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Pitt-Notre Dame series produces phenomenal performances

| Thursday, Oct. 30, 2008

Former Pitt running back Tony Dorsett had all the motivation in the world to play Notre Dame.

And it had nothing to do with the Notre Dame's rich tradition, but instead, with a comment supposedly made by one of the Irish assistant coaches.

"Rumor got back to me that Tom Pagna, who was Ara Parseghian's right-hand man, said they weren't going to recruit that 'skinny, little kid from Aliquippa,' " said Dorsett, the 1976 Heisman Trophy winner and a member of the college and pro football halls of fame. "He later denied it. Whether it was true or not, I believed it, and I had a point to prove."

That off-the-record remark was answered with record statements by Dorsett, who set a Pitt single-game rushing mark with 303 yards against Notre Dame as a junior in 1975. He finished with 754 rushing yards in four games against the Fighting Irish -- still an NCAA record for four-year opponents.

The history of the Golden Dome and the sight of Touchdown Jesus were of little consequence to former Pitt quarterback Tyler Palko, who became the first player to throw five scoring passes at Notre Dame Stadium in a 41-38 Panthers victory in 2004.

"I can't tell you about the tradition or mystique," Palko said, "because I never paid attention to it, never bought into that stuff."

The Pitt-Notre Dame series, which began in 1909, has produced a number of record-setting performances for both programs.

With offensive stars such as Pitt tailback LeSean McCoy and Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen, there's potential for more magical moments when the Panthers (5-2) visit the Fighting Irish (5-2) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in South Bend, Ind.

Pitt is preparing to prevent Clausen from having a career game the way Rutgers quarterback Mike Teel did in passing for a career-high 361 yards and school-record six touchdowns in a 54-34 victory over Pitt last Saturday.

"Regardless of whoever you're playing, one of the things you don't want to do is allow anyone to have a career day and rub your face in it," Pitt middle linebacker Scott McKillop said. "We've can't repeat what we did last week."

Dorsett believes McCoy is ready for a record-setting day.

"He's capable of great things," Dorsett said. "He's a very talented young man. He's got the potential to eclipse all kinds of records. I like his game a lot.

"They need a good running game to beat Notre Dame. LeSean McCoy, in my opinion, has to have a good game for Pitt to beat them."

McCoy has reeled off four consecutive games with 140-plus rushing yards, but he doesn't have any delusions of grandeur that he can surpass Dorsett's single-game school mark. McCoy wouldn't mind producing his first 200-yard game, the way Julius Jones did in setting a Notre Dame single-game rushing record with 262 yards in a 20-14 victory over Pitt in 2003.

"I don't have to go there and do the stuff that (Dorsett) did," McCoy said, "but as long as I'm close, I'll be all right."

After Dorsett's 303-yard game in 1975, ABC pushed for the Pitt-Notre Dame to be moved from midseason to the opener the next year because both teams were considered national championship contenders. As legend has it, the grass at Notre Dame was left long to slow down Dorsett.

"I think Ara did the commentary for that game and said, 'That looks like a Dorsett cut,' " said Dorsett, who broke a 61-yard touchdown run on his first hand-off and finished with 180 yards in the 31-10 victory that started Pitt's run to the '76 national championship. "You could drop a golf ball in the grass and couldn't see it. It was that high. The field was wet, and it hadn't rained."

McCoy, however, doesn't expect similar treatment.

"They'll cut it for me," McCoy said. "I'm not that good."

The Notre Dame game could play a similar role in Pitt's season as it did in 2004, when the Panthers were coming off a 38-31, overtime loss at Syracuse. Palko's performance sparked a three-game winning streak to end the season and create a four-way tie for the Big East Conference title, which Pitt won by tiebreaker to clinch the first BCS bowl berth in school history.

"Obviously, with all the hype about the touchdown passes and the postgame, it was a fun game to play in," Palko said. "It was great to win a big game like that.

"It was a long time since Pitt won a game like that on the road. That helped give us momentum for the end, give us some confidence."

Palko laughs now about being as remembered for using the f-word during a postgame interview on NBC as he is for his record-setting day.

"It's more important in other people's eyes, what happened after the game," Palko said. "That's something for me to talk about when I'm old and gray."

Even then, Palko will be remembered in the same realm as the respective Pitt and Notre Dame players who provided record-setting performances.

"With the great tradition of Notre Dame and the great tradition of Pitt, legends are made in games like this," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "People remember things that happened, good or bad, in games like this a lot longer than they do in others."

Note : Pitt quarterback Bill Stull, who was taken from the field on a stretcher after suffering a concussion and stinger in the 54-34 loss to Rutgers, returned to practice today and worked out with the Panthers in full pads. His status for Saturday's game remains unknown.

For the record

Notre Dame has set its share of school records against Pitt:

Individual records
Category Player No. Year Rank
Rushing yards Julius Jones 262 2003 1st
Longest punt Bill Shakespeare 86 1935 1st
Longest field goal Dave Reeve 53 1976 1st
Converted PATs Ken Ivan 9 1965 1st (tie)
Punt return TDs Allen Rossum 2 1996 1st (tie)
Team records
Category No Year Rank
Punt return yards 231 1996 1st
Punt return avg. 38.5 1996 1st
Fewest first downs 3 1937 1st
Rushing first downs 31 1993 1st
Points in second quarter 40 1996 1st
Points in first half 49 1968 1st
Fewest off. attempts 31 1937 1st (tied)
Fewest rushing first downs 1 1937 1st (tied)
Fewest passing first downs 0 1989 1st (tied)
No punts 0 1993 1st (tied)

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