Three teams representing three of the toughest challenges on Notre Dame’s schedule opened their seasons last night — none looked like world-beaters. No. 14 USC pulled away from Hawaii for a 49-36 win and Utah upset No. 15 Pitt in an overtime thriller.
Despite being the only unranked team in the group, Utah looked the most impressive on Thursday night. The Utes went largely without the usual first game mistakes on their way to a very balanced offensive attack. Sophomore quarterback Jordan Wynn finished with three TDs and a 146.3 passer rating.
He also had help from running backs Eddie Wide and Matt Asiada. Asiada has the combination of quickness and power that has given the Notre Dame defense major problems in recent years. Finally, the Utes defense did a good job of taking advantage of a young offensive line and a rookie QB (sound familiar?).
Sophomore Tino Sunseri made his first start under center for the Panthers, and you didn’t need the crack team of Versus commentators to know it. Sunseri’s most glaring mistake was an interception on the first play of overtime that was a forced throw behind his receiver.
However, the problems started long before that. Twice Pitt drove the ball inside the red zone and settled for a field goal. He also largely ignored Pitt’s major big-play threat Jon Baldwin until the fourth quarter. Baldwin, who was nearly a Notre Dame recruit three years ago, was held to two catches for eight yards in the first three quarters.
The lack of a passing game allowed Utah’s defense to key in on Heisman hopeful Dion Lewis in the backfield. Lewis ran for over 1,800 yards as a freshman, but had only 75 on 25 carries against the Utes. His only touchdown came thanks to a muffed punt by (to the glee of many a pun-happy sports writer) Shaky Smithson.
Granted, Sunseri will have plenty of time to get his feet under him before visiting South Bend in Week 6. But if he can’t protect the ball and get Baldwin more involved, the Pitt attack will be very one-dimensional.
Lane Kiffin made his West Coast debut late last night against Hawaii in Honolulu and the Trojans looked vincible. While Matt Barkley (257 yds, 5 TDs) was lights out, the USC secondary made the Rainbow Warrior’s pass attack look just as deadly.
[picappgallerysingle id="8674887"]Countless missed tackles and shaky coverage turned an undersized group of Hawaii receivers into All-Americans. Once can only imagine the type of havoc actual All-Americans Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph would have wreaked. If Lonnie Kiffin can’t clean up his defense before the end of the season, we might see a shootout that would impress South Central L.A. on Nov. 27 – and that’s no small feat.
The rest of Notre Dame’s opponents will open their seasons by Monday afternoon. The most intriguing match-up with be the UConn Huskies taking on Michigan in the Big House. It wouldn’t be a major shock for the Wolverines to come to South Bend next week with their sails deflated and an 0-1 record. Check the rest of the games below.
Michigan – vs. Connecticut
Michigan State – vs. Western Michigan
Stanford – vs. Sacramento State
Boston College – vs. Weber State
Western Michigan – at Michigan State
Navy – vs. Maryland (Monday, 4 p.m.)
Tulsa- at East Carolina (Sunday)
Army – at Eastern Michigan