At First Glance…

Golson saved the Irish with his feet, arms

O'Malley's game notebook presents a handful of game balls, reviews the game's decisive moments, and offers numbers of note in Saturday's 29-26 triple overtime victory over Pittsburgh

Offensive MVP: Everett Golson

227 passing yards with two scores; 74 more on the ground (88 gross), and both the game-winner in overtime and two-point conversion prior to send the contest to extra sessions came courtesy Golson's ability to beat foes with his feet.

The redshirt-freshman was replaced for the fourth time this season but this was his fifth Irisheyes.com Offensive MVP award (including the second in a game he was benched). Notre Dame would have lost without Everett Golson Saturday -- its not the first or last time that phrase will apply in 2012.

Trailing 20-6 with less than 50 seconds remaining in the third quarter, head coach Brian Kelly turned the game over to Golson and the dual-threat triggerman responded, producing 115 passing yards and 61 rushing yards -- 176 of Notre Dame's 212 total that helped the hosts tie the contest at 20 at the end of regulation.

Golson threw a costly interception late in the fourth quarter, was given a reprieve by his defense, and made good on that second chance, rallying the Irish for their third come-from-behind win in their last three home contests.

Golson threw 42 passes and one was intercepted -- that's logical, not a problem under center. Its time for his head coach to trust him -- in both good times and bad -- as the Irish look to move to 10-0 and beyond this month.

Offensive Game Balls: Golson's classmate and fellow 2011 Scout Teamer DaVaris Daniels produced his best statistical effort, catching seven passes for 86 yards including the game's most important downfield strike, a 50-yard leaping grab of an under thrown Golson bomb that set up the game-tying touchdown/conversion.

Said Daniels of his fellow redshirt-freshman Golson, "He's a battler. He's our captain, or we see him as a captain. He leads the team. He doesn't get down on himself or on the team. He comes back in and makes plays, that's what's expected of him and that's what's excepted of all of us."

Also instrumental in another hard-fought home victory was senior running back Theo Riddick. The team's leading rusher and third-preferred pass target this season, Riddick churned out 120 combined yards from scrimmage including 85 on the ground. It was Riddick on the receiving end of a 5-yard touchdown pass from Golson that brought the Irish to within 20-18 with just over two minutes remaining (Golson finished the drill with a diving conversion for the tie).

Senior Robby Toma caught six passes for 50 yards, and though 14 was his longest, three were good for first down yards. Junior T.J. Jones dropped a crucial pass near the end of the half, one that could have made for an easy field goal for sophomore Kyle Brindza, but Jones responded later, collecting a throw-back tunnel screen pass at the Pittsburgh 13-yard line and scrambling through a well-blocked alley for an 11-yard touchdown, cutting the Panthers lead to 20-12.

Senior Tyler Eifert secured six more balls for 62 yards. He accounted for four first down receptions -- two in third down situations -- and helped the Irish convert on another, drawing a fourth-down pass interference penalty to again move the sticks.

Defensive MVP: Prince Shembo and Stephon Tuitt

Choosing the top performer from the Irish defensive front is always a challenge, but Shembo was a force of nature in the second half, recording a sack, QB hurry, pass defended (in the end zone), and tackle for two-yard loss while also forcing Panthers quarterback Tino Sunseri up in the pocket and into a sack by teammates Manti Te'o and Stephon Tuitt. Shembo finished with 8 tackles including two for lost yardage, a sack, two official QB hurries and a pass defended. Two of his 8 stops occurred in the extra sessions.

Tuitt finished with a QB hurry, six tackles, and 1.5 sacks -- the latter giving him 10 on the season, good for fourth in the nation pending Saturday's action. Tuitt was actually in on three sacks, sharing all of them and all in the fourth quarter and overtime.

Defensive Game Balls: Senior linebacker Dan Fox started slowly but finished with a team-best nine tackles with three tackles in overtime. 5th-year senior defensive lineman Kapron Lewis-Moore played both inside and out during the contest, posting three tackles, 1.5 sacks, and a QB hurry. Junior Bennett Jackson was the team's best defender in the first half; he finished with six tackles including one for lost yardage and a pass breakup. Jackson stopped two bubble screen passes for minimal gains and also made a backfield stop during a third quarter goal line stand that limited the Panthers to a field goal after being staked to 1st and Goal at the 4-yard line.

