SOUTH BEND – Charlie Weis grabbed Brandon Walker as the sophomore kicker walked off the field just moments after missing a kick that opened the door for Pitt to earn a 36-33 win in the fourth overtime on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.
"I know Brandon felt bad at the end, but he's a guy who's keeping us in the game all through the game," Weis said. "That's exactly what I told him walking off the field when he felt bad."
Walker struggled mightily early in the season, missing six of his first seven field goal attempts, but he started to put it together in the fifth game of the season against North Carolina. Walker entered the Pitt game with three straight made field goals and converted a 39-yarder to put Notre Dame on the board in the first quarter.
As the overtime sessions turned into a field goal contest, Walker was money on his first three kicks from 22, 26 and 48 yards, but his 38-yarder on the first possession of the fourth overtime sailed wide left and Pittsburgh's Conor Lee converted his 22-yarder for the win.
Weis thought it was important that he talked to Walker before he got in the locker room.
"I said, ‘Look, we just played a game and played a bunch of overtimes. I could give you 50 plays right now that could have made a difference between winning and losing,'" Weis said of his conversation with Walker. "I said, ‘Feel bad, justifiably so, feel bad you missed a kick, but you do not take the onus, the responsibility of this loss on your shoulders.'"
Jimmy Clausen also stuck up for his kicker.
"He kept us in the game the whole entire time," Clausen said. "It's not his fault. He didn't lose the game for us. We all collectively lost the game. Brandon did a great job today."
Weis said that Walker will get an unfair amount of blame.
"With kickers, when it comes to that situation, you end up missing a kick, everyone blames you," Weis said. "If he wasn't making all those other kicks, the game would already be over."
WEIS MAKES INTERESTING CALL AT END OF FOURTH: Facing a 4th-and-1 at midfield with 40 seconds remaining in a tie game, Notre Dame called a timeout before setting up a play-action pass.
"We went back and forth there with the entire coaching staff. I called Corwin (Brown) over, we talked about it," Weis said. "We said, ‘Well, do we want to try to win the game here or play for overtime?' We went back and forth. We felt with them only having one timeout, they'd have to hit a big one to get into field goal range."
The problem was that the Irish took another timeout, their final one, before even lining up. Once Clausen did bring the team to the line, he faked it to James Aldridge and looked downfield for Kyle Rudolph, but the freshman tight end was covered.
"We were expecting them in that case to bring pressure, they didn't," Weis said. "We went across in motion right there, a couple guys stayed over to the side. We expected Rudolph to be one-on-one over there on the backside, but they ended up playing zone instead of blitzing. They win the chalkboard on that one."
Clausen said that his presnap read told him that they would be in zone coverage, but the Irish were out of timeouts and Weis has said before that that is not a situation where the sophomore is allowed to audible.
"That's what the coaches wanted to run and we ran it," Clausen said.
The call was especially gutsy because it gave Pitt the ball at midfield with a chance to get in range for a potential game-winning field goal, but David Bruton forced the game into overtime with an interception on second down.
"At the end of the day, it was a group conversation," Weis said. "We talked about it, we decided to go ahead and try to play for the win."
ND CAN'T SHUT SHADY DOWN: Notre Dame knew coming into the game that its number one goal on defense would be to shut down Pitt running back LeSean McCoy. The Irish did a good job against him in the first two quarters, but McCoy made a big impact in the second half.
"In the first half I think we did a pretty good job of bottling him up. But a guy like that, a front-line running back…when you keep dishing it to him, give it to him 32 times, sooner or later he's going to make something good happen. He certainly did that," Weis said. "You can contain him pretty well in the first half, but I think he really stepped it up in the second half."
Notre Dame limited McCoy to just three rushes for five yards in the first quarter and only 10 carries for 51 yards in the first half.
But after the Panthers faced the possibility of having McCoy taken out of the game as a threat if they did not get some points on the board early in the third quarter, Pitt scored and kept feeding him the rock.
McCoy entered the fourth quarter with 16 carries for just 68 yards, but had 16 carries for 101 in the fourth quarter and overtime, including a one-yard score early in the fourth to tie the game 17-17.
"I kind of started slow in the beginning. I was trying to just find things instead of just hitting it," said McCoy. "I just relaxed. I couldn't let all this hype and the Notre Dame thing get to me and I just kind of settled down."
McCoy was especially settled in when he took direct snaps as quarterback in Pitt's ‘Wildcat' formation.
"It's a different kind of look. I don't think anyone really expected us to come out in Wildcat because we haven't done it in so long," he said. "We were just trying to change the pace with me and the Wildcat and hit them with different things."
Dave Wannstedt needed to lean on McCoy even more than usual with starting quarterback Bill Stull out.
"Great players do a lot of things that you don't coach. That's LeSean," Wannstedt said. "He's the guy. We know that, there's no secret about it, particularly today when your quarterback's out."
PITT QB CAROUSEL: Just before kickoff Wannstedt announced that sophomore Pat Bostick would start for Stull, who suffered a concussion in last week's game against Rutgers.
Wannstedt announced after the game that Stull was cleared to play, but that Pitt did not want to play him after sitting out practice much of the week. Stull will start for Pitt next week.
Bostick played the first series but was replaced by Kevan Smith for the next few series. Bostick came back out with 13 minutes left in the first half.
Bostick finished 14 of 27 for 164 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions. Smith was just one of three for four yards and was sacked once.
FRESHMAN WIDEOUTS BATTLE IT OUT: Notre Dame recruited a couple good-sized, playmaking wide receivers in the high school class of 2008. One came to Notre Dame, the other went to Pitt.
Floyd had 10 catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns, but was limited to just three receptions for 19 yards after halftime.
Meanwhile, Baldwin had just a pair of catches in the game for 31 yards, but his second catch was a 10-yard fade that tied the game 24-24 with under three minutes to go in regulation.
THIRD QUARTER WOES: Last week against Washington, the Notre Dame offense struggled in the second quarter, but it meant little against the hopeless Huskies.
On Saturday, the Irish sputtered in the third quarter and it meant plenty.
Notre Dame ran 10 offensive plays for 7 yards and zero first downs in the third quarter while Pitt racked up 92 yards, four first downs, a touchdown and began another touchdown drive in the third.
The third quarter was also Bostick's best as he finished the stanza seven for nine for 70 yards.
"The defense was on the field a bunch," Weis said of the third quarter. "They go down and score to get it to 17-10. We go three-and-out."
INFO ON IRISH LINEUPS: Brian Smith, who suffered a mild concussion against Washington, did not start the game and did not check in until the second quarter. Steve Quinn started at linebacker in place of Smith.
Golden Tate was back on both kickoff and punt returns for the second straight week. Tate was joined on kickoff returns by Aldridge.
Freshman guard Trevor Robinson continues to be mixed in with the first unit. Chris Stewart injured his leg coming out of a timeout during overtime and Robinson was replaced by Taylor Dever after Robinson suffered an apparent stinger in overtime.
OTHER TIDBITS: Pitt won the toss and deferred… The referees reviewed both of Floyd's first-half touchdown receptions, but he was clearly inbounds both times… Jon Bon Jovi is a friend of Weis' and was in attendance after appearing at the pep rally on Friday evening. The Notre Dame Band honored him with a few Bon Jovi hits… Cubs reliever Jeff Samardzija was on the sidelines, as was Darrin Walls, who is not enrolled at Notre Dame this semester…Pitt had to burn a timeout in overtime because McCoy's shoe came off… Weis dropped to 0-3 in overtime games in his career at Notre Dame… After the first play of overtime on the south side of the field, the stadium sprinklers on the north side of the field came on.