The Notre Dame Fighting Irish won a thrilling triple-overtime battle against Pittsburgh by a final score of 29-23 to keep their undefeated season and BCS National Championship Game aspirations intact.
The Irish survived a game that saw them use two quarterbacks, throw a late interception in the end zone, benefit from a pass interference call that went their way and watch the Panthers miss a game-winning field goal in the second overtime.
It didn't look good at times, but the Irish managed to get the win and keep moving towards what could turn out to be a historic season.
Let's take a look at the final postgame grades and analysis for the Fighting Irish.
Overall Game Grade: B-
Golson proved that he doesn't have a firm grip on the starting quarterback's job, but still managed to come away with his second straight win since returning from injury. Golson didn't play as effectively as he did against Oklahoma until mid-way through the fourth quarter and overtime, but used his legs to his advantage when the team needed him the most.
Golson finished the first quarter with 79 yards passing and looked like he was about to help the Irish pull away as the game progressed. Instead, he completed just one pass in the second quarter before being pulled for Tommy Rees. Rees started strong, but eventually was intercepted in Pitt territory. At that point, with two quarterbacks struggling, the Irish could have easily folded and watched their national title hopes vanish.
But then Golson, and the team's play calling, decided to rely on the ground game to cut into the lead that the Panthers had built.
After hitting TJ Jones for a touchdown following a questionable pass interference call, Golson compiled rushes of 27 and 15 yards to set the Irish up for the tying score. However, an interception in the end zone nearly ended any chance at a comeback.
Instead, however, Golson and the Irish responded one more time in regulation, hitting DaVaris Daniels for a 45-yard pass and then Riddick for a five-yard score.
Golson then turned to his legs for a two-point conversion, and again when he eventually ran in for the game winning score in the third overtime.
Golson's grades for the second and third quarters were both F's, and the first time his play was worthy of an A wasn't until overtime. However, as the Irish will likely agree, it's how you finish that matters.
Overall Game Grade: A-
The Irish rushing attack disappeared for a while towards the middle of the game, right around the time the Panthers went up 20-6 heading into the fourth quarter. However, once the play calling put the ball back into the hands of the team’s run game, momentum on both sides of the ball quickly turned.
Golson picked up the team’s only rushing touchdown on his game winning score in overtime, and finished with 74 total yards on the ground.
Theo Riddick led the team with 84 yards, and also had another 35 yards receiving. Cierre Wood added another 70 yards, despite what could have been a costly fumble in overtime.
The Irish were able make plays through the air when they needed to, but their best success came when they relied on these three runners to move the chains. This could help Golson’s case for remaining in even if he struggles early in games down the stretch.
Overall Game Grade: A
The Irish used two quarterbacks and 53 pass attempts to get the game into overtime. In the process, three receivers stepped up to have 50 or more receiving yards.
DaVaris Daniels had the biggest reception of the game for the Irish, catching a 45-yard pass from Golson to set-up the eventual game tying score. For the game, DaVaris finished with 86 yards receiving on seven catches. Daniels had just seven catches total in the last four games heading into the game against Pitt.
TJ Jones was back in the endzone after being kept out against the Sooners last week, catching five passes for 54 yards and a score. Jones was one of the team’s leading receivers heading into the game, and came through by catching the first touchdown pass for the Irish.
Robby Toma had a career game, catching six passes for 50 yards. The senior has now caught the most passes in a season in his career at Notre Dame.
Riddick and Daniel Smith also combined for five catches for 40 total yards, with Riddick coming up with the huge touchdown catch.
After the Irish dug themselves a hole that seemed insurmountable at times, they were forced to figure out their passing game in order to have any chance at climbing back into contention. Fortunately, they were able to do just that, with experienced receivers coming up with big catches in the clutch, and allowing the team to also re-establish their rushing attack.
Overall Game Grade: A-
Tyler Eifert added six catches and 62 yards to the Irish’s passing attack, the most catches that the senior has had in a game this season. Eifert now has 28 catches for 403 yards on the season. Eifert was held out of the endzone, but his presence at the line of scrimmage helped the Irish establish their run attack early before shying away from it following halftime.
Overall Game Grade: B+
The Irish’s offensive line helped the team rack up 230 total yards rushing, but can be difficult to evaluate due to Golson’s play early in the second half. Following halftime, Golson seemed too anxious to leave the pocket and run despite solid protection from his offensive line. This led to a few sacks that may be more a result of poor decision making then poor protection. Zack Martin and Christian Lombard both recovered from shaky starts to help give Golson time to connect for two touchdowns, his most in a game this season.
Overall Game Grade: C+
Stephon Tuitt and Kapron Lewis-Moore led an Irish defense that turned it up a notch and re-gained their reputation as one of the nation’s best following a dismal first half.
The line did allow 144 rushing yards to the Panthers, and gave up 172 to Ray Graham on just 24 carries. The Irish were able to limit him to one touchdown, but allowing the Panthers to set up their run game from essentially their first play of the game did little to slow down quarterback Tino Sunseri, who found his comfort zone early and had just 10 incompletions.
However, Tuitt and Lewis-Moore’s ability to get to the quarterback, especially late in the game, is what helped the Irish climb back into contention and eventually win in overtime. The Irish were able to outscore the Panthers 14-0 in the fourth quarter.
Overall Game Grade: B+
Manti Te’o, who entered the game as a Heisman Trophy candidate, was quiet for much of the game until the fourth quarter and overtime. He eventually was able to have his presence felt, but the defense was still unable to keep Graham, Sunseri or the Panther defense out of the end zone for a majority of the game.
Te’o and the Irish linebackers stepped up in over time, however, limiting Graham and holding the Panthers to two field goal attempts.
Overall Game Grade: C
The Irish secondary did little to stop Sunseri, who completed 19 of 29 passes. Although he managed to throw for only 164 yards, he still posted a 5.7 yards per completion average, higher than the 5.5 average posted by Golson.
Matthias Farley and the Irish secondary also had a difficult time stopping Graham once he got past the linebackers, and gave up a 43 yard reception to J.P. Holtz that led to a Panther touchdown. However, the secondary limited any big passing plays from Sunseri and kept the Panthers out of the end zone in overtime. Sunseri hasn’t turned the ball over too often this season, so the secondary’s lack of a turnover isn’t uncommon.
Overall Game Grade: C-
The Irish special teams unit continues to lag in comparison to the rest of the team. Brindza was able to make three field goals, including one in overtime, but missed one in regulation and an extra point early in the fourth quarter.
Davonte’ Neal looked far too shaky on punt returns and misplayed two that resulted in Pitt downing the ball within the Irish 10-yard line. Neal also fumbled one punt but fell on it before the defense got there.
Missing out on game changing plays on special teams is an area that the Irish can bounce back from, but if the special teams’ play starts to cost them games, the team may be forced to make further changes.
Overall Game Grade: B
Coach Brian Kelly’s first game following a statement win at Notre Dame didn’t go as planned, as the team had to fight back to tie the game in the fourth quarter before eventually winning in triple-overtime.
Kelly and the offense’s decision to shy away from the rushing attack midway through the game was questionable and could’ve cost them a win, but the coaching staff deserves credit for inserting Golson back in for Rees and keeping the ball in his hands late.
Defensively, after looking mediocre through the first half, the Irish rebounded to shut down the Panthers and keep giving the offense opportunities to win the game.