Too Close for Comfort

Notre Dame's record remained perfect Saturday after a performance that was anything but.

SOUTH BEND -- Five penalties in the first quarter. Three turnovers including two in the end zone, one in overtime. A missed extra point. Another missed mid-range field goal. Myriad missed opportunities. Long runs and pass plays allowed by a stout defense for the first time this season.

Notre Dame's long ledger of error was trumped only by its will to continue. Continue undefeated in a season with the ultimate prize still alive. Continue to overcome home field half-time deficits and long odds late and in overtime.

Notre Dame won Saturday over Pittsburgh 29-26 after three overtimes. The Irish out-gained the inspired Panthers 522 to 308. They enjoyed the benefit of 42 more snaps (42?) and nearly 11 minutes of possession.

They won to advance to a three-game season in which, it appears, nothing will be handed to them.

"I told them that they have to understand that everybody they play against will play their absolute best," said head coach Brian Kelly. "Next week, BC will play out of their minds against us, and Wake Forest will (thereafter)…I think that's a lesson learned by our football team."

It was almost learned the hard way, and in a manner all-too-familiar for fans of a program that has suffered at least one home defeat for 13 straight seasons entering 2012 and in 21 of 22 since the end of the 80s.

But as they have all season, Kelly's Irish found a way to make at least one more important play than their fired up foe.

"We played a team that played extremely well today and we found a way to win. That's a good thing," said Kelly.

Going with Golson

For the fourth time in as many home starts, redshirt-freshman quarterback Everett Golson was replaced. And Saturday's contest marked the third time due to his coach's decision.

"He missed a number of things that we thought he needed to have down by the time," said Kelly of his road warrior quarterback. "Brought Tommy (Rees) in, had an untimely turnover, and went back to Everett.

"I thought he competed his butt off. He's not perfect, but the boy competes. And man, he just kept competing in the second half and found a way for us to get enough point on the board."

Golson responded to his most recent benching with an effort deemed worthy of the game ball from his head coach: 227 yards through the air; another 74 on the ground and a touchdown scored through both.

"To be honest I was a little upset," said Golson of the now regular home game ceding of his spot to backup Tommy Rees. "The competitor in me wants to be out there."

When called upon following Rees' poorly thrown (and read) interception, he was ready to unleash a Stadium-sized chip from his shoulder. "I wasn't surprised, I was grateful for the opportunity to prove myself to my teammates," Golson said. "That's why I like playing in away games; playing with a chip on my shoulder."

Golson's second half included 205 yards of total offense and the two aforementioned scores, not to mention a remarkable two-point conversion run and dive to pay dirt with just over two minutes remaining.

"I wasn't going to pull him after that play," Kelly joked of his quarterback's game-saving conversion that tied the contest at 20 late. Golson's score and subsequent two-pointer followed what could have been the season's most ill-time interception.

"It was a horrible throw. A horrible read," said Golson of a second down end zone interception by K'Waun Williams with the Irish trailing 20-12 at the 3:59 mark of the second half. "I saw him. It was just a bad pass. Even with that read if I get the ball up to 6'7" Troy (Niklas) its a touchdown to the back of the end zone."

Instead it was up to the defense to get the ball back for a final chance at nine wins in as many chances. As they have all year and most of Saturday, the unit responded. Three snaps, minus five yards, and another stuffed third down attempt against a Panthers offense that converted just once in 14 tries on third down Saturday.

"I think the strength of their defense is they have a lot of players," said Panthers head coach Paul Chryst. "If you wan tho try to throw the ball, they can end up in your backfield pretty quick."

The Irish defense held the Panthers to 21 yards on their final 23 snaps spanning the fourth quarter and three overtimes.

"It's hard as hell with a running back like Ray Graham," said Irish linebacker Manti Te'o of the former's 172-yard rushing effort. "At first we were trying to do too much. We weren't playing our type of defense and we weren't living up to the expectations that we have for ourselves. Give credit to Ray Graham, he's a great back. But in the end we all focused on everybody doing their job. You never know where Ray is going to go, but don't let him go (through) where you are."

Graham finished with 197 yards from scrimmage; the rest of the Panthers just 111.

"We tackled sub par for us in terms of our defense," Kelly lamented after complimenting Graham. "I know Coach (Bob) Diaco would not be happy right now. But they found a way to shut them down in the second half and that is the key."

Its been the key all season, en route to 9-0.


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