Sluggish start, defensive lapses doom Pitt as Panthers fall to No. 8 Notre Dame 42-30

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PITTSBURGH — The attitude adjustment Pat Narduzzi brought to Pittsburgh is in full swing. The Panthers play with an aggressive fearlessness the program has lacked for years.

The talent adjustment to hang with the elite, however, will take more time.

Sluggish early and sloppy late, Pitt fell to No. 8 Notre Dame 42-30 on Saturday in a game that showcased how much work remains in front of the relentlessly energetic Narduzzi and his still maturing team.

"We had too many opportunities we missed," Narduzzi said. "Whether it's falling on a fumbled ball in the first half or recovering a surprise onside kick, there were opportunities for us."

Ones the Panthers need to take advantage of when playing a faster, more tested opponent. The Irish (8-1) scored on the game's third play and rolled up 435 yards. A pair of late Pitt touchdowns tightened things up in the final minutes, but the Panthers were never within one score over the final three quarters.

Nate Peterman passed for 223 yards with a touchdown and an interception for Pitt (6-3), which has lost two straight. Jordan Whitehead ran for two scores for the Panthers. Tyler Boyd caught three passes for 84 yards to set a school record for career yards receiving but the Panthers didn't come close to ruining Notre Dame's spot in the College Football Playoff race.

"We missed on a few by inches, just a few plays, so maybe we weren't in a good rhythm," Peterman said. "We were stressing to come out fast, but we've just got to go out there and not let the nerves get to us and play fast."

Peterman hit just 3 of 18 passes during a forgettable first half, including an interception deep in Notre Dame territory in the second quarter. While he improved in front of the second-largest crowd to watch a home game in school history, by then the Panthers were down by double digits and scrambling.

There were bright spots. Boyd's 51-yard catch-and-run in the fourth quarter broke Antonio Bryant's school record for career yards receiving and Whitehead provided a glimpse of the future with touchdown runs of 10 and 3 yards. Not bad for a true freshman making his first appearance on offense after spending the first eight games exclusively at safety.

"I really didn't get touched on either score," Whitehead said. "I think the coaches know that my speed would help on the outside runs, so that's probably why they used it."

DeShone Kizer completed 19 of 26 passes for 262 yards with no turnovers as the Irish (8-1) won their fourth straight. Will Fuller caught seven passes for 157 yards and three scores and Josh Adams ran for 147 yards and hauled in Kizer's final touchdown pass.

The Irish stressed they weren't going to get caught up in their lofty spot in the CFP, pointing out that being fifth in the first week of November wouldn't mean a thing if they looked too far down the road. That typically isn't an issue when Notre Dame plays the Panthers, who seem to play the Irish tight regardless of the circumstances.

Not this time.

Kizer hit Fuller for a 47-yard touchdown on the game's third play and Pitt's methodical attack lacked the firepower to match. Kizer drilled a 12-yard strike between two Pitt defenders to Torii Hunter Jr. later in the first half and found Fuller deep for a 46-yard catch and run that put the Irish up 21-3 at the break.

The Panthers finally generated some momentum in the second half, with Whitehead showing off the speed that made him the most coveted recruit in Pennsylvania last season. Yet each time Pitt appeared ready to make a run, Notre Dame responded.

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