Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson still has not played entire game at home this season.
But the sophomore is getting closer to earning enough of coach Brian Kelly's confidence to be allowed to stay in an entire game and play through mistakes.
"I think we are getting close to playing through it, because of what he did in the second half (against Pittsburgh)," Kelly said.
Golson was replaced by junior Tommy Rees late in the second quarter of the No. 4 Irish's 29-26 triple-overtime win over the Panthers (4-5) on Saturday after Notre Dame (9-0) came away with only six points on two long first-half drives.
But Kelly went back to Golson after the Irish's second series in the third quarter ended with Rees throwing an interception that the Panthers turned into a touchdown for a 17-6 lead with 5:52 to play in the quarter.
Golson rewarded Kelly's decision by bringing Notre Dame back from a 20-6 deficit in the fourth quarter by throwing touchdown passes to TJ Jones and Theo Riddick and running in the 2-point conversion to send the game to overtime.
Golson finished the game in the third overtime by plunging in from a yard out to keep Notre Dame perfect going into Saturday's game at Boston College (2-7).
"I don't think we could have done that earlier in the year, quite frankly," Kelly said of going back to Golson after replacing him with Rees, who replaced Golson in home wins against Purdue, Michigan and Stanford this season.
"I think when we took him out (earlier in the season), he was done. He was just mentally done. He was not mentally done (Saturday). In truthfulness, I would tell you he is closer to getting to that level where, you know, let's just keep fighting through it. Because we saw him respond with that competitiveness in the fourth quarter and overtime."
Golson completed 23 of 42 passes for 227 yards with two touchdowns, and 105 of those yards came in the fourth quarter and the overtimes. He also ran for 74 yards.
The running element to Golson's game is something Notre Dame has started to take more advantage of recently.
In the first four games, Golson was minus 11 in rushing yards. But in the last four games that he played – Golson missed the Oct. 20 win over BYU as he recovered from a concussion – the quarterback has run for 238 yards and averaged 58 yards.
"As we've seen him progress, it is pretty clear now that we've amped it up in terms of