SOUTH BEND –
How it Happened
The Irish trailed 7-6 at halfime and Pittsburgh got the ball to start the second half. The lead immediately became eight points for the Panthers when Maurice Ffrench took the kickoff 99 yards up the left sideline for a half-opening touchdown. After the extra point it was 14-6 and Notre Dame had its back to the wall. The Irish had a chance to tackle Ffrench several times during the return, but were unable to do so.
Later in the third quarter, the Irish mounted their first major offensive drive of the game. The series kicked off with a 21-yard completion from Ian Book to Chase Claypool that moved the ball to midfield. A couple of nice throws from Book to Chris Finke advance the ball to the redzone and then Book hit Claypool on the same slant and Claypool slipped between a pair of tacklers for a 16-yard touchdown. Notre Dame attempted a 2-point conversion and Book had Miles Boykin open, but the throw was wide and ticked off Boykin's fingertips, leaving the score 14-12 with 2:09 left in the third quarter.
Notre Dame's defense continued to hold the Panthers scoreless into the fourth quarter, with the help of a couple missed field goals. Notre Dame got the ball still trailing midway through the fourth quarter. On that drive, the Irish finally started protecting well enough to begin throwing the ball over the top. A deep pass to Chase Claypool fell incomplete only because of pass interference and a big Dexter Williams run, his first of the day, moved the ball into Pitt territory. From there, Book dropped back and found Boykin open deep with a step on his defender. The quarterback lofted a perfect pass over the top and the big receiver hauled it in for a 35-yard go-ahead touchdown. The extra point made it 19-14, the Irish's first lead.
Notre Dame got the ball first at the start of the game, but punted it away after a couple first downs and the Panthers took over at their own 12. The Irish seemed to stop Pittsburgh early in the drive, but a fourth-down offsides penalty with the punt team on the field gave the Panthers a much-needed first down. After that, Notre Dame couldn't deal with the Pittsburgh rushing attack and the Panthers marched right down the field. Qadree Ollison carried eight times for 27 yards on the drive, including a 9-yard TD run that gave the Panthers a 7-0 lead near the end of the first quarter. The monster drive took more than nine minutes off the clock and covered 88 yards in 17 plays.
The Irish defense stiffened after that, forcing back-to-back three-and-outs. The Notre Dame offense, however, was punchless throughout the first half and Pitt's one-score lead held through the second quarter. Notre Dame's only score late in the quarter, when a bad Panthers punt gave the Irish the ball at the Pitt 48. The offense continued to sputter, but a roughing-the-passer penalty helped move the ball into the red zone. Continued inability to run the ball effectively halted the drive and Notre Dame settled for a field goal to make it 7-3. The Irish added a second field goal before the half ended to make it a one-point game at halftime. On that second drive, they converted a 4th-and-2 play in the redzone, but Pitt then sacked Book on two of the next three plays to force the field goal attempt.
Player of the Game: Julian Okwara
The defensive end was instrumental in helping the Irish shut out Pittsburgh after the Panthers' first drive. Okwara had six tackles, including one for loss on a crucial 3rd-and-3 right in the fourth quarter. The play forced a Pittsburgh punt and Notre Dame scored the go-ahead touchdown on its next possession. Okwara also broke up a pass and had six quarterback hurries, consistently getting pressure on Kenny Pickett.
Facts and Figures
The Irish are 7-0 for the first time since the undefeated regular season of 2012. ... The matchup was the 70th all-time between these teams. The Irish have won five of the last six. ... Kicker Justin Yoon made field goals from 22 and 41 yards, making him only the third kicker in Irish history to make 50 career field goals. He tied John Carney for second on the all-time Notre Dame field goals list. ... Pittsburgh came in averaging 203 rushing yards per game, but the Irish held the Panthers to just 116 yards on 30 carries. ... Notre Dame and Ohio State are the only undefeated teams with six wins over Power Five opponents. ... Pittsburgh's first-quarter touchdown gave Notre Dame its first deficit since it trailed in the first quarter against Wake Forest in Week 4. The Irish trailed at halftime for the first time this season. ... After gaining 339 yards in his first two games of the season, Dexter Williams had only 31 yards on 13 carries. ... Notre Dame is now 8-23 when trailing at halftime under Brian Kelly. ... Pittsburgh kicker Alex Kessman missed two field goals in the second half.
The Irish have a bye next week and will be back in action on Oct. 27, taking on the Navy Midshipmen (2-4) at SDCCU Stadium in San Diego, California. The game will kick off at 8 p.m. and will be broadcast on CBS. Navy will be coming off a matchup against Houston. The Midshipmen own wins against only Memphis and Lehigh this season.