Notre Dame: 10 Things We Learned from the Fighting Irish's Win vs. Pitt

Dave Radcliffe@DaveRadcliffe_Contributor IIINovember 4, 2012

Notre Dame: 10 Things We Learned from the Fighting Irish's Win vs. Pitt

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    In one of the wackiest, most suspenseful college football games of the 2012 season, Notre Dame overcame a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter to defeat Pittsburgh 29-26.

    There were several moments where the Fighting Irish appeared dead in the water, but some strokes of good luck—and some help from the officials—allowed Notre Dame to escape with a thrilling victory and remain undefeated at 9-0.

    The teams traded field goals in the first overtime, and after each team failed to score in the second OT period, the Irish were able to score on a quarterback draw after Pitt only managed a field goal.

    Here are 10 things we learned from one of the greatest games to date this season.

Notre Dame Is Vulnerable

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    The fact that Notre Dame was trailing 20-6 in the fourth quarter against a 4-4 football team is probably cause for concern.

    This isn't the first game the Irish have struggled to beat a team of lower skill, but this was a real eye-opener for Notre Dame and it proves that this team wasn't in the right mindset following an emotional victory at Oklahoma.

    Head coach Brian Kelly didn't have his team ready to play, and it took three quarters for the Irish to wake up. It nearly took too long; if Notre Dame is going to have this much trouble against the likes of Pittsburgh, it makes for a pretty vulnerable football team.

Pitt Should Have Won

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    We all saw it. On a 4th-and-4 at the Pitt 23-yard line, Everett Golson threw it up to Tyler Eifert, and on what looked like perfect coverage, Eifert drew a pass interference call on a play that—without the penalty—should have ended the Notre Dame drive.

    With Notre Dame down 14 points at the time, this could have very well been the ball game. But instead, the Irish retained the football, and on the very next play, Golson found T.J. Jones for an 11-yard touchdown reception, and the golden helmets were back in business.

    It was a huge play in the game, and kind of takes away from the allure of the Notre Dame comeback. Whether you believe Notre Dame would have come back regardless of the call, it was a huge turning point and likely gave the Fighting Irish the victory. 

Everett Golson Is the Man at Quarterback

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    Everett Golson came out on fire Saturday afternoon, but his play fell off in the second quarter, and backup Tommy Rees was inserted toward the end of the first half.

    After Rees failed to do much of anything under center and threw an interception in the third quarter, back came Golson.

    The rest was history.

    Golson made plays with his feet, keeping plays alive and running for big gains to tire out the Pitt defense and revive the stagnant Notre Dame offense. It was Rees' chance to seize the opportunity, but instead Golson only further solidified himself as the starting quarterback for the Irish.

Pitt Is a Force to Be Reckoned with

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    There may not have been many people who expected Pitt to put up this much of a fight against Notre Dame, but the Panthers proved they are a team not to be taken lightly.

    With Ray Graham at running back, a fifth-year senior in Tino Sunseri at quarterback and a solid front four on defense, Pitt is good enough to hang with just about anyone. This may not have been the case early in the season, but now that head coach Paul Chryst has had time to spread his teachings, the Panthers are a much-improved football team.

    Chryst came about as close as he possibly could from notching a signature victory early in his head coaching career, but that moment will have to wait.

    With the way his team performed today, however, that moment probably isn't too far away.

No Lead Is Safe Against Notre Dame

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    You have to give Notre Dame credit—it never says die.

    There's no quit in the Fighting Irish, and even though some of their victories haven't been all that convincing this season, they always find a way to get it done.

    Today, Notre Dame fought back from 14 down in the final quarter to eek out a win, and it has also put together fourth-quarter comeback victories against BYU and Stanford this season.

    It's a good trait to have, especially for a team that seems to make a habit of getting off to slow starts and playing down to its opponents. 

We Should Always Watch Notre Dame vs. Pitt

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    Unless you were a fan of either Notre Dame or Pitt, today's game is what makes college football so fun to watch, specifically when these two teams square off.

    We all remember the four-OT thriller these teams played in 2008, a game in which Pitt came out on top. Since 2008, each game has been within six points, culminating in Saturday's classic that went to three overtimes.

    Even though the stakes were raised this year with Notre Dame coming in as the No. 3 team in the country, it doesn't seem to matter where these teams are ranked or what the implications might be—Notre Dame and Pitt always go down to the wire.

    Don't change that dial. 

The USC Game Is Still Huge

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    Was Notre Dame already looking ahead to its Nov. 24 trip to USC? Or was it still coming down from its high from last week's upset victory over Oklahoma?

    Whichever the case, the Irish took awhile to realize there was a football game being played on Saturday, but they escaped with a victory, and the looming matchup against the Trojans remains circled on everyone's calendar.

    Assuming Notre Dame can win its next two games against Boston College and Wake Forest, the Fighting Irish will be 11-0 entering their clash with USC, and there will likely be title-game implications. 

Running Outside Against Notre Dame = Success

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    Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o is the most dominant middle linebacker in the country, so what's the best way to limit his impact? Run away from him.

    Pitt decided to use an outside running game with a zone-blocking scheme, and the result was a field day for running back Ray Graham. Graham rushed 24 times for 172 yards and a touchdown against the second-ranked scoring defense in the country.

    Te'o was held to just one tackle in the first half. Granted, Graham is a pretty talented back, but nobody expected him to reel off the kind of numbers he did on Saturday against the Irish.

Notre Dame Is Still Alive

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    No matter which way you slice it, a win is a win is a win is a win. That's exactly what Notre Dame got against Pitt, whether they deserved it or not.

    Both teams had several chances to put the clamp down and come away with a win, but it was the Irish who did just enough on Saturday, and as a result, they are still in the hunt for the BCS National Championship Game.

    Depending on how teams do above and below them in the standings, Notre Dame could slip a touch based on its lackluster performance against the Panthers, but the Fighting Irish are in a lot better shape than they would have been should they had let this one slip away.

Mistakes Will Come Back to Haunt the Irish Eventually

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    Despite turning the ball over three times compared to Pitt's zero-turnover performance, Notre Dame came away with a win.

    But there's a difference between playing a 4-4 team in the comforts of your home stadium, and playing a team like Alabama or Oregon at a neutral site. Even if the Irish manage to run the table during the regular season and earn a trip to the BCS National Championship Game, they will be in for a rude awakening.

    That is, unless they find a way to clean up their act. Losing the turnover battle is something this team can't afford to do against good competition, let alone the Pitt Panthers. Fortunately, Notre Dame sports one of the most dominant defenses in the country, but it will only take them so far if turnovers remain an issue.