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 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.
- 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.