PITTSBURGH – In 2020, it’s rare that fans in sports have had something to look forward to in the future.
But those who root for Notre Dame have that coming up in just about two weeks in South Bend, when No. 1 Clemson comes to town for a Saturday night match-up. It has the potential to be one of the biggest home games in a generation, perhaps since the famous “Bush Push” game between No. 1 USC and the ninth-ranked Irish in 2005.
Of course, there are two obstacles in the way of Brian Kelly’s team before a potential dream contest at Notre Dame Stadium: Their first two road games of 2020 against Pittsburgh and then Georgia Tech. Losses in either one of those games would dampen the significance of that contest against the Tigers for the third-ranked Irish.
So Kelly made it clear that it wasn’t going to be enough for Notre Dame just to come out with victories as the season progresses, but rather play at a championship level that prepares them for bigger goals down the line.
“Just playing to win games is not good enough anymore,” said Kelly. “We need to elevate our compete level. We need to coach better, we need to play better, we need to play at an elite level. It starts with playing at a level that allows you to not, all the sudden, play your best when you have to but have that ready to go because you are playing at a high level.”
Those words were received by Kelly’s players a week after a narrow 12-7 win over Louisville at home, because the Irish put the Panthers away in a hurry on Saturday at Heinz Field.
Notre Dame used all three phases of their game to jump out to a 28-3 lead at the half then only added to it in the final 30 minutes. Their 45-3 win over Pittsburgh is arguably their most complete of the season as it raises their record to 5-0 and remain ranked third in the national polls.
Ian Book had his finest game through the air on Saturday in 2020, throwing for a season-high 312 yards with three touchdowns on 16-of-30 passes. Two of those went to Ben Skowronek in the first half on passes of 34 and 73 yards that set the tone for the effort.
Kyren Williams completed a second quarter 46-yard drive with a short touchdown run and Isaiah Foskey’s punt block and score completed the dominant half.
Book would complete another touchdown pass to Michael Mayer in between a field goal and a touchdown run by C’Bo Flemister in the third quarter.
The Irish defense match the offense with another dominant performance, allowing just 162 total yards and forcing three turnovers, playing as well as their head coach would have wanted.
“Coach Kelly had a clear message before the game to come out, play loose, and make plays. That was our focus on offense and as a whole team” said Skowronek. “Not worry about the score but rather worry about your individual match-up and make plays.”
Another week of that in Atlanta, and a dream match-up in South Bend awaits this group at the beginning of November.