SOUTH BEND – Pittsburgh is a football team that had lost to Youngstown State. By two scores. So how in the name of Beano Cook (God rest his soul) did the Panthers go into Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday and miss knocking off the fourth-ranked Fighting Irish by a mere errant field goal?
“I told (the players) that they have to understand that everybody they play against will play their absolute best,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said.
Pittsburgh (4-5) did just that before falling in triple overtime 29-26. With the win, the Fighting Irish (9-0) remain in the hunt for a national championship – that is until they play a bad Boston College (2-7) team this Saturday (8 p.m. on ABC).
“Boston College will play out of their minds against us,” Kelly said. “(Our players) Can’t just highlight certain teams on their schedule. I think that’s a lesson learned for our football team.”
Notre Dame committed an abundance of errors throughout Saturday’s game, but somehow found a way to survive a game-winning field goal attempt by Panther kicker Kevin Harper in the second overtime session.
Noted sports columnist Rick Reilly may not be of the belief that the Irish program is still a prominent one, but the Notre Dame opponents, as well as the circus-type atmosphere that is permanently ensconced around the program no matter where it goes, is proving differently.
“When people play Notre Dame, it’s going to be a war,” Fighting Irish All-America linebacker Manti Te’o said after the victory. “We have to understand that our success on Saturdays depends on what we do during the week. I’m proud of the way our guys fought.”
According to Kelly, last week’s preparation wasn’t the issue with barely getting past a mediocre football team on Saturday. The problem was simply a lack of focus and execution once the game started.
“We prepared well,” Kelly said. “We had good practices. There was nothing that would be an excuse if we didn’t come out on the right side of (this game). It was not our best effort. Now having said that, we played a team that played extremely well today, and we found a way to win. That’s a good thing.”
The near-defeat did prove costly in one regard, as the Irish dropped from third to fourth in Sunday’s BCS standings. Kelly addressed just how much attention that he pays to how the top teams (Alabama, Kansas State and Oregon) are doing on Saturdays in comparison to his own group.
“Maybe I should say the politically correct, yes,” Kelly said. “I don’t really care about that. Everybody says I should care. I care about my football team. I care about getting better. We’re really just focused on ourselves. We can’t worry about all those other things. We really can’t.”