PITTSBURGH—PITTSBURGH -- Jonathan Baldwin made two exceptional catches that allowed No. 8 Pittsburgh to open up an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter before Notre Dame rallied behind two touchdowns by star Golden Tate, and the Panthers held on for a 27-22 victory Saturday night that may raise more cries for Fighting Irish coach Charlie Weis' ouster.
Notre Dame (6-4) trailed 27-9 with 12:44 remaining after Dion Lewis' 50-yard touchdown run, then came back before Jimmy Clausen fumbled with just over two minutes remaining.
Pitt relied on big plays by Baldwin and running backs Lewis and Ray Graham to improve to 9-1 for the first time since 1982, Dan Marino's senior season, and is headed for a Dec. 5 home date against No. 5 Cincinnati that will decide the Big East Conference champion and BCS bowl representative. A Nov. 27 game at rival West Virginia that won't factor into the conference race.
A game that the Panthers needed to win for prestige and to remain in the Top 10 couldn't have gone much better for them for three quarters-plus, with the offense repeatedly making big plays and the defense frustrating Clausen.
Tate, one of college football's most dynamic talents, nearly brought the Irish back.
See: Notre Dame Coach Charlie Weis Not Worried About His Future
Tate ended with nine catches for 113 yards in his second 100-yard game against Pitt in as many seasons, though Pitt followed up on its 36-33, four-OT win in South Bend last season by outgaining the Irish 429-349. ad_icon
Called the best player Pitt has faced all season by coach Dave Wannstedt, Tate caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from Clausen to cut it to 27-16 with 9:10 remaining. Tate then ran right up the middle of Pitt's punt coverage unit on an 87-yard touchdown return less than two minutes later.
That score quieted a raucous crowd of 65,374, including thousands of suddenly nervous students who only minutes before loudly sung their adopted good-luck song, Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" - only to have a couple of sweet plays by Tate create an uneasy calm.
Until Tate broke loose, Baldwin - overshadowed most of the season by teammate Dorin Dickerson and his 10 touchdown catches - upstaged Tate and Michael Floyd with a string of difference-making catches. Despite being matched step for step by defender Darrin Walls, Baldwin stretched out all of his 6 feet, 5 inches to catch Bill Stull's perfectly thrown 36-yard touchdown catch late in the second half to make it 10-3. Stull went 15 of 27 for 236 yards and no interceptions.
Baldwin then made an even better grab, a soaring 51-yard grab over Walls to the Irish 29 that led to Dan Hutchins' second field goal, a 38-yarder, and a 13-3 lead. After the Irish punted, backup Pitt running back Ray Graham ran through half of the Notre Dame defense on a 53-yard run that led to his 2-yard score one play later.
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Lewis, Pitt's 1,000-yard freshman who ran for 152 yards during his sixth 100-yard game, took over on the next drive to score from the 50 and make it 27-9 after Clausen dove in from the 1 on the first play of the fourth quarter. Clausen has pulled off four comeback wins in the fourth quarter this season and, another frantic fourth, nearly did it again.
The Irish got the ball at their own 20 with 3:39 remaining and had a chance to pull off an improbable comeback, but a 15-yard chop block penalty prevented the drive from taking off and Clausen (27 of 42 for 283 yards, one interception) fumbled while under pressure on a third-and-16 play - one initially ruled an incompletion but reversed on replay.
Notre Dame finally got going on offense after being held to three points in the first half, a week after being shut out by Navy before halftime - a loss that rallied the Weis-must-go forces in South Bend once again.
Weis isn't accustomed to his teams not scoring points in Heinz Field. He began his Notre Dame career by beating Pitt 42-21 in 2005, only nine months after his Tom Brady-led Patriots offense rolled past the Steelers 41-27 in the AFC championship game.
Now, there will be speculation Weis' college career may have effectively ended in the same stadium where it began. The Irish still must play Connecticut and Stanford, which has beaten Top 10 teams the last two weeks, and they have again failed to beat any nationally prominent teams.