It was the Tyler Palko show in Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday as first-year starter torched the Irish secondary with precision passing. Palko became the first quarterback to throw for five touchdowns against the Irish, and finished 26-of-42 for 334 yards and his record five touchdowns.
Irish quarterback Brady Quinn also had a productive game, completing 15-of-26 passes for 259 yards and three touchdowns. Quinn also threw two interceptions, the last stopping a key drive in the game.
The Irish got on the board first as the Irish put together a 10-play drive on their second possession that ended on a Darius Walker 1-yard plunge on fourth down to give the Irish the early 7-0 lead.
Pittsburgh quarterback Tyler Palko responded and led the Panthers on a 15-play drive on their own. Palko found wide receiver Derek Kinder for 3 yards to tie the game 7-7.
Palko then led the Panthers on a 9-play drive that ended when he found reserve tight end Steve Buches for a 1-yard scoring strike to give the Panthers the 14-7 lead.
The Irish responded with their second scoring drive of the half when Darius Walker took a Quinn handoff for a 5-yard scamper to put the even the score 14-14. Quinn found senior Matt Shelton for 46-yards early in the drive to set up the Walker touchdown run.
The Panthers came storming back with another 8-play drive, this time covering 66 yards and ending on a Palk0 3-yard fade pass to wide receiver Greg Lee to put Pitt up 21-14.
The Irish answered the Panther score with a drive of their own. Freshman Darius Walker took the first carry of the drive and danced for 40 yards to the Pitt 40-yard line. Quinn later found Maurice Stovall on a 17-yard strike to tie the game, 21-21.
But the Irish defense had no answer for Palko and the Panther receivers in the first half. Palko completed three straight passes and found Buches again, this time alone in the end zone for a 20-yard strike to give the Panthers the 28-21 halftime lead.
The Irish defense woke up in the second half and forced Pitt to punt for their very first time in the opening drive of the second half.
Senior receiver Carlyle Holiday took the ensuing Pitt punt 68-yards to set the Irish up at the 19 yard line. Quinn found fullback Rashon Powers-Neal on the very next play for a 19-yard strike to tie the game, 28-28.
Pitt would add a field goal early in the fourth quarter with Cumming connecting on a 27-yard field goal to take the 31-28 lead.
Quinn and the Irish responded when Quinn found Matt Shelton streaking down the sidelines for a 38-yard strike to regain the lead, 35-31.
But Palko again led the Panthers on a critical drive—this time taking 13 plays 69 yards before finding tight end Erik Gill for a 9-yard touchdown.
The Panthers were fueled by two critical fourth down pass interference penalties that kept the drive alive and gave them the 38-35 lead.
The Irish responded with a drive of their own to tie the game as kicker D.J. Fitzpatrick connected on a 45-yard field goal that bounced off the left upright and in.
But it was Palko again leading the Panthers on their final drive. Palko marched the Panthers 55 yards in six plays, setting up the Cummings winning field goal.
The loss was Notre Dame's third home loss of the season and Notre Dame has now lost three homes games for two consecutive seasons.
Irish head coach Tyrone Willingham looked like a man down on his luck after Saturday's game.
"Our young men had the opportunities to make plays and we didn't make them," said Willingham. "There were many times where we were in good positions and we just didn't make the play."
The Irish defense didn't seem like the same defense Irish fans saw shut down Tennessee in Knoxville last week, and Willingham acknowledged that after the game.
"If you run this game back, in the first half we were not ourselves defensively," he said. "In the second half, we seemed to get some control of it and put some stops together but then they slipped in some big plays."
The Irish were victimized by 10 penalties on the day, many of them questionable calls by the official. Willingham wouldn't use the questionable calls as an excuse for the loss after Saturday's game.
"It was difficult for me to see but I hope that some of you who have the use of television monitors could probably respond to that far better than I can," the third-year Irish coach said. "But it's the way the game goes."
The Irish are now 6-4 on the season and will have a week off before they travel to face USC in two weeks.