In its bid to remain undefeated and in the National Championship hunt, Notre Dame football played a sloppy, mistake filled game against the Panthers of Pittsburgh, but came out on top in triple overtime 26-23. Notre Dame is now 9-0 for the first time in nearly twenty years, and remains a player in the BCS.
Despite the victory, all of Irish nation must be wondering how this team, and especially this defense, could have started so poorly just one week after the amazing win over Oklahoma. Here’s how that happens: Poor tackling. Poor play on the offensive line. Throw really bad passes, and really bad interceptions. Don’t run the ball. Give up big returns on special teams. Miss field goals and extra points.
Oh yeah, and Cierre Wood fumbling in the end zone on what would have been an overtime touchdown.
But with the “Luck of the Irish,” Pitt blew the ensuing field goal attempt, giving Notre Dame another chance, and ultimately the victory.
None of that would have been possible had it not been Everett Golson making plays on their last real drive in regulation, first with his feet, then with a touchdown pass to Theo Riddick and subsequent two-point conversion. It showed a gritty, never-say-die mentality that is required in all elite teams.
That being said, this needs to serve as a wake-up call for this Irish team. They absolutely cannot play this poorly against Boston College, Wake Forest, or USC and expect the same kind of result. The coaching staff needs to do a better job in getting these young men prepared mentally for the coming weeks. The coaching staff has to be better as well, making better play calls. In the 4th quarter, down 20-6, the Irish tried running the same back-corner end zone pass play three different times, each time well defended. I understand they were trying to get their play maker Tyler Eifert involved, but sometimes you must take what the defense gives you.
It was abundantly clear that Notre Dame neither respected Pitt nor considered them a viable threat. That kind of hubris is common in sports of any level. But almost as common is the story of the underdog, the little engine that could so to speak, overcoming the odds and coming out on top. Which is almost what happened this day at Notre Dame Stadium.
This is not to take anything away from Pitt’s performance. Through three and a half-quarters, they completely dominated the Irish in all three facets of the game. They put up the kind of numbers on the #2 scoring defense that no team before this game has been able to all season. The players and coaches both did extremely well in preparation, and more importantly in execution. Pitt quarterback Tino Sinseri was accurate if unspectacular, but he avoided making any real mistakes. Senior running back Ray Graham hit big run after big run, and the offensive line gobbled up the front seven of Notre Dame all game long. They were the better team for the majority of the game.
Even with the win, it is unlikely the Irish will remain in the #3 spot if Oregon beats USC, save either Kansas State or Alabama losing. The Irish are still well positioned to earn a berth to a BCS Bowl Game, likely the Tostitos Fiesta or maybe the Rose Bowl if Oregon winds up playing for the title.
But the offense, the real weakness for Notre Dame all season, has to man up and play better than this. They are a capable team, but the offense today showed why many were skeptical about how good this Irish team really is.
The team gets a shot a redemption next week, playing Boston College on the road next Saturday. They can ill afford to duplicate tonight’s performance on the road, even against a struggling Eagles team.
Follow me on Twitter @expertfan1