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Comeback canceled

Bill Brink | Monday, November 16, 2009

PITTSBURGH — Golden Tate nearly brought the Irish back, but he couldn’t quite do it alone.

Neither could Dion Lewis, but he did enough.

Lewis rushed for 152 yards and a touchdown and No. 8 Pittsburgh beat Notre Dame 27-22 Saturday.

“It was a great win for the program, a great win for the kids, particularly those who were around here five years ago when we had a bad experience here,” said Panthers coach Dave Wannstedt, referring to Notre Dame’s 42-21 win over Pittsburgh in 2005 in both his and Irish coach Charlie Weis’ debuts.

The loss dropped the Irish to 6-4, while the Panthers moved to 9-1, 5-0 in Big East play.
“It’s dismal,” junior linebacker Brian Smith said of the mood in Notre Dame’s locker room.
Pittsburgh quarterback Bill Stull completed 15-of-27 passes for 236 yards and a touchdown.

Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen threw for 283 yards, most of them in the second half, and a touchdown and an interception.

Tate wouldn’t let the Irish lose. Down 27-16, he caught a punt, dodged a tackler and burst through the coverage team for an 87-yard return touchdown to make the score 27-22 with 7:16 left in the fourth quarter. On the two-point conversion attempt, Clausen’s shovel pass to tight end Mike Ragone fell incomplete and the score stayed the same.

Tate also had nine catches for 113 yards and a touchdown.

“We got Golden out there because he’s the one guy with the ball in his hands who has a chance of making a big play,” Weis said.

As good as he played, though, Tate wanted more.

“I didn’t get open enough,” he said. “Put it on me. I need to make more plays.”

Notre Dame forced a punt and got the ball back near the end of the game, but Clausen was hit as he threw on third down and the pass fell incomplete. The play was reviewed and ruled a fumble, and Pittsburgh ran out the clock. Clausen said he couldn’t tell during the play whether or not he fumbled or the ball was knocked out when his arm was moving forward.

The Irish started to move the ball in the fourth quarter. Clausen completed 6-of-8 passes on an 11-play, 71-yard drive that ended with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Tate. That made the score 27-16 with 9:10 remaining. Clausen completed 9-of-12 passes for 95 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Before that, however, the offense stalled.

“It was kind of weird looking back on it, I know we were moving the ball and then something happened to set us back,” Clausen said.

Pittsburgh gained 193 yards on the ground while Notre Dame had only 66. Running back Armando Allen played well in the first half, but was used sparingly in the second. He finished with 14 carries for 77 yards.

Punter Eric Maust struggled again for the Irish. He punted five times for an average of 24.8 yards per punt and three punts traveled less than 20 yards.

Notre Dame’s defense picked up for the offense in the first half. The Irish defense stopped Pittsburgh on the Notre Dame 43-yard line and forced a punt, but Irish linebacker Darius Fleming was called for a personal foul when he ran into punter Dan Hutchins, extending the Panthers’ drive. Pittsburgh got into the red zone, but stalled, and Hutchins kicked a 34-yard field goal to make the score 3-0 with 9:40 left in the first quarter.

Junior kicker David Ruffer, filling in for freshman Nick Tausch because he was hurt during warm-ups and could not play, made a 42-yard field goal in the first quarter to tie the score at three.

In the second quarter, Clausen heaved the ball up to receiver Michael Floyd in double coverage. Safety Jarred Holley came down with the ball, which flew long of Floyd, for Clausen’s fourth interception of the season.

Stull connected with receiver Jonathan Baldwin for two important passes on the ensuing drive, one a 21-yard third down conversion to the Notre Dame 36-yard line and the next a 36-yard touchdown. The score gave Pittsburgh a 10-3 lead with 2:31 left in the first half.
“He [Baldwin]’s awesome,” Stull said. “You have to have faith and know who you’re throwing to and I knew who I was throwing to with him.”

Early in the second half, Stull and Baldwin again connected for a long gain. Stull threw the ball up to Baldwin, who has five inches on cornerback Darrin Walls, and he came down with it for a 51-yard completion. Walls had good position but couldn’t get high enough to make a play on the ball. That play set up a 38-yard field goal from Hutchins to make the score 13-3 with 9:15 left in the third quarter.

Freshman running back Ray Graham finally broke through Notre Dame’s run defense with a 52-yard run down the sideline, thanks in part to a block from Stull. Graham scored on the next play from two yards out to make the score 20-3 with 6:36 left in the third quarter.

Two penalties almost derailed Notre Dame’s drive after Graham’s touchdown, but Clausen scored on a quarterback sneak. Panthers defensive end Greg Romeus blocked the extra point, however, so the score remained 20-9 with 14:56 left in the fourth quarter.

After waiting all game, Lewis finally broke free. He broke a 50-yard touchdown run right up the middle of Notre Dame’s defense to make the score 27-9 with 12:44 left in the game.