Notebook: Notre Dame can't stop Pitt's 'Fast Forward'

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

PITTSBURGH — Jordan Whitehead moves so fast on the football field that his teammates call him “Fast Forward.”

The Pittsburgh safety unleashed that speed on both sides of the ball for the first time against Notre Dame. That Whitehead led the Panthers with 11 tackles on defense in a 42-30 loss to the Irish shouldn’t be a surprise. Whitehead scoring two touchdowns on offense was the new look.

On the first carry of his college career, Whitehead caught a sweep from Pittsburgh quarterback Nate Peterman and sliced through the defense on the left side for a 10-yard touchdown. Later Whitehead took a sweep around the right side for a three-yard touchdown run. Notre Dame couldn’t slow Whitehead down on either play.

The freshman speedster made it look so easy that it’s only natural to wonder why Pittsburgh hadn’t featured Whitehead on offense before Saturday.

"Maybe I'm really dumb. Maybe we should have started earlier,” said Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi. “You don't know that it's going to look like that all the time. He had four carries and two TDs. A couple times he just doesn't get touched. He's an explosive player.

“If he can be electric for us on offense, we just gotta to keep using him. I imagine there will be more of that."

Using Whitehead at running back was a wrinkle Pittsburgh coaches had toyed with during practice throughout the season but had never made part of the game plan. Earlier in the week, Whitehead learned that he was likely to get the ball against Notre Dame.

“Coach was just telling me that he's going to run it,” Whitehead said. “He was serious about it and I knew he was. When I got my chance, I was just trying to make something happen."

Whitehead played plenty of running back during his career at Monaca (Pa.) Central Valley High School. As a senior he rushed for 1,933 yards. He scored 35 touchdowns last year on offense, defense and special teams with an average length of 43.7 yards.

Pittsburgh defensive end Ejuan Price, who totaled eight tackles, two sacks and returned a fumble for a touchdown against the Irish, is just glad he doesn’t have to be one of the defenders trying to stop Whitehead. Price laughed when he saw Whitehead score his first touchdown.

“He's crazy,” Price said. “I don't want no part of that."

Best of the best

Pittsburgh’s third loss of the season came to another quality opponent in Notre Dame (8-1). The two previous teams to beat the Panthers – Iowa and North Carolina – combined for just one loss between the two heading into the weekend.

Narduzzi suggested that Notre Dame may be the cream of that crop.

“In the three losses we've got this year, we've played three pretty good football teams and Notre Dame may be the best,” Narduzzi said.

Price wasn’t willing to commit as to whether the Irish sat on top of that list or not.

“I don't know about that. They're definitely a solid team,” Price said. “They definitely have some playmakers. I'm not saying they're not, but that's a question I have to really think about.”

Checking Boyd

Notre Dame kept Pittsburgh’s Tyler Boyd in check for most of the game. It wasn’t until the prolific wide receiver caught a 51-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter that his stat line looked respectable.

He ended the game with three catches for 84 yards and three carries for 42 yards. Boyd said he left some big plays on the field.

“They were pretty much doing the same as any other team,” Boyd said of Notre Dame’s coverage scheme. “There were plays where I was open. There were plays where they were doubling me. We just have to execute no matter who's on the field."

Boyd still managed to accumulate enough yardage on Saturday to become Pittsburgh’s career leader in receiving yards. Boyd’s 3,097 yards surpassed Antonio Bryant’s record of 3,061 yards. Earlier in the season, Boyd took possession of Pittsburgh’s record for receptions in a career. Boyd has now hauled in 229 passes in his three seasons with the Panthers.

Squibs

Price’s fumble return was Pittsburgh’s first defensive touchdown since an interception return on Sept. 21, 2013 against Duke …  DeShone Kizer’s five touchdown passes against Pittsburgh marked the first time the Panthers had allowed a quarterback to throw that many touchdown passes in a game since Mike Teel of Rutgers threw six on Oct. 25, 2008 … Pittsburgh retired offensive tackle Jimbo Covert’s No. 75 jersey at halftime … A number of legendary former Panthers returned for the game including quarterback Dan Marino, running back Tony Dorsett and tight end Mike Ditka.

tjames@ndinsider.com

574-235-6214

Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Notre Dame's Nicky Baratti (29) reaches for Pitt's Jordan Whitehead (9) during the first half at Heinz Field Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015, in Pittsburgh. SBT Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