NOTRE DAME, Ind. — For three-and-a-half quarters Saturday, shoulders tensed inside Notre Dame Stadium.
Just not inside the Irish huddle.
It was a situation the No. 5 team in the country had yet to find itself in in 2018. There had been close contests — three straight wins by eight points or less to start the season — and blowouts in their first six games, but the Fighting Irish hadn’t yet had to come from behind, let alone so late in a game.
Yet when Notre Dame regained possession with 7:26 remaining in the game and trailing 14-12, the Irish remained cool, calm and collected.
Leading the charge was quarterback Ian Book, who — despite posting a season-high 81-percent completion percentage (since assuming starting duties at Wake Forest — admittedly wasn’t at his most crisp at times on Saturday. None of that mattered when it came down to it, though, as the junior signal-caller orchestrated a five-play, 80-yard touchdown drive capped by his 35-yard strike to Miles Boykin, giving Notre Dame the lead for good.
“We had to stay calm,” Book said. “A win’s a win and these football games happen. You know, there’s no point in freaking out when you have some time on the clock, and we’ve been there before, you know, so we didn’t want to make it a bigger deal than it was. I’m proud of the guys for remaining calm being able to go down and win the game.
“Miles made a great move and stuck it on the post and, like I’ve said many times, he’s really rangy, so (I have) just got to put it up there and give him a chance. That’s something I was focusing on all week — giving our guys a chance. Throw it and Miles will go get it.”
Book was 26-of-32 passing for 264 yards, but two interceptions, one of which came as his arm was hit on the throw, soured the offensive performance as the Irish struggled to find the end zone. Compounding matters was a running game that yielded just 80 yards on 38 plays — Notre Dame’s lowest output of the season.
And after limiting substantial plays on special teams since the opener against Michigan, they gave up a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second half.
Yet when they needed to most, the Irish found a way to win.
They were helped by a pair of missed field goals from the Panthers, which turned out to be the difference in the 19-14 decision. And for all the time Pittsburgh spent with the ball — winning the time of possession battle 33:27 to 26:33 — the Irish defense still gave up just 242 total yards and one offensive touchdown.
Book’s most significant yardage came late in the game, first when he found Chase Claypool on a 16-yard touchdown reception at the 2:09 mark of the third quarter to cut the deficit to 14-12. Two drives later, he hooked up with Boykin for the winning score.
It marked another step in the maturation process for the quarterback, who had described himself as “skittish” after missing a handful of long pass plays last week at Virginia Tech.
“Obviously it was a huge play,” Book said. “It felt good coming out (and was a) big confidence boost, but I think I was still a little bit skittish.
“But then I think in the second half, I really, you know, remained calm, trusted the guys. We have such a great O-Line, there’s no reason to be skittish. I’m just excited that we got this win.”