Irish miss another chance against PittPublished 10:13am Monday, November 16, 2009
PITTSBURGH – Another close game. Another missed opportunity.
With its season hanging in the balance, Notre Dame missed another golden opportunity to play up to its lofty expectations on national television Saturday night.
But instead of coming from behind and pulling out another victory, the Fighting Irish came up short against No. 8 Pittsburgh in a 27-22 decision at Heinz Field.
Once again, Notre Dame (6-4) trailed by more than a touchdown and once again, the Fighting Irish came storming back.
But unlike games against Michigan State, Purdue, Washington and Boston College, the comeback kids couldn’t get the job done.
So instead of proving how resilient the team is and it’s never-say-die attitude, the Fighting Irish were left with still more questions in a season filled with few answers.
Notre Dame came into Saturday night’s contest fresh from a stunning loss to Navy the previous week and needed to win out in order to have any shot at a BCS bowl game.
But when Pittsburgh was able to hold on for the five-point victory, Notre Dame now needs to win one of its final two games to even post a winning record in 2009.
The Panthers looked to be pulling away from Notre Dame late in the second half after having built up a 27-9 advantage on the Fighting Irish.
Pittsburgh looked more physical on both sides of the football along the line of scrimmage.
The Fighting Irish just as they have done in seven other games this season, didn’t fold and put on a fourth quarter rally that was ended one score short after a controversial reversal by a replay review.
Trailing 27-22 with the ball and 3:39 showing on the clock, Notre Dame started a drive that had all the earmarks of one of its patented comebacks.
But a 15-yard chop block penalty set the Irish back and when Jimmy Clausen fumbled the ball on third-and-16, the Panthers had escaped with the win.
The play was originally ruled an incomplete pass, but upon further review, the replay official deemed that the ball was already a fumble before Clausen’s arm went forward.
Notre Dame had trouble once again with a true freshman – actually two of them.
Running backs Dion Lewis ran for 152 yards and scored on a 50-yard run through the heart of the Notre Dame defense to give the Panthers an 18-point bulge early in the fourth quarter.
The other running back, Ray Graham, sped through the Irish defense, spinning past a pair of defenders on his way to a 53-yard run that set up his 2-yard touchdown score in the third quarter.
The other big play for the Panthers came from Jonathan Baldwin, who hauled in a Bill Stull 51-yard pass to set up a Dan Hutchins field goal and then caught a 36-yard touchdown pass from Stull, who finished the game 15-of-27 for 236 yards.
Baldwin had five catches for 142 yards.
With the Pittsburgh lead standing at 27-9, Notre Dame marched 71 yards in 11 plays to score on a Clausen to Golden Tate 18-yard scoring strike.
After forcing the Panthers to give up the ball on their next possession, Tate returned the punt 87-yards for a touchdown to make it a five point contest.
The Irish went for the 2-point conversion, but failed on a pass.
Clausen, who had a slow start in the game, finished 27-of-42 for 283 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
The Fighting Irish struggled to run the ball yet again, finishing with only 66 yards rushing. Notre Dame had 349 yards in total offense compared to Pittsburgh’s 429, of which 193 came on the ground.
Notre Dame will now return home to face Connecticut on Saturday for Senior Day. The Fighting Irish will wrap up the 2009 regular season on the road against Stanford, a 55-21 winner over USC on Saturday.