Down 21-6 after a two yard touchdown run late in the third quarter, things didn’t look too bright for Pitt. Then, an eight play drive was capped off by a 26 yard touchdown throw and suddenly it was a one score game. That touchdown was the catalyst to a come from behind victory, one that was finalized with an 18 yard field goal as time expired. The win kept Pitt alive in the race for the conference title. Of course that wasn’t yesterdays Pitt-Notre Dame game. It was Pitt vs UConn on October 10th, 2009. Why is this relevant? It was the last time Pitt won a game they were trailing at half time.
Savor that for a second. It feels good, doesn’t it? It’s like a cold beer after a great day.
I’m not sure which is crazier: this was the first come from behind win in over four years or that Ray Vinopal was the hero. Don’t get me wrong, Vinopal got burned twice, but he’s a safety in man coverage, that’s not ideal for his skill set. I don’t blame him entirely for the TJ Jones touchdown because Vinopal should never be 1 on 1 with a WR as talented as Jones. Still, he made three game changing plays and was responsible for a 21 point turnaround in the game. He prevented two touchdowns and created another one. The offense was okay, but without Vinopal they’re never in a position to take the lead. My hats off to Ray because the fans have given him a lot of their angst the past two seasons and it’s great to see him come up huge.
The other real difference in the game was the return of the deep ball. Only one connected (63 yard touchdown to Street) but the threat of it forced Notre Dame to play defense differently, which opened up the middle of the field a lot more. On the drive that tied it up 14-14 in the 3rd quarter, it was all running and a pass interference call on a deep pass that led to the score. On that drive, RBs had 8 carries for 32 yards, two of which were for first downs. With the threat of the deep ball, the running game moved better and Savage got a lot better as the game went on at small ball.
Offensive play-calling was much better as the game went on as well. My big complaint is that the running game tends to vanish for long stretches of time but it came back in the second half and you can see the results. I said in my Know Your Enemy column “If the offense wants to score (without short fields caused by turnovers or special teams) they’ll have to be methodical, something they have not done all season.” Touchdown drives of 13 and 10 are just that. Add in a short field off of a turnover and an incredible play by Devin Street and you get a very respectable day on the scoreboard.
Overall, enjoy the win. I certainly didn’t see it coming, but I’m ecstatic to be wrong. The atmosphere was incredible; the crowd in the fourth quarter on key defensive plays was incredible. I know crowd noise caused a timeout and a false start and it certainly affected Notre Dame’s offense in other, more subtle ways. With close to 50 recruits there for the game, including key targets like Alex Bookser, Montae Nicholson, Rasaan Stewart, Sterling Jenkins (2015), Jordan Whitehead (2015), and Tyrone Wheatley (2015) it’s safe to say this win may go beyond the football field.
Oh, and one more thing…