Ian Book threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Miles Boykin with 5:43 remaining and No. 5 Notre Dame remained unbeaten, coming from behind and then holding off Pittsburgh 19-14 on Saturday.
The Fighting Irish are 7-0 for the first time since 2012, the year they went to the BCS title game, and this game against Pitt was reminiscent of that season’s victory in South Bend against the Panthers (3-4).
Pitt led 14-12 thanks to a long first-quarter touchdown drive and a 99-yard kickoff return by Maurice Ffrench to start the second half.
Pat Narduzzi’s Panthers were looking to upset an Associated Press top-five team for the third straight season after knocking off No. 3 Clemson in Death Valley during the 2016 season and No. 2 Miami last November in Pittsburgh.
But the Irish, who were held to 80 yards rushing, prevailed behind Book, who is 4-0 as a starter since replacing Brandon Wimbush. Book was intercepted twice, but finished with 264 yards passing.
Book and Boykin have connected for memorable plays before, including the 55-yard winning touchdown with 1:28 remaining in Notre Dame’s 21-17 victory over LSU at the Citrus Bowl last season.
Pitt senior running tandem of Darrin Hall and Qadree Ollison rushed for 62 and 50 yards, respectively, with Ollison scoring the Panthers’ first touchdown on a 9-yard run that capped a 17-play drive on their first possession of the game.
Kenny Pickett was 19 for 28 for 126 yards, and was sacked by Khalid Kareem – Notre Dame’s only sack of the game – for a loss of 14 yards on Pitt’s final possession to set up a fourth-and-long the Panthers could not convert.
Pitt also ran a strange faked punt on its second-to-last drive around midfield that failed.
Pittsburgh: The Panthers gained just 12 yards on their last three drives of the first half. Their first, however, was a thing of beauty: 17 plays, 88 yards, six first downs, consuming 9:43 of the clock and ending with Ollison taking a direct snap, faking an end-around handoff and running into the end zone on second-and-goal from the Irish 9.
Notre Dame: The Irish trailed for the first times after the first quarter (7-0), at halftime (7-6) and after three quarters (14-12), and they were their own worst enemy. Notre Dame allowed three sacks and had just 53 yards rushing in the first three quarters after averaging 195.7 per game. Williams, who averaged 169.5 yards in his first games since a four-game suspension, had one yard at halftime and 13 yards on eight rushes after three quarters.
In 2012, Notre Dame beat Pitt 29-26 in overtime, one of several great escapes for the Irish that season.
Pittsburgh: Off next week and plays host to Duke Oct. 27.
Notre Dame: Off next week and plays Navy in San Diego Oct. 27.
Source: The Associated Press