NOTRE DAME, Ind. — Fifth-ranked Notre Dame (7-0) came back from an eight-point, second-half deficit against Pittsburgh (3-4), preserving its undefeated season with a 19-14 victory Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.
Quarterback Ian Book overcame two early turnovers and led a pair of key second-half touchdown drives to put the Irish ahead for good in the fourth quarter. It marked Book’s fourth straight game with multiple touchdown passes.
Julian Okwara stood out defensively, recording seven quarterback hurries, six tackles and a third-down tackle-for-loss late in the game. Khalid Kareem also made his presence felt, sacking Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett for a 14-yard loss on the Panthers’ final drive of the afternoon to highlight his four tackles.
How It Happened
After punting on their opening possession, the Irish fell behind by a touchdown early thanks to a 17-play, 88-yard scoring drive by the Panthers at the 1:26 mark of the first quarter.
Notre Dame’s second drive ended in a takeaway by Pittsburgh cornerback Jason Pinnock, setting up the Panthers at their own 38-yard line. However, the Irish prevented the Panthers from scoring on their next two offensive possessions, and Notre Dame got on the board with 4:34 to play in the second quarter thanks to a 22-yard Justin Yoon field goal.
On Pittsburgh’s ensuing drive, the Irish forced yet another punt, and Notre Dame managed to score again before the half with a 41-yard kick by Yoon. With Pittsburgh owning a 7-6 lead, it marked the first time this season that Notre Dame found itself trailing at the half.
Panthers’ wide receiver Maurice Ffrench started the second half with a 99-yard kickoff return touchdown, putting Pittsburgh up by a score of 14-6 just 14 seconds into the third quarter. The eight-point deficit was Notre Dame’s largest of the season.
Notre Dame’s first offensive drive of the second half showed promise, but it was cut short by a second interception of Book. The Panthers were unable to convert the Irish turnover into points, however, as Alex Kessman’s 47-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left.
After Pittsburgh’s missed field goal, the Irish offense finally sprung to life,with Book engineering a 71-yard touchdown drive, capped by a 16-yard strike to Chase Claypool. Notre Dame attempted a two-point conversion but was unable to convert, keeping the Irish deficit at two points with 2:09 to play in the third quarter.
The Irish defense registered a key third-down stop on the Panthers’ next drive, thanks to a timely tackle-for-loss by Okwara that forced a Pittsburgh punt. The Irish finally surged into the lead following a five-play, 80-yard scoring drive with 5:43 left in the game, as Book found senior wide receiver Miles Boykin on a 35-yard touchdown reception. It marked the third straight game in which Boykin recorded a touchdown catch, good for his fourth of the season..
Notre Dame stifled Pittsburgh on its ensuing drive, and took over on downs after the Panthers unsuccessfully attempted to convert on fourth down on a fake punt. Not fooled by the Panthers’ attempted trickery, the Irish swarmed Pittsburgh backup quarterback Jeff George Jr. and his pass sailed harmlessly out of bounds.
The Irish attempted their own fourth down try with just under three minutes to play, but Book’s rush came up short of the line to gain.
Notre Dame’s defense was tasked with closing out the game, and the Irish defenders delivered, thanks in large part to a first-down sack by Kareem. Pickett’s desperation fourth-down heave fell incomplete, and Book kneeled out the clock to seal the Irish victory.
The Irish will have their first bye weekend of the season before they take to the road again to face Navy on Oct. 27 at SDCCU Stadium in San Diego.