SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP)—Brian Kelly’s baby, his spread offense, was clicking for a half. Notre Dame’s no-huddle was snapping off plays so rapidly that Pitt’s defense was hurrying to get organized. The speed early on was almost dizzying.
But the 17-3 lead the Irish forged by halftime— thanks also to Pitt’s struggles to score from inside the 20—didn’t end in a comfortable win for Notre Dame. Not that style points mean anything to Kelly.
|ELUSIVE—Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist, left, eludes Pittsburgh defensive tackle Jabaal Sheard on his way to a 10-yard touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind., Oct. 9. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
“Again, got off to a pretty good start offensively, but as we’ve shown, we are really good at stubbing our toe, whether it be a penalty here or a drop here. But that’s us,” Kelly said after the Irish held on to beat the Panthers 23-17 Saturday.
Quarterback Dayne Crist passed for a TD and ran for another in the first half, completing 12 straight passes at one point. And the Irish got three field goals from David Ruffer, who stayed perfect in his career (16-for-16) while setting a school record for consecutive makes.
“You can just see the way we operate it, it can be really effective,” Crist said. “We’re happy with the way we were moving the ball while we were in that tempo.”
Still, the Panthers climbed back into it. Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri hit Jon Baldwin on a 56-yard TD to bring the Panthers within 23-17 with 7:23 left.
Pitt (2-3) got the ball back twice thereafter—at its own 10 with 4:45 to go and again at its 7 with 1:37 remaining. But on its final series, Gary Gray broke up a fourth down pass intended for Baldwin and Notre Dame (3-3) ran out the clock for its second straight win following a three-game losing streak.
“We’re moving the ball. We get down in there. We have to settle for attempted field goals. We don’t finish the drive,” said Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt, who’d beaten Notre Dame in thrillers the previous two seasons.
Sunseri, who completed 27 of 39 passes for 272 yards and also ran for a second-half TD, agreed that not cashing in on earlier opportunities cost Pitt a chance at victory.
“We have to come in and understand that we had the game, but we have to capitalize in the red zone whenever we’re down there,” Sunseri said.
“They had us off balance defensively with the no huddle offense at a faster tempo than we could have ever practiced,” Wannstedt said.
“That kind of got us on our heels a little bit the first half. Defensively, our kids, the second half, they battled to the last play.”
Pitt (2-3) opens Big East play Saturday at Syracuse (4-1).
The Rutgers at Pittsburgh game Oct. 23 will start at noon. ESPN Regional will televise the game as its Big East Conference game of the week.
Rutgers will play at Pitt for the first time since winning 54-34 in 2008.