Oct 11, 2003
By ALAN ROBINSON
AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) – None of the great runners in Notre Dame’s past — George Gipp, Paul Hornung, Ricky Watters, Jerome Bettis, Allen Pinkett — ever did what Julius Jones did against Pittsburgh.
Jones broke the school’s single-game rushing record with 262 yards and scored twice and the Fighting Irish, the nation’s eighth-worst rushing team, surprised the No. 15 Panthers by switching to a power running game in their 20-14 upset victory Saturday night.
“It was just a great day for us,” Jones said. “Things just opened up for us. I was fortunate enough to get a lot of carries and the line did a great job.”
The Irish (2-3) turned two Pitt turnovers into scores, again disrupted quarterback Rod Rutherford with their constant pressure and revamped their offense during a bye week to beat Pitt (3-2) for the third straight season.
Only two weeks after throwing 62 times for 297 yards in a 23-10 loss to Purdue, Notre Dame nearly abandoned its passing game — freshman Brady Quinn completed only five passes for 33 yards — to repeatedly run at a Pitt defense that has allowed 1,480 yards in its last three games.
Afterward, the Panthers didn’t know what hit them — or, for that matter, what the Irish hit them with.
“We had trouble physically getting it done,” a frustrated Pitt coach Walt Harris said. “We had trouble running the ball. We had trouble protecting the passer. They just had too much for us.”
Pitt lineman Vince Crochunis said the Panthers never expected Notre Dame to run like it did.
“When we watched them on tape, they were struggling to get the running game going,” Crochunis said. “We expected them to throw more. But when something’s working as well as that did, why try anything else?”
Jones, a senior who was academically ineligble last season, had only 152 yards on 43 carries this season, only to enjoy the biggest game by any running back in the Irish’s storied history.
Jones, who ran for 718 yards as a junior in 2001, broke the record of 255 yards set by Vagas Ferguson against Georgia Tech in 1978.
So much for the talk that Notre Dame, which has played five consecutive ranked opponents and has Southern Cal up next, was headed for a 1-7 start.
“I think the weakest part of our game has been the running,” Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham said. “We wanted to see if we can improve and once we did that, we wanted to continue it.”
“I think the weakest part of our game has been the running. We wanted to see if we can improve and once we did that, we wanted to continue it.”- Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham
Jones had 94 yards by halftime, including touchdown runs of 25 and 49 yards. He kept piling up the yards in the second half, even though the Irish’s only second half scoring was D.J. Fitzpatrick’s 34-yard field midway through the third quarter that made it 20-14.
Jones added a 61-yard run during an eight minutes-plus Notre Dame drive that consumed most of the fourth quarter and kept the ball from a Pitt offense desperate to prevent the Panthers’ second upset loss in three games. They were beaten by Toledo 35-31 on Sept. 20.
QB Brady Quinn and the Irish ended a three game losing streak.
Fitzpatrick, replacing Nick Setta as the kicker, had given Notre Dame the lead for good at 17-14 with a 19-yarder 33 seconds before halftime, after Derek Landri recovered Rutherford’s fumble at the Pitt 8.
Earlier, William “Tutu” Ferguson’s fumbled punt just four plays into the game gave Notre Dame the ball at the Pitt 34. Jones ran for 10 yards on second down, then scored from the 25 less than three minutes into the game to give a preview of his big game to come.
Harris repeatedly warned his team that Notre Dame’s defense was much better than the Irish’s record would indicate, and he was right.
Rutherford, the nation’s leading passer, completed only 12 of 30 passes for 167 yards and was sacked eight times, just as he was in a 14-6 loss at Notre Dame last season.
Nearly all of Pitt’s offense was condensed into a two-minute span. Rutherford hit star receiver Larry Fitzgerald on a 23-yard touchdown pass on the final play of the first quarter, finishing a 52-yard drive. Fitzgerald has at least one scoring catch in 10 consecutive games.
Ferguson, making up for his earlier lost fumble, then returned a punt 71 yards to the Irish 4, and Rutherford immediately hit Fitzgerald in a corner of the end zone behind cornerback Vontez Duff for the touchdown.
But Fitzgerald, averaging a nation’s best 145.8 yards receiving, was held to only about half that, 79 yards on five catches.
Rutherford said the Irish “gave him (Fitzgerald) some problems, and we had trouble getting him the ball.”
Pitt stalled repeatedly after the two quick scores as David Abdul missed two field-goal attempts, and a Panthers offense that ranked among the nation’s best ended up being outgained 385-175. Notre Dame came into the game only 111th among the 117 Division I-A teams in total yardage and 109th in rushing offense.
Notre Dame beat Pitt for the 11th time in 12 games since 1987. The Irish are 22-2 following a bye week since 1984.