TOM COYNE, Associated Press
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Notre Dame’s chance to go to back-to-back BCS bowl games for the first time since the 2005-06 seasons is gone because it made too many mistakes against what had been a .500 team.
The Fighting Irish (7-3) might have been able to overcome the two interceptions thrown by Tommy Rees against Pittsburgh (5-4) on Saturday, including one into the end zone. Or giving up a 63-yard touchdown pass to Devin Street. Or failing to even attempt to pick up a loose fumble that might have gone for a touchdown.
But they couldn’t overcome all those mistakes in losing 28-21 to the Panthers.
“All losses are disappointing losses, but that was especially disappointing in the way we played and coached,” Kelly said after the game Saturday.
Kelly didn’t hold his usual Sunday teleconference because of the lateness of the game and because the Irish have an off week before playing BYU on Nov. 23. Kelly said squandering an opportunity to get to a BCS game wasn’t his biggest concern.
“I think what I’m most concerned about is the inability to put together a consistent effort tonight in November,” he said. “We’re 10 games into the season. There’s really, for me, no reason why — and I take full responsibility for this as the head coach — we don’t execute at the level that we should in November. And that didn’t happen tonight.”
It was just the second loss for the Irish in 13 games in November under Kelly. The other one occurred against fourth-ranked Stanford in 2011. The defeat against Pitt hurt more, though, because the Irish knew it was a game they could have won.
The most glaring mistake occurred in the fourth quarter when linebacker Prince Shembo hit Pitt quarterback Tom Savage, knocking the ball loose. Defensive end Sheldon Day slapped at the ball with his hand, but made no attempt to pick it up, apparently thinking it was an incomplete pass. No other Notre Dame player tried to grab it, either, and eventually Pitt’s Isaac Bennett jumped on it.
“It was just a lapse of a bunch of inexperienced guys not seeing they should have been on the ball,” Kelly said.
Along with squandering the chance for a BCS bowl, the Irish blew an opportunity to reclaim the title of the football program with the best all-time winning percentage, a distinction they lost to Michigan in 2003. For now, they remain slightly behind the Wolverines.
The common denominator in Notre Dame’s losses this season is interceptions. Rees has thrown seven in three defeats and three in their seven wins. Rees said the Irish need to use the off week leading up to their home finale to regroup.
“We have to come back as a team and come back for each other,” he said. “We’ll have a good two weeks of preparation before our last game at home.”
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