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It's survive and advance time for Notre Dame, but improvement over the next three weeks will determine if the 2012 season is special, or merely notable in comparison to the recent past.

Earlier this week, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly referred to 4-4 Pittsburgh as "a team that's starting to find itself."

Remarkably, and at the expense of college football, so are his Irish.

In August, the offense featured left side of its line, Tyler Eifert and a kept-secret quarterback race. In September, flashes: flashes of a running game, of quarterback development and controversy, and an unexpected perfect start.

In October, the second part of a purported dual-threat finally appeared under center. Inconsistency through the air and as a result, under center, reigned, but patience prevailed. Patience between the tackles, with a line, stable of backs, and coaching staff committed to aiding its dominant defense with a prudent, powerful offense.

And today, as we head into the regular season's final month, Kelly's offense appears to have taken shape. The Irish are a running team, one with multiple weapons, promise on the perimeter, an all-star at tight end, and a quarterback that they no longer win in spite of.

Everett Golson emerged as a weapon last Saturday in Oklahoma. That continued reality gives Kelly & Co. a chance vs. the team from LA and any might come calling in January.

"I think what it allows us to do is to continue to be more balanced as an offense," said Kelly of Golson's emergence. "I think we talked with some of the weaknesses we had on throwing the football, particularly on third down. We were much better (against Oklahoma).  Again, I will tell you that some of the progress has been derailed by some injuries along the way.

"But the mental development has been really good. If we continue to go that way, it's going to give us an offense that's going to be difficult to defend because we'll have great balance.  hat's what we're trying to get with Everett in there. Not an offense that throws it 50 times, nor an offense that runs it 50 times. One that is really balanced and more difficult to defend."

Its been difficult to defend because of the latter for most of the season, as Kelly's Irish have churned out 15 drives in excess of 10 plays and/or 60 yards in the eight second halves of the 2012 season. (That doesn't include three clock-killing, game-clinching drives of eight snaps or more.)

Along the way, the forward pass has steadily improved its status on Kelly's play sheet, but that doesn't mean its role, or Golson's, will expand.

"I would say that we're not adding very much at all. We're just trying to get better at what we feel is his top play," said Kelly of Golson's future play-sheet. "There is a lot more dialogue on, 'Hey, Everett, what do you like here from a menu of plays?'  We're trying to keep it at a minimum in terms of adding plays."

Golson's top plays appear to include heavy dose of movement throws, deep posts, comebacks, and the occasionally challenging field-side out; each augments the team's north-south rushing plan.

Among his best efforts -- at Oklahoma, at Michigan State, and in Soldier Field vs. Chicago -- are interspersed struggles. Saturday will be his fourth home start and potentially the first he finishes. Golson remains a work-in-progress, nowhere near finished. Promising, but not yet proven consistent.

That's the goal for Saturday, a distant second that is, to prevailing in Game One of three in a survive and advance November triplet of undercards prior to the month's main event.

Notre Dame 24 Pittsburgh 10

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