SOUTH BEND, Ind. - After three unimpressive performances, Notre Dame finally found an answer to end an uncharacteristic season-opening losing streak.
It was simple: Play it safe and allow the University of Pittsburgh to eventually unravel.
The simple approach proved effective for a 24-7 victory before a sellout crowd of 80,795 at Notre Dame Stadium.
Perhaps no one appreciated the win and felt more relieved after the game than Notre Dame coach Bob Davie, who has been under scrutiny since becoming the first coach in Notre Dame history to open a season by losing three consecutive games.
Yet, Davie's satisfaction for getting by the Panthers extended beyond his personal concerns.
“It's a pretty significant (win) and it's not as big for me as those kids in that (Notre Dame) locker room,” he said. “They get to walk out of here today feeling good. It's a lot easier to preach a message of perseverance when you get some breaks going your way.”
Notre Dame's defense entered the game having produced only two turnovers for the season. The Irish (1-3) had five against the Panthers (1-3). Meanwhile, an Irish offense, relegated primarily to running the football, played conservatively, yet, error-free.
Sophomore quarterback Carlyle Holiday, making his second consecutive start, completed 10 of 13 passes for 70 yards, including a string of nine straight. Nevertheless, he didn't have a completion longer than 12 yards as most of Notre Dame's passing game consisted of short crossing patterns.
Holiday was most effective running. He led the Irish with 122 yards on 19 carries. Notre Dame finished with 249 rushing yards.
His most significant carry occurred when he dashed through the Panthers for a 67-yard touchdown with 1:06 remaining in the third quarter to give the Irish a 17-7 lead.
“We stretched the offense out and I cut back and thought I was going to get tackled, but I just kept my feet going and busted out of there,” Holiday said. “It caught me by surprise, but it was my first touchdown so I felt good.”
Holiday's touchdown scamper capped off a four-play, 99-yard drive for Notre Dame that came right after Pittsburgh receiver R.J. English fumbled at the Irish 1-yard line to halt what could have been a go-ahead score for the Panthers, who were trailing 10-7.
Irish safety Abram Elam came up with the loose ball - one of two fumbles by the Panthers. Elam also intercepted a pass.
“The coaches have been saying we need to make plays to turn this season around,” Elam said. “I was just trying to show emotion to get everybody fired up and ready to go out and win this game.”
Davie said he challenged his defense to step up against the Panthers.
“For us, it's all about forcing turnovers,” he said. “We've played solid defense. I think we'll continue to play solid defense. The offense has been taking the heat, (but) the defense deserved some heat because they weren't generating any turnovers.”
Pittsburgh coach Walt Harris didn't think the Panthers, who have lost three straight games, were intimidated by playing on the road at Notre Dame.
“When you are playing against an evenly matched team you need to make the most of your opportunities,” Harris said. “In a road game like this one you can not win by committing five turnovers and allowing 99-yard drives. We beat ourselves today.”
The Panthers' only score came on the first play of the second quarter when David Priestley connected with Antonio Bryant on a 32-yard touchdown pass to even the score at 7.
Julius Jones, who gained 69 yards on 25 carries, capped off Notre Dame's first and last scoring drives. He scored on a five-yard run with 3:31 remaining in the first quarter to give Notre Dame a 7-0 lead and later scored on a one-yard carry with 5:13 left in the game to make it 24-7.
Nicholas Setta kicked a 40-yard field goal midway through the third quarter to break a 7-7 tie and put the Irish ahead for good.