PITTSBURGH — An already-depleted Irish defensive line took another hit Saturday, when Stephon Tuitt was ejected for targeting in the second quarter of Notre Dame's 28-21 loss to Pitt at Heinz Field.
Pitt quarterback Tom Savage scrambled to his right and appeared to lower his shoulder as Tuitt closed in. Tuitt lowered his shoulder into Savage and tackled him, appearing to mainly hit him in the shoulder/back. Replays showed there was some helmet-to-helmet contact, though there didn't appear to be any intent to hit the helmet.
Still, Tuitt was booted even after an official review.
Coach Brian Kelly said the explanation he got was that officials were going by the letter of the law — that, because there was helmet-to-helmet contact, Tuitt had to be disqualified. Intent was not a factor in the ejection, Kelly said.
Linebacker Dan Fox was chasing the play and saw it unfold right in front of him. And after the game, he wasn't sure if there was anything Tuitt should've done differently on the play.
"I don't even know what he's supposed to do, honestly," Fox said. "I know he's supposed to get a good wrap-up, you're not supposed to target someone. The guy has the ball, he's running, he's falling forward — what are you supposed to do? I understand helpless players, but that — I don't know."
Tuitt's ejection does not carry any additional penalty beyond Saturday's game, meaning he'll be available for Notre Dame's Nov. 23 game against BYU. He became the second Notre Dame player ejected for targeting this year, the other being Ben Councell (Sept. 28 vs. Oklahoma).
Notre Dame's defensive line has taken a hit due to injuries recently, with Kona Schwenke and Ishaq Williams out for Saturday's game and Sheldon Day and Louis Nix playing with injuries. Losing Tuitt meant some drastic adjustments had to be made — like having 250-pound linebacker Carlo Calabrese take some snaps at nose guard.
[HIGHLIGHTS: Pitt 28, Notre Dame 21]
"Losing Tuitt to the defense is a big difference, it's a big hole to fill," cornerback Bennett Jackson said. "We just tried to come together as a defense and continue to pull it out. But obviously (we) had to change a little bit with him gone."
Still, in a 28-21 loss marked by three costly turnovers, Kelly didn't see Tuitt's ejection as an excuse for his team.
"Look, Stephon Tuitt not playing in the game — that's not why we lost this game," Kelly said. "That is not why we lost this game. It had nothing to do with this loss tonight."