.

    Not sold on Tommy as O Coordinator either. Doerer is a mess, how can ND not have one of the top three kickers in the country.?

    D is solid , but where was Bothello today?

    • Botelho got caught inside on the final TD run by Ridder. He is supposed to set the edge but Ridder coasted right past him and into the end zone.

  4. Kelly lost this game anyone could see Coan was not the answer. Then too little too late with pyne. Then when he starts on rhythm they stick Buckner in for a play!?!?..ND could have won this game…Oh..we have to coach better?

  5. Emil Gaensslen says:

    Why does it look like decent teams run the perfect defense against us in the clutch in huge games? I know its whining but I noticed some pretty egregious holds not called against Cin. in key moments. That being said, we missed ALOT of opportunities and I’m embarrassed that the smack talk Cincinnati inserted was backed up and not thwarted by by any motivated Irish players. Doerer’s miss on the PAT killed any surge in momentum. Bertrand got sucked in every time in QB runs and cost us points.

  6. I really wish Brian Kelly would have hopped on the buss back to Cincinnati.
    How in the world can Tommy Reese or the whole offensive unit be and stay prepared for 3 different Quarterbacks?? Such nonsense. This is Notre Dame.

    • I’m almost 80 and knew they could not win this game with Coan. So I blame the loss on the coaching staff who held the Pyne back with maybe the ball in his hand for 15 minutes . Kelly is paid to win games not reduce the team best chance to win.

  7. I think ND was exposed today. Their offensive woes continue to haunt the Irish. QB duties should be turned over to Pyne. He brings a good vibe and the offense seems to respond when he is in there. The only thing I question is his arm strength on throwing the long ball.

    • Pyne should absolutely be the starter, but we need him for the future, so I’d hate to see him offered-up as a sacrificial lamb behind this O-line.

  8. If you think Ridder lit us up today wait until ND plays UNC and Sam Howell. He will carve us up like a Thanksgiving turkey.

  9. The woeful offensive staff and Kelly’s hubris were exposed today. We need a new OC, QB coach, and wide receiver coach at the least. Our wideouts get no separation, and drop too many passes. Let’s face it, we could easily be 1-4. Probably should be.What really hurts is that we let Cincy run their mouths, and we did nothing.The big question, is , what is Kelly prepared to do about it?

  10. I told you they needed to start Pyne. Coan is a loser. Just a statue for the defense to mangle. He’s borderline patheric. Take the turnovers out of this game and Notre Dame wins a close one. The defense played a good game without any help from the offense. Where do we get these huge offensive linemen and then coach them pathetically.
    What a wste of talent/ Disgusting, to say the least.

    Rabid Fan

  11. I put a lot of blame directly on Tommy Rees. Our red zone offense is terrible. Two weeks and roll we come away with no points with the first and goal inside the 10. Also, Tyler Buckner has no chance. They bring him in and it’s essentially a wildcat. The only time he throws us on third and long. The first time they used him early in the season it surprised me people. Now the flea collar is totally predictable. Every single person in their living room is the first play that he was in would be a quarterback draw. How boring and stupid.
    Since Kelly’s gotten to South Bend special teams have been erratic and it costs us. I think both of the two factors to cost us the game and the two factors that have made the season difficult ( minus Tyree’s return against WI). Kelly just can’t get ready for games. Today reminded me of Oklahoma a decade ago when our pathetic coordinator was the worst quarterback in division one football and he started that game out with two interceptions on his first two throws. More wins than Rockne ok but in the end perhaps a good coach but nowhere near great.

  12. My NBC feed seemed garbled when they showed Kelly’s halftime speech but it seemed to consist of reminding them their place in the depth chart was in jeopardy. This to our third string left tackle? Classless.
    A profound step back. Back to losing to teams we really should have beat.
    Thanks for the coverage.

