FORT WAYNE – Notre Dame displayed a champion’s resolve in its comeback 29-26 triple-overtime victory over Pittsburgh (4-5) on Saturday.
And the Irish (9-0) also learned a valuable lesson as the win kept them in the national championship conversation, allowed them to hold onto the No. 4 spot in the Associated Press Top 25 and USA Today coaches poll but dropped them from No. 3 to No. 4 in the BCS standings behind Alabama (9-0), Kansas State (9-0) and Oregon (9-0).
There can’t be any difference between Oklahoma (which Notre Dame defeated 30-13 Oct. 27) and Pittsburgh, because they are going to play at the same level, and we’re not good enough not to play our A’ game, coach Brian Kelly said during his Sunday teleconference. I think the learning experience is, Listen, you are 9-0, but you have to play your very, very best or all these games are going to come down to one or two plays.
Hopefully, they’ve learned from that.
Kelly received a lesson in the victory as the Irish didn’t just escape because Pitt kicker Kevin Harper missed a 33-yard field in the second overtime after Irish running back Cierre Wood fumbled away what could have been the game-winning touchdown.
Notre Dame also caught a break for not being penalized for having cornerback Bennett Jackson and receiver Chris Brown, who both wear No. 2, on the field at the same time to defend the field goal.
The Irish should have been penalized for having two players with the same number on the field, and that would have given the Panthers a fresh set of downs instead of the teams going into a third overtime.
It was a coaching mistake, Kelly said. We have an easy way for us to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. It’s on me now, so I’m going to make sure it doesn’t happen.
Even though the Irish caught a break, Kelly would not define his team as lucky.
I’ve had many teams that were fortunate because they were good football teams and they found a way to win, Kelly said.
I think I’ve had a team that has gotten some breaks along the way, but generally, those teams have earned them along the way.
Notre Dame will try to earn another victory at 8 p.m. Saturday when it travels to Boston College (2-7).
And even though the Irish will be heavily favored against the Eagles, Kelly said the close call against Pitt should serve as a wake-up call and help his team prepare this week.
You want to build that belief that they can win in all circumstances, but along that journey, they also realize that each and every week, they are going to have to bring their best, Kelly said.
Note: Backup offensive lineman Tate Nichols, who wasn’t in uniform for the win over Pitt, is scheduled to have an MRI on an apparent knee injury, Kelly said.