NOTRE DAME, Ind. – A year ago this did not happen for the Fighting Irish. A year ago the ball sails through the uprights and the home crowd goes home growling. A year ago an interception in the end zone ends the rally and the head coach and his quarterback are left searching for answers that never come.
This is not a year ago.
Despite facing its biggest deficit of the season, Notre Dame found a way to fight its way out of a 14-point fourth quarter hole to win a triple overtime game that was miraculous on so many levels.
“We overcame a lot tonight,” head coach Brian Kelly understatedly said as he began his postgame press conference after his team fought its way to a 29-26 victory. “We made, uncharacteristically, some mistakes (by) turning the football over obviously twice in the end zone. Last year that would have been a loss for us, but our team kept fighting (and) kept playing.”
How many mistakes did the Irish overcome? In the fourth quarter alone they missed an extra point that would have brought them to within seven with 13:40 remaining and then Everett Golson threw the interception Kelly referred to before he came back just moments later to connect on a 45-yard pass to DaVaris Daniels, hit Theo Riddick with a five-yard TD pass and then dive across the goal line for the game-tying two-point conversion.
“I think what I’m looking for is a guy that continues to mature and grow-up,” Kelly said of Golson. “This was another opportunity for him. He could have kept his head down and said ‘I can’t help us’. We wanted to go back in there and help his football team, so that’s a learning step for him.”
Golson was forced to leave the game late in the first half when his helmet came off after being sacked for a three-yard loss. He could have come back in for Notre Dame’s last series of the first half, but Kelly kept him on the sideline for that series as well as ND’s first two second half possessions. He only came out after Tommy Rees threw his own interception.
“I think he’s a very prideful guy,” Kelly said of Golson’s reaction to being benched. “He’s coming off playing well (last week against Oklahoma). He knows he didn’t play quite as well, but he did when it counted. He got a chance to go back in there and got the game ball tonight.”
“It’s a process of learning and developing and getting thicker skin (and) paying more attention to detail and practice. There are just so many levels to it.”
Golson finished the night 23-for-42 passing for 227 yards with the interception and touchdown passes of 11 and five yards. He also rushed for 74 yards on 15 carries – including the two-point conversion and the game-winning touchdown on the final play of the improbable victory.
“I think I did a great job of leading the team down the stretch,” Golson said afterward after being asked about receiving the game ball from his head coach. “Coming out today we came out a little flat. Me personally, I missed a couple reads that I should have had (such as) instead of putting three points on the board you put six, but I feel like in the stretch we really came together and I felt like I did a great job of leading.”
Everett At Home And Away
Golson has now thrown four interceptions this year and all but one of them has come in Notre Dame’s five home games this season. All three of his fumbles this season have also come on the Notre Dame Stadium turf.
Safety Matthias Farley made three tackles in Saturday’s victory, but is incredible that he even played. Kelly says Farley broke his hand earlier in the week.
“Matthias was operated on Tuesday,” Kelly said after the game. “He was out cold on an operating table on Tuesday. They put two plates and six screws in his hand (and) put a cast on him. He came back and practiced Wednesday and Thursday (and he) did the best he could.”
With Farley not at full strength freshmen Nicky Baratti and Elijah Shumate got more playing time than usual in the game.
Notre Dame had its best opening quarter of the season with 145 total yards on 23 plays. A 200-yard effort in the third quarter against Miami is the only better quarter the offense has had this season. The Irish converted nine first downs in the game’s first 15 minutes as well. They had converted 10 first downs in two other quarters this year.
Pittsburgh’s 10-0 third quarter scoring advantage completely flipped the script for how both teams have performed in the period this season. Pitt had been outscored 59-37, while Notre Dame had outscored opponents 47-7 in the first period of the second half this season. The 14-point deficit at the end of the third period is the largest deficit the Fighting Irish have faced all year.
No Soup For Nix
There was an awkward moment in Kelly’s postgame press conference when a reporter asked Kelly about Louis Nix’s health. The reporter referred to Nix’s “supposed” illness during the week and then tried to cover his tracks with a chicken soup reference. The whole back and forth did not sit well with Kelly.
“I don’t like the tone of the question itself and then the chicken soup comment,” Kelly snapped. “I don’t know where you’re coming from. What do you want me to say?”
“The kid was sick all week and he busted his butt to try to help our football team today. Louis Nix has got a lot in the bank of trust with me. If he can’t go there’s a reason for it. He was in the infirmary two nights and he came out and helped our football team.”
Nix finished with four tackles and combined on a sack with Stephon Tuitt to help force into kicking a field goal on its possession of the third and final overtime.
- Saturday’s game marked the second overtime victory of the season. The first came three weeks ago against Stanford. Notre Dame is now 5-8 all-time in overtime contests. All five of the victories have come at home.
- The 14-point deficit is the largest ND has overcome in the fourth quarter in a win since climbing out of a 19-point fourth quarter hole against Michigan State in 2006. The Irish trailed that game 37-21 going into the fourth quarter before prevailing 40-37.
- Notre Dame held the Panthers to just two yards rushing on 14 carries with 19 passing yards and one first down in the fourth quarter and the three overtime periods combined. The Panthers averaged 0.9 yards on 23 offensive plays in that span.
- After not trailing at any point in their first five games this season, the Irish have now trailed in each of their past four games.
- The 9-0 start is the first for Notre Dame since the 1993 team started with a 10-0 mark. It is also 16th time in school history an ND team started with as many victories. The 15 previous 9-0 teams netted nine unbeaten seasons, eight national championships and a 6-0 record in bowl games.
- Ray Graham’s 55-yard run and J.P. Holtz’s 43-yard reception were both season longs by an opponent. The previous long marks were 31 and 41 yards, respectively.