Oct. 12, 2002
By TOM COYNE
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Notre Dame had only one sustained drive against Pittsburgh. It was all the No. 8 Irish needed.
That's because the Irish defense held the Panthers (5-2) without a touchdown Saturday despite giving up a season-high 402 yards total offense. The defense sacked Pitt quarterback Rod Rutherford eight times and forced three turnovers, including one midway through the fourth quarter that led to a 12-yard TD drive to secure the 14-6 victory by the Irish.
Irish coach Tyrone Willingham said despite the lopsided statistics for the Panthers he did not think the Irish (6-0) were outplayed.
"I think the true quality of being outplayed is winning the game, and I think that happened today," said Willingham, who recorded his 50th career win . "Our guys responded in the manner that a good team has to respond."
Rutherford said the key was clutch plays.
"We found a way to lose and they found a way to win," he said.
The Fighting Irish produced just one more touchdown the rest of the game - in the fourth quarter, when Ryan Grant scored on a 1-yard run after the Irish defense forced a turnover at the Pitt 12.
It was the eighth time the Irish had scored a touchdown that was set up by their defense.
"The bottom line is what they have been living on is turnovers, and that was the difference in the game," Pitt coach Walt Harris said. "Turnovers were devastating."
The Panthers played exceedingly well, gaining 402 yards, compared with a season-low 185 yards for the Irish. Notre Dame had only 40 yards rushing on 32 carries and 10 first downs.
Its only drive longer than 36 yards was the second-quarter possession engineered by Holiday.
The loss was just the second in 13 games for the Panthers, who fell short of posting their best start since Dan Marino was a senior in 1982.
Pitt entered the game ranked eighth in the nation in defense, giving up 278.3 yards a game.
"I think we came out and proved the University of Pittsburgh is not a cakewalk," Pitt cornerback Shawntae Spencer said.
Pitt's offense moved the ball but couldn't finish its drives. The Panthers had 284 yards of total offense in the first half alone against an Irish defense that came into the game ranked seventh in the nation, giving up 273.6 yards a game.
Despite allowing a season high in total offense, Notre Dame's defense again came up with big plays when it had to. On their first possession, the Panthers drove to the Irish 8 but had to settle for a 29-yard field goal by David Abdul. Irish cornerback Shane Walton broke up a pass to Lamar Slade in the end zone, then Darrell Campbell and Ryan Roberts sacked Pitt quarterback Rod Rutherford for a 4-yard loss.
The Panthers threatened again late in the second quarter on first-and-goal from the 10. But on third down from the 6, Rutherford's pass bounced off the hands of Kris Wilson in the back of the end zone. Abdul then kicked a 24-yard field goal.
Pittsburgh was driving with 70 seconds left when Irish cornerback Preston Jackson intercepted at the Irish 21 to put the game away.
"We expect that of our players. We expect them to find a way to step up and make a play," Willingham said.
Holiday, who had just his second TD pass of the season, played for the first time since injuring his left shoulder three weeks ago, when he was tackled by Michigan State late in the third quarter. He was hit hard on his first two pass attempts, both incompletions, and finished 16-of-25 for 145 yards with one interception.
Battle had 10 catches for 101 yards.
Rutherford was 19-of-43 for Pittsburgh for 313 yards with one interception and a fumble. Slade had seven catches for 127 yards.
Harris, who saw the Panthers lose by two to Texas A&M, said he doesn't take much solace in the fact the Panthers played so well.
"There's no moral victories. We lost," he said.
Rutherford, though, thought the Panthers had proved something.
"Before the season's out, we're going to have a lot of respect," he said.
The 20 points scored are the fewest scored at Notre Dame Stadium since Pitt beat the Irish 10-9 in 1986 in Lou Holtz's first year as coach.