He might as well have chosen sophomore running back LeSean McCoy.
McCoy ran 32 times for 169 yards, often taking direct snaps from the Wildcat formation, and set up Conor Lee's 22-yard field goal in the fourth overtime to lead Pittsburgh to a heart-stopping 36-33 win against the Fighting Irish.
"Great players do a lot of things you don't coach,'' Wannstedt said. "That's LeSean. He's the guy. We know that, and there's no doubt about it. Particularly today when your (starting) quarterback's out.''
Bill Stull dressed, but didn't play after suffering a neck injury and a concussion in Pitt's loss to Rutgers last week. Wannstedt started Pat Bostick and even played redshirt sophomore Kevan Smith for the first time all season after two Bostick series. Bostick struggled through some mistakes and three interceptions, but finished with 164 yards passing on a 14-for-27 performance.
Still, McCoy continually came through with big-time plays, leading the Pitt offense down the field when it struggled under Bostick and Smith.
"(Number) Twenty-five wants the ball in big situations,'' Bostick said. "And we try to get it to him. He came up big for us today. He's our leader on offense and he did a great job.''
Lee, every bit Pitt's hero with four field goals in overtime, even mentioned McCoy's importance. After Notre Dame's Brandon Walker missed a 38-yard field goal in the fourth and overtime period, McCoy ran the ball to the Pitt 5 on second down, allowing Lee to make the game-winning chip shot.
McCoy's performance especially helped out Bostick, who struggled early in the game and eventually was replaced by Smith in the first quarter. This occurred even though Wannstedt declared Bostick Pitt's without-a-doubt backup when playing him for four relatively meaningless snaps against Navy two weeks ago and plugging him in when Stull went out last week.
"We were just trying to use everybody,'' Wannstedt said.
But Smith's lack of experience showed almost immediately. Smith came in after freshman Andrew Taglianetti blocked a Notre Dame punt -- the Panthers' seventh blocked kick this season -- to give Pitt the ball on the Notre Dame 20. On the first play, Smith was nearly intercepted on a screen pass to McCoy and then was sacked on third down. Pitt settled for a field goal.
Smith only completed one of his three attempted passes and returned to the sideline after two possessions.
Bostick returned with 13:35 minutes left in the half and completed 2 of 3 passes on a Pitt drive in which McCoy carried the load with six rushes. But Bostick, dropping back on a third-and-14 from the Notre Dame 35, tripped over center C.J. Davis' feet and fell to keep Pitt out of field-goal range.
Then, with less than a minute left in the half after Notre Dame went up, 10-3, Bostick floated a pass over the middle between two Pitt receivers and into the hands of Notre Dame cornerback Raeshon McNeil, who returned it to the Pitt 13. Several plays and a Ricky Gary personal foul later, quarterback Jimmy Clausen threw to Michael Floyd in the front right corner of the end zone to put Notre Dame ahead, 17-3, at halftime.
In the first half, Bostick was 3-for-6 for 24 yards with an interception. With Smith's totals, Pitt's passing game was 4 of 9 for 28 yards. That's why the Panthers needed McCoy, who had 10 carries for 51 yards in the first half. Offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh even dusted off the Wildcat formation, which has been kept under wraps for the most part this season.
"It worked for us,'' McCoy said. "It's a nice change of pace.''
McCoy averaged 5.3 yards per carry on the night and made big plays when needed, especially in overtime. But Bostick came through with a big play as well with the game-tying touchdown pass on a toss to Jonathan Baldwin late in the fourth quarter.
"I kind of had a slow start,'' McCoy said. "And I just kind of settled down and just started hitting it.''
McCoy ran for 21 yards on Pitt's possession in the first overtime, setting up Lee's first 22-yarder. He gained seven yards in the second overtime, giving Lee a makeable 33-yarder. He gained 16 yards after reversing the field on a screen to wipe out a Joe Thomas penalty, setting up Lee's kick in the third overtime. And he gave Lee a chip-shot game-winner.
"It's just us, it's more of a team thing,'' McCoy said. "It's hard to just say me and Conor, you know?''
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