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Irish lucky to still be in BCS national-championship race

Brian Kelly

Brian Kelly

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — You likely won’t hear anybody at Notre Dame complaining this week that Oregon leapfrogged the Irish in the BCS standings Sunday night. No, after nearly throwing it all away Saturday, the Irish — No. 4 in the BCS and still No. 4 in both major polls — are just happy to still be in the national-championship race.

Lucky, too.

“I don’t think I’ve had a lucky football team,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said Sunday. “I think I’ve had a good football team that’s gotten some breaks.”

It turns out the Irish got a huge, potentially game-deciding break in the second overtime of the wild 29-26 triple-overtime victory over Pittsburgh. When Pitt lined up for what would have been a game-winning 33-yard field goal, Notre Dame had cornerback Bennett Jackson and receiver Chris Brown on the field.

The problem? Both wear No. 2 and aren’t allowed on the field at the same time. It should’ve been a five-yard penalty and a first down at the 11-yard line for Pitt, which needed a field goal or touchdown to win.

Instead, the refs missed the penalty, Pitt missed the kick and the Irish went on to win.

“It was a coaching mistake,” Kelly said. “We’ve got to do a better job. It’s an oversight that can’t happen.”

Beyond that lucky break, the Irish simply felt fortunate to pull out a victory despite a generally poor effort. They fell behind 20-6, committed three turnovers, including an interception in the end zone late in the fourth quarter, surrendered 142 yards rushing through the first three quarters and simply came out flat at home against a seemingly overmatched opponent — a familiar story line this season.

“I wish I had a really good answer,” Kelly said. “I don’t have one.”

Receiver TJ Jones did. He was the only one after the game to admit the Irish might have taken this win for granted after knocking off Oklahoma on the road.

“Maybe [we took] this week lightly, thinking that we could play Pitt and not play our A-game, instead play our B-game and still get the ‘W,’ ’’ Jones said. “It definitely shows us we have to bring our A-game every week, regardless of their record. They’re going to play their best ball against us.”

This week, the Irish travel to Boston College, a team with a 2-7 record and already installed as a 20-point underdog. BC coach Frank Spaziani said he’ll use all the tools at his disposal — including the chance to spoil ND’s season and the rare shot to play in prime time on national TV (7 p.m., ABC) — to get his team up for the game.

But after escaping Pitt with a victory, the Irish insist they’ll be up for this one, as well.

“That’s something we know being here at Notre Dame,” tackle Zack Martin said. “When you play a team, any team, they’re going to come in here and give us their best shot. Especially with us being undefeated, people want our number. . . . We have to come in and be ready for the best football that those guys can give us. We’re not going to see the same team we saw on film against other teams. They’re going to come in, and they’re going to play harder than they have all season.”

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