Senior linebacker Manti Te'o was relatively quiet and successfully blocked more often than in any game since perhaps the Week Two win over Purdue, but still finished with 7 stops including one for loss plus a half-sack and fourth quarter pass breakup.

Senior Zeke Motta made just three tackles, but one saved a touchdown, fighting through a block 45 yards downfield to tackle Ray Graham at the Irish 13-yard line. Motta and the defense held PIttsburgh to nine yards on the next five snaps, a field goal the end result and four precious points saved by the senior leader's downfield hustle and desire.

Special Teams MVP: Kyle Brindza

The Irish special teams were nonexistent Saturday, giving up a 31-yard punt return and consistent yardage beyond the 25-yard line on kick returns with a 34-yard return intermixed.

Sophomore Kyle Brindza connected on three of four field goals including one from 37 yards out to push the game into a second overtime. Brindza however missed an end-half field goal from 42 and an extra point in the fourth quarter, one that forced the Irish to convert a two-point conversion at the 2:11 mark to force a tie. It's both a tribute to Brindza's resilience -- a third game this season in which he missed a chip shot but bounced back to hit crucial kicks late -- and a commentary on the team's sub par special teams that Brindza is again its top performer despite two huge misses.

Ben Turk was again solid, hitting five punts for 41 yards, dropping one inside the 20, but Panthers punter Matt Yoklic stole his thunder, dropping three inside the 20 with a long of 56 and 40.7 average.

The Numbers Game

- Notre Dame improved to 11-10 when throwing more than 30 passes in the 35-game Kelly era. The win was just the second by Kelly's Irish when attempting more than 42 passes (2-6 overall).

- Notre Dame's 23 points allowed was the second-most in victory of the Kelly era. Only Air Force's 33, a 59-33 win last fall, tops the losing total posted by Pittsburgh in Saturday's Irish victory…

- Notre Dame is 9-0 for the first time since 1993 and just the sixth time since since Ara Parseghian became the program's head coach in 1964...

- Notre Dame is 40-2 since the beginning of the 2005 season when it out-rushes its opponent.

- Notre Dame allowed a rushing touchdown to a running back for the first time since October 8, 2011 (Air Force). It was the first rushing score by an opposing running back in which Notre Dame did not lead by 21 points or more since October 23, 2010, a 35-17 loss to Navy...

- The Irish defense has allowed the following touchdown totals since Game 10 of 2011: 1, 4, 1, 1, 2, 0, 0, 0, 0, 2, 1, and 2…

- Prior to last week's win at Oklahoma, Notre Dame had held each of its last six opponents below 300 total yards. Oklahoma gained 373, joining Navy (341) and now Pittsburgh (308) as the only foes to top the 300-yard mark vs. the Irish this season…

- Over its last 22 games, the Irish defense had yielded a total of 23 third quarter points. Pittsburgh scored 10 in the third period en route to a 20-6 advantage…

- Notre Dame overcame a 14-point deficit to win Saturday night; the largest since Charlie Weis' Irish came back from a 37-21 deficit in East Lansing to beat Michigan State, 40-17…

- After seven games without a first period blemish, Notre Dame's defense allowed a field goal in the first quarter for the second straight week. No opponent has registered a first quarter touchdown vs. the Irish in nine games this fall…

- The Irish defense has yielded two touchdowns or fewer in 21 of its last 26 contests...

- Pittsburgh managed just 19 passing yards vs. the Irish in the fourth quarter and through three overtimes...

- Notre Dame's defense has allowed a total of 95 points this season, second nationally behind defending national champion Alabama (58 pending Saturday's contest at LSU). Both the Irish (fumble) and Crimson Tide (kick return) have allowed a non-offensive score this season.

- Pittsburgh running back Ray Graham's 55-yard run on the Panthers' opening play was the longest play against the Irish in 2012. Graham added a 48-yard run in the third quarter; his fourth career run vs. the Irish in excess of 40 yards dating back to November 2009…

- The Irish have won eight of their last nine games decided by a touchdown or less; that after Kelly and Co. began 2-5 in such situations…

- Notre Dame's first two offensive drives included 32 plays and 149 yards, but just two field goals en route to a 6-3 lead…

- Everett Golson was in charge of 19 straight snaps as the third quarter bisected the fourth -- he ran or scrambled five times in that span, throwing 14 others…

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