Notre Dame loses second straight home game to unranked team

Published 7:54 am Monday, November 15, 2004

By By ADAM FISHER / Niles Daily Star
Notre Dame's defensive line did its job, but it was a tough day for the Irish secondary.
The Irish limited Pittsburgh to 98 yards rushing Saturday, but couldn't contain Panthers' quarterback Tyler Palko in a 41-38 loss. Palko threw for 334 yards and the most touchdowns, five, anyone has thrown against a Notre Dame defense.
Despite Notre Dame's defensive short-comings, the Irish offense was able to hang with Pitt in a shoot-out. But the Panthers got the ball last, and that was the difference.
The Irish held a 35-31 lead late in the fourth quarter with Pitt driving. Notre Dame stopped the Panthers twice, once on third down and another on fourth, but two pass interference calls gave Pitt first downs.
The second stop came on fourth and 10 from Notre Dame's 24-yard line with three minutes remaining. Palko heaved a desperation pass to the endzone in a group of players.
Irish safety Quentin Burrell actually picked off the pass, but the play was reversed because of the penalty. Two plays later, Palko completed a 9-yard touchdown pass to tight end Erik Gill, his fifth touchdown pass of the game.
Notre Dame was able to tie the game at 38-38 with 1:10 remaining after Brady Quinn led the Irish 53 yards in seven plays, setting up D.J. Fitzpatrick's 45-yard kick that bounced off the right upright and in.
Once Pittsburgh got the ball back, Palko drove his team 55 yards downfield in six plays to set up kicker Josh Cummings' 32-yard field goal with 1 second remaining on the clock.
The loss is Notre Dame's second straight home loss to an unranked opponent. It comes one week after the Irish upset then-No. 9 Tennesse, the second time this season they've upended a Top 10 team.
Notre Dame's first drive of the game seemed to be an omen of things to come. On the Irish's second play from scrimmage, Quinn's first passing attempt was picked off deep in Irish territory.
Pitt gave the ball back to Notre Dame three plays later, as the Irish recovered a Panthers' fumble at their own 26-yard line.
The Irish converted the turnover into a 74-yard drive, capped off by a 1-yard Darius Walker touchdown run.
From there, the game continued to go back and forth, featuring five ties and three lead changes. Seven points was the largest advantage either team enjoyed.
Notre Dame's defense had particular trouble stopping the Panthers on third down. Pitt converted 8-of-9 third downs in the first half on its was to a 28-21 halftime lead.
Heading into Saturday's game, the Panthers had converted just 34 percent of their third downs on the season. The only third down they didn't make in the first half, they converted on fourth down to keep the drive alive.
The two crucial pass interference calls weren't the only big penalties against Notre Dame. The Irish had 10 penalties called against them for 119 yards. Six of those penalties resulted in Pitt first downs.
Walker had another good day rushing for the Irish. He gained 116 yards on 16 attempts and scored two touchdowns. Quinn completed 15-of-26 attempts for three touchdowns, but also threw two interceptions.
Three of Quinn's passes went to receiver Matt Shelton, who ended the day with 128 yards receiving and a touchdown.
Palko connected on 26 of his 42 passing attempts for 334 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions.
Notre Dame has a week off before ending its season at No. 1 ranked USC. The Irish, at 6-4, are bowl-eligible, but need one more victory to have a realistic shot at going to a big-name bowl.