PITTSBURGH (AP) – Ian Book passed for 312 yards and three touchdowns – two of them long catch-and-runs to graduate transfer Ben Skowronek – and No. 3 Notre Dame overwhelmed reeling Pittsburgh 45-3 on Saturday.
A week after scuffling its way past Louisville, Notre Dame (5-0, 4-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) had no such issues while handling the Panthers (3-4, 2-4) their fourth consecutive loss. Book hit Skowronek for a 34-yard score on Fighting Irish’s first possession and Pitt – playing without injured senior quarterback Kenny Pickett for a second straight week – simply could not keep up.
Notre Dame’s massive offensive line held its own against one of the nation’s best pass-rushing teams and when Book had time, he had no trouble finding teammates open downfield. Book averaged 19.5 yards per completion and often had to do little more than flip the ball up and let his playmakers do the rest. He connected with Skowronek for a 73-yard score in the second quarter, with the 6-foot-3 Skowronek doing most of the work as he out-jumped 5-9 Pitt defensive back Marquis Williams for the ball then sprinted to the end zone to make it 14-3.
Notre Dame effectively ended any hope Pitt – which has developed a reputation in recent years of being the occasional giant killer – might have had late in the second quarter. Linebacker Bo Bauer’s first career pick set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Kyren Williams that pushed it to 21-3 with 1:29 left in the first half. Three Pitt plays went nowhere and Irish sophomore defensive lineman Isaiah Foskey raced in untouched to block Kirk Christodoulou’s punt. Foskey chased the ball into the end zone to pick it up to put things out of reach at 28-3.
Pitt freshman quarterback Joey Yellen struggled in his second start in place of Pickett. Yellen, who played well in a loss to Miami last week, completed just 10 of 21 passes for 107 yards and three interceptions before being pulled in the third quarter in favor of Davis Beville. Beville last just one series before Nick Patti came on in the fourth.
Notre Dame: The Irish could ill afford a misstep with a showdown against No. 1 Clemson looming on Nov. 7. They nearly had one against Louisville but responded emphatically on the road against a team that came in with the nation’s eighth-ranked defense. Book was sacked just twice, used his legs when necessary and avoided mistakes. If he can do it again on the road at Georgia Tech next week, a potential Game of the Year looms in South Bend on the first Saturday in November.
Pitt: The Panthers entered October unbeaten. They will exit it with their first four-game losing streak since 2007. The running game and the offensive line continue to be an issue, practically forcing the quarterback – whoever it is – to carry the load. Yellen might be up to it down the road, but he’s not there yet. And the idea to wear their alternate gray jerseys, unveiled last month, was odd considering the opponent and the widely popular decision a few years ago to return to the yellow-and-blue concept that was the program’s hallmark during the glory days of the 1970s and 80s.
The Irish aren’t going anywhere after handling Pitt with ease.
Notre Dame: travels to Georgia Tech next Saturday. The Irish won their last meeting with the Yellow Jackets 30-22 back in 2015.
Pitt: The Panthers are off next week then visit Florida State on Nov. 7.