NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- Pitt's defense was shredded for 54 points by Rutgers last weekend and spent a week listening to a legion of critics rip them apart and question whether it is good enough to give the Panthers a chance to beat any of the teams remaining on the schedule.
The unit answered that question yesterday in the Panthers' 36-33 four-overtime upset at Notre Dame in resounding fashion.
"We had a bunch of people make some plays today," said Pitt middle linebacker Scott McKillop, who led the Panthers with 15 tackles. "We knew we were a good defense. Rutgers had a bunch of players have career days and that is going to happen. You hope that doesn't happen but we went back in the next day and got on the chalk board and realized what we could have done better and realized how we could execute quicker and faster.
"Today, we had some big plays but we can still play better. I like where we are at right now and I think we are better than we were last week and now we have to get focused on Louisville."
The Panthers didn't completely shut down the Irish as they gave up 33 points and 386 total yards but unlike last week, they made a number of big stops on third and fourth downs and also limited the number of Notre Dame's big plays to one -- a 47-yard pass from Jimmy Clausen to Golden Tate.
Pitt was also able to hold the Irish to field-goal attempts in all four of the overtime periods and the Panthers also limited the Irish to only 146 yards in the second half and overtime.
That's a huge contrast to the game against Rutgers because the Scarlet Knights lit up the Panthers' secondary for big play after big play while Scarlet Knights quarterback Mike Teel threw for six touchdown passes.
McKillop said despite that effort, nobody on the team doubted the secondary and nobody pointed fingers at anyone else - -and that is why they were able to come together and put forth such an inspired effort on a day when the Panthers offense struggled and turned the ball over three times.
"We never lost faith in anyone on this team, offensively or defensively, no matter who it is," McKillop said. "These guys are all at the University of Pittsburgh for a reason and they can all make plays. Last week was a bad week for the defense and this week we came out and played pretty well."
Yesterday Pat Bostick started at quarterback for Pitt for the first time this season because starting quarterback Bill Stull was out with a concussion. In fact, it was Bostick's first start since the Panthers' improbable 13-9 upset of West Virginia to close last season. That means Bostick, who was 14 for 27 with a touchdown and three interceptions, was under center for two of the biggest upset road victories in recent Pitt history.
Despite that fact, Bostick said he isn't caught up in the magnitude of games -- he's just trying to do his best to help Pitt win.
"This is still Bill's [Stull] team and unfortunately he couldn't play today," Bostick said. "I came out prepared to play and made some mistakes and forced some things and made a few unfortunate plays but we made enough plays to win. I wouldn't say they need me to win on the road, Bill has won his share of big road wins as well. This is a total team win and it couldn't come at a better time."
The last time Pitt won at Notre Dame -- 41-38 in 2004 -- Pitt quarterback Tyler Palko, then just a sophomore, threw five touchdown passes and was so excited after the game he gave the now infamous live television interview on NBC in which he said "I'm so [expletive] proud of this football team."
McKillop and some of his teammates joked about it this week with Palko, who visited practice and spoke to the team on Thursday, and then again yesterday made reference to it after the game.
"A kind of funny thing with that," McKillop said. "I was going to try and find Shady right before he did the interview [with NBC] and tell him to say 'I'm just so ... no not this time. I'm just so proud of my team right now."
Pitt freshman Jonathan Baldwin had a number of balls thrown his way and made spectacular plays to come down with two of them -- even though it was fairly evident that Pitt was trying to throw him jump balls in almost every passing situation. Baldwin had a 21-yard catch in which he tipped a ball in the air then jumped up and grabbed it and he also had 10-yard touchdown reception on a fade pattern -- the third consecutive play it had been called.
"We tried it about 10 times," Wannstedt said when asked about the fade route. "That's about the extent of our passing game today. It was a game of fade routes. Jonathan Baldwin, you recognize him as a freshman, the guy is really maturing at a fast pace."
Conor Lee had five field goals and 18 points in the game and both are school records for kickers. He also extended his record of consecutive extra points without a miss to 100. ... LeSean McCoy rushed for 169 yards, making it the fifth-consecutive game with 140 yards or more. ... The four overtimes makes the game the longest game involving a Big East team. There have been seven three-overtime games involving Big East teams, including Pitt's 41-38 win over West Virginia in 1997. ... Freshman Andrew Taglianetti blocked a punt in the first quarter, the seventh blocked kick of the season for the Panthers. It was also Taglianetti's second blocked punt of the year.
Paul Zeise can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1720.