The game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Pittsburgh Panthers did not exactly go according to plan. The Pitt Panthers showed a lot of fight, and it took some really sorry place kicking to help Notre Dame remain unbeaten. Although they were non-existent for three quarters, Notre Dame's offense DID show up in the fourth quarter. So the question remains: which Notre Dame team can we expect from here on out?
This was easily the worst performance for the Notre Dame defense all year. Ray Graham rushed for 7.2 yards a carry on 24 carries and a touchdown. Sunseri did not have his best performance throwing the ball, but Notre Dame was unable to force him into costly interceptions as they have with other quarterbacks.
But the lack of Pitt success throwing the ball, and their success running the ball, suggest this game was less of an exposure and more of an aberration. You hate to use the term "let down game," as it usually is just an excuse for a team playing poorly. But how else do you explain how a defense, fresh off the biggest win of their careers at Notre Dame, manage to give up the most rushing yards they've allowed all season to PITT?
We have seen the Irish shut down much better running attacks than Pitt has. The running story of the season has been the questions surrounding the Notre Dame secondary. If Pitt had thrown all over the Irish secondary, I think there would be serious causes of concern. But given Pitt's sorry passing day, despite how strong they've been at throwing, and seeing how they have been terrible running the ball all year until last night, it seems easier to just chalk this up to a letdown.
Ultimately, every title team has that one game against an inferior opponent where they play poorly and end up stealing a win. Notre Dame played a wretched three quarters of football. But as soon as the fourth quarter began, Notre Dame transformed into the national title contender they have been all season. The defense clamped down and allowed nary a single touchdown for the rest of the game (including three over time periods) and Everett Golson led the Notre Dame offense back with bomb after bomb deep down the field.
Golson again was inefficient, but he made big plays when Notre Dame needed those plays. At this point, if Notre Dame's defense can continue playing strong, they really do not need much more than a guy who can make big plays at opportune times. This has been the Saban model for years now. AJ McCarron has looked pretty terrible in every game he's ever played against a top defense, but I'll be danged if he doesn't always manage to make a big play when they need it.
At the end of the day, the closeness of this game means nothing to Notre Dame. The BCS computers do not care about margin of victory and the pollsters are not moving Notre Dame up over Alabama or Oregon no matter what happens. They are still in the same position of needing people to lose in front of them to get a shot at the national title, especially if USC drops the UCLA game.
This is the BCS system in a nutshell. We've been close to this kind of nightmare scenario with multiple undefeated teams before, and it has always sorted itself out before the game. All Notre Dame can do is win every game. They beat Pitt, by hook or crook. That is all that matters.
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