By GREG KEIM
THE GOSHEN NEWS
SOUTH BEND —
Some people referred to it as the “Luck of the Irish.” Others thought it was taking advantage of an opportunity.
Whatever you want to call it, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish were able to keep their undefeated season (9-0) and hopes of playing in a BCS Bowl alive on Saturday with a 29-26 come-from-behind victory in triple overtime against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Notre Dame Stadium.
Pittsburgh had a chance to win the game in the second overtime after stopping the Irish by recovering an ND fumble in the end zone. The Panthers’ placekicker Kevin Harper missed a 44-yard field goal following a high snap opening the door for the Irish to win the game.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly was about his thoughts as Harper was lining up to make the potential game-winning kick.
“In all those situations there is just so much going on that I can’t ever stop and think about one play,” he said.
“I’m always thinking about something else that has to happen. So I couldn’t give you a great answer other than I hope he misses, because I’d like to win this game.”
Notre Dame remained No. 4 in this week’s Associated Press Poll behind Alabama, Oregon and Kansas State.
Kelly was asked after the game if he would be pulling for USC (playing Oregon), LSU (Alabama) or Oklahoma State (Kansas State) on Saturday night.
“Maybe I should say the politically correct, yes, you know,” he said. “We really hope -- I don’t really care about that. Everybody says I should care. I care about my football team. I care about getting better. We’re really just focused on ourselves. We can’t worry about all those other things. We really can’t.
“I could be politically correct and say, yeah, I care, we’re going to watch it. But to be honest with you, we’ve got a lot of work to do with our football team.”
Six-six (303) defensive end Stephon Tuitt record 1 1/2 sacks Saturday, giving him 10 on the season and tying him with Bert Barry (1996) and Mike Gann (1984) for the third most in a single season in school history. Justin Tuck is the leader with 13 1/2 in 2003 followed by Victor Abiamiri 10 1/2 (2006).
Tuitt and 6-4 (3-0) defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore combined on a sack in the fourth period. He also combined with 6-2 (255) middle linebacker Mati Te’o on one in the fourth quarter and with 6-3 (326) defensive tackle Louis Nix III in the third overtime.
Six-one (206) sophomore safety Matthias Farley had a tackle and two assists on Saturday despite having surgery during the week.
“Matthias was operated on Tuesday, he was out cold on an operating table on Tuesday,” Kelly said. “They put two plates and six screws in his hand, put a cast on him, he came back and practiced Wednesday and Thursday you know, did the best he could. We had to call on Nick Baratti to come in and help us as well as Elijah Shumate coming in.”
Baratti is a 6-1 (206) freshman, Shumate a 6-0 (198) freshman and 5-11 (182) freshman KeiVarae Russell is a freshman starting cornerback.
“You’ve got four youngsters in the back end of that defense contributing really big,” Kelly said.
Notre Dame is off to a 9-0 start for the seventh time in the last 60 years and the 16th time in school history. The last time it happened was in 1993, when the Irish opened with 10 consecutive victories before dropping a 41-39 decision to Boston College.
Next Saturday’s game at Boston College will have an 8 p.m. kickoff and will be televised by ABC.
The 15 previous 9-0 starts have resulted in nine undefeated seasons, eight national championships and six bowl berths (6-0 record).
Kelly joins Irish legends
Third-year coach Brian Kelly is the fifth Notre Dame coach to begin a season with a 9-0 record. Knute Rockne did it five times, Frank Leahy four, Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz both three.
Kelly often refers to the “process” of building a football program and for the veteran coach things begin taking shape in the third season. Kelly was 3-9 in his second season at Central Michigan before going 9-4 in the third. He was 7-5 at Cincinnati before going 12-0 and was 6-6 last year at Notre Dame.
Saturday was the 68th meeting between Notre Dame and the Panthers with the Irish now holding a 47-20-1 advantage.
The win over Pittsburgh on Saturday improved Notre Dame’s all-time record in overtime games to 5-8. All five of the Irish victories have been at home (Air Force in 2000, Washington State in 2003, Washington in 2009 and Stanford in 2012).
It’s the third time in school history the Irish have played multiple overtime games in one season (2000 and 2009).
The Irish and Panthers have played one previous overtime game with Pittsburgh winning 36-33 in four overtimes in 2009.
Down to the wire
Notre Dame fans should be used to close finishes by now as the Irish have been involved in 26 games decided by seven points or less since the start of the 2009 season. Fifteen of the last 21 losses for the Irish have been decided by a touchdown or less, including seven by a field goal or less.
Notre Dame has played in 60 games in the 125-year history of the program where the winning points have occurred in overtime or in the final minute of regulation. Incredibly, 15 have been in the past five seasons.
The Irish have played 16 games decided by a touchdown or less since the arrival of third-year head coach Brian Kelly. Notre Dame was 2-5 in the first seven, but have since gone 8-1.
The Irish have already won five games this season by a touchdown or less. The school record for a single season is six by the 1939 club that had a 6-1 mark in games decided by seven points or less.
The Irish registered their longest scoring drive in terms of plays (18) and time of possession (9:26) of the season, but Notre Dame only managed a 20-yard field by sophomore Kyle Brindza for a 6-3 lead at 9:26 of the second period. Notre Dame has not had a longer scoring drive in terms of plays since Oct. 21, 2006 when the Irish had a 20-play drive against UCLA that also resulted in a field goal.
Ball control offense
The Irish dominated time of possession, churning up 35:23 off the game clock compared to 24:37 for Pittsburgh. In the first period, Notre Dame has the ball for 11:32 of the 15:00.