    • This.
      Kelly is a good program manager, but exhibits no real leadership traits. His halftime talk was simply a threat. His joke after the FSU game re: executing the team, his red-faced exasperation after muffed plays, yelling at players coming off the field, yelling at his assistants, standing on the sidelines with his arms defensively folded, no rallying of the troops, etc., are but a few examples. Leadership is needed to motivate this team of very talented individuals. Unfortunately, you don’t hire or appoint leadership, and Brian Kelly is sorely lacking in that department.

  13. Anybody with half a brain, would have made the obvious choice to bring in Pyne after the 1st quarter! When a team cannot establish any resemblance of a run game through 5 games, time to bring in a qb that can at least scramble. Coan can only play well to his limited abilities, if there was actually blocking from his offensive line. All of our offensive linemen, 3rd or 4th string should be able to hold their own against a Cincy and especially a Toledo team. We easily could be 0-5 at this point, just glad we won’t be holding onto false hope going into Nov and get our doors blown off (again) in a playoff scenario! Can’t wait to be embarrassed again at the beginning of next year’s season too, when we open in Columbus! It will be another beat down on the big stage. That one I’ll blame on Jack for such a stupid game to open the season, but as we all know, cash is king at ND. Just like the sellouts who gave their tickets to the Cincy faithful. As the previous post mentioned, I was a witness in person to the Nebraska sea of red too. Pathetic! The egg heads at ND are just as clueless as the ones currently running our country today. Arrogant elites who always over-promise to the faithful that we’ll get to the promise land again. I’ve waited since 1993 for any type of team that kinda resembles the holtz era…still waiting. Instead of preaching to me during timeouts at home games on how diverse ND is as an institution, how bout focusing on putting a winning team on the field!!

  14. Fred A Karam Jr says:

    I realize that Kelly has done a good job of bringing the program back, Since when was Tommy Reese an offensive guru, he was nothing more than an average quarterback when he played. The fact that Coan can’t move has been a disaster. Maybe our offensive line has been mediocre all along, Ian Book made them look good because of his mobility. We have excellent receivers and a bad receivers coach who can’t produce afinished product. No question that Pyne is the answer, but what has happened to Brenden Clark, who by the way has a rocket arm and can run the ball, he has been man most forgotten, typical of Kelly quarterback analysis, not good.

    • Fred, Very good analysis. Reese is a joke! His play calling is pathetic, and has been so since his arrival. Also the OL coach should also go. He obviously doesn’t teach his players anything.

    • As a quarterback throwing passes, Reese’s favorite target was the ground behind the receiver.

      Kelly’s continuing search for mediocre assistants will doom ND to no more championships.

  15. Vannie, I posted a couple of weeks ago that Jeff Quinn needs to go. Happy to see you are on board. I get the sense Kelly places loyalty above ability.

  16. It’s very simple. The three ND turnovers were the difference in the game. The Coan interception on the ND first drive of the game on the Cincinnati 5-yard line as the Irish were poised to score was shocking and took at least 3 and probably 7 points off the board for the Irish, not to mention totally changing the complexion of the game. That by far was the biggest mistake of the game for ND, and was totally unacceptable for a 5th-year senior. Either eat the ball or throw it away, instead of forcing a pass as he was being tackled. Then, the Buchner interception gifted 7 points to Cincinnati and the Tyree fumble on the ensuing kickoff (an unforced error) cost the Irish 3 points. That’s either a 13 or 17 point swing. Add to that drive-killing offsides and holding penalties by Lugg, which were also totally unacceptable for a 5th year senior. A drop of a wide-open Austin on a pass from Pyne was another drive killer. Unfortunately, these drops by Austin have become all too frequent. Last but hardly least, Rees’ (or Kelly’s) inserting of Buchner for Pyne on a first down play, as Pyne was leading a well-orchestrated drive down the field, was the worst substitution decision I have ever seen in my life. It was absolutely bizarre. Bottom line is that there’s no way the Irish were going to beat a very good team like Cincinnati with those turnovers, penalties and miscues.

