Pitt Themselves, Notre Dame Stays Undefeated
Notre Dame looked to continue its historic success against the Pittsburgh Panthers as they hold a commanding 46-20-1 all-time series lead. The Irish beat Pittsburgh last year by a field goal but that game didn’t have nearly as much importance for either team as this one did for the Gold-Domers. The Irish were undefeated coming into this game and have won 16 of its last 19 games, their best streak since 1992-93 when they won 17 in a row. The Panthers were just 4-3 on the season but as it turned out this was the most competitive game Notre Dame has been a part of all season.
The Irish have had a crushing defense and they haven’t allowed an of their opponents score a touchdown during the first quarter. That streak continued but Pittsburgh became just the 3rd team all season to score any points in the opening quarter, with a 39 yard field goal by Kevin Harper to tie the game. The Irish would answer back with a 20 yard field goal by Kyle Brindza after failing to get it into the end-zone from inside the 20 yard line. Pittsburgh would a touchdown with just less than 4 minutes left in the first half after Ray Graham ran it in from 16 yards out.
Ray Graham had a tremendous game for Pitt rushing the ball 24 times for 172 yards, a touchdown and a long run of 55 yards. Graham also had an additional 25 yards receiving on 6 catches. Graham is the first running back to rush for over 100 yards against the Irish this season. Pittsburgh is just the 4th team this season to rush for over 100 yards as a team and Notre Dame was coming off holding Oklahoma to just 15 rushing yards. Graham was very successful but when Pitt needed offense late in the game they struggled to sustain the momentum needed to win this game.
Pittsburgh would score 17 straight points and entering the 4th quarter the Irish were trailing the Panthers by 14 points and mutiny was being created on the ND sideline. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has been playing a balancing act at QB between freshman Everett Golson and Tommy Rees. Kelly would pull Golson in the middle of the game after making some terrible reads and questionable throws. Tommy Rees was given a chance to take the starting job but he was pulled after throwing a terrible interception. Golson would re-enter the game and lead Notre Dame to two 4th quarter touchdowns to tie the game.
Golson hit TJ Jones for an 11 yard TD early in the 4th but failed the 2 point conversion attempt. Golson would hit Theo Riddick for a 5 yard touchdown with 2:11 left in the game to pull within two points. With the game on the line Golson held on to the ball and ran in to tie the game and force Pitt into overtime. Two ugly field goals by both teams in the first overtime was followed up by a scoreless 2nd overtime. Pitt was held to a field goal during the 3rd overtime giving Golson a chance to win the game and he did when he rushed for a TD from 1 yard out.
Pittsburgh jumped out to a big lead with just a quarter to play but Notre Dame’s defense held them to 1-14 on 3rd down conversions and the team had just 164 passing yards. The Panthers had a good day running the ball and didn’t turn the ball over but when they needed offense they had nothing to rely on. Notre Dame had 522 total yards of offense compared to Pitt’s 308 and the Irish converted half of their 20 3rd down attempts and converted their only 4th down. Notre Dame lost a fumble and had an interception thrown by both Golson and Rees, yet they were still able to win this game.
Notre Dame may have been beneficiaries of a questionable pass interference call late in regulation and the sloppy play continued into overtime, but they were still able to walk away undefeated and right in the middle of National Championship contention. Pittsburgh falls to 4-4 and Notre Dame will likely face Alabama if both teams stay undefeated through the regular season. Notre Dame may be surprised by the level of competition they may face in such a prominent bowl-game but just getting there is an accomplishment of its own.