    Of course, the offensive line continues to struggle, and their problems directly contributed to both interceptions. Some of this had to be expected with the loss of four multi-year starters from last year’s great offensive line, all of whom are now in the NFL, and injuries have also contributed. That said, it is fair to conclude that some of the responsibility for their poor performance resides with Quinn, but the players bear the principal responsibility for the offensive line’s struggles, IMHO. Coaches can only do so much, and can only play the players they have. Ultimately, the players have to perform and they have not done that.

    Finally, great job by Pyne in making it a game at the end. It is abundantly clear that he should be the starter going forward, as he has a more complete game than either Coan or Buchner. His arm strength is fine, and better than Book’s, to whom he is being compared. If he becomes the starter, despite the continuing struggles of the offensive live, the Irish should be able to win the rest of the regular season games, as the remaining competition is good, but not great.

      • You twisted what I said in the last sentence of my post. I suggest you read it again. I never said that ND would win the rest of their games. And right back at you. Name one team on the rest of the schedule that is better than Cincinnati or that ND is not capable of beating.

  17. ND’s luck finally ran out. They couldn’t keep winning the way they were the last several weeks. The offensive line play and offensive consistency and production was just too poor and it finally blew up in their face yesterday.

    Jack Coan just doesn’t look very comfortable and he’s making mistakes a 5th year senior shouldn’t make. Cincy’s D made Tyler Buchner look every bit the freshman who’s not ready for prime time. There seems to be more chemistry between Pyne and the rest of the offense versus the other QBs.

    The defense played better than the offense but gave up way too many big chunk plays that kept drives alive or led to scores. Would Nick Saban tolerate offensive line play this bad five weeks into the season? I don’t even recall the O-line being this bad during the Willingham and Weis eras.

    ND’s red zone offense has been plagued by sacks and negative plays all year. On the bright side ND increased their rushing total from 3 yds last week to 84 yds this week.

  18. What a poor showing by the Irish. I thought Cincy punished the Irish. They hit harder, and with much more ‘bad intention’. They reminded me of our Barry Alvarez defenses- tough, unrelenting, and a bit ‘in your face’ about it too. We have some tough guys- Karen, Mayer, White, and Hamilton, but it’s a short list IMO. I’d start there, then- intensity and toughness. Until ND figures that out, as John put it, this will not be the last loss this season.

  19. Losing big games is nothing new. Coach Kelly has done that many times! The relationship between him & the players does not produce great teams despite having some great players. His halftime “pep-talk” was certainly an eye opener. Is that how you pump-up a college football team–get better or your fired? What was his game plan to beat Cincinnati? Wish someone would ask that question. The man should have been replaced years ago.

  20. That Notre Dame player mingling with Cincinnati players and grinning after the game for all of television audience to see. Not a great look. Lou Holtz, starting his Irish tenure, had something strong to say about things like.

  21. It’s been obvious that with the deficiencies on the O-Line, coupled with Coan’s immobility and lack of pin-point accuracy that this type of losing performance was coming. Really bad job by Kelly stubbornly sticking with a 5th year transfer until he lost a game. Saying all that, they weren’t going undefeated this season with this many holes on the O-Line and the lack of any consistent pass rush.

    Let’s not waste this season though- play Pyne and use Buchner as a change of pace and short yardage option. The two freshman receivers, Colzie and Styles should get more playing time. Austin was a real disappointment when facing a top corner and had another big drop on a wide open deep ball.

    If this Irish aren’t careful, this could be a winless October as crazy as that would seem. Before the Cincy game, I heard many analysts say, there’s no one ND won’t be favored against. Conversely, there is no one they are clearly better then either beginning in Blacksburgh this week.

    Let’s hope the train doesn’t completely fall off the tracks this month.

  22. Cincy was not awed at all by ND – the stadium, etc. There seemed to be a bit of trash-talking coming from them and it seemed to be getting under the skin of some of the Irish players.

    Cincinatti was clearly superior – this was no upset at all.

  23. Stephen Hunter says:

    Drew Pyne pulled our butts from the fire against Wisconsin, and Kelly still doesn’t start him against Cincinnati.
    I couldn’t believe he could be so bone-headed. That’s exactly why he hasn’t won a championship.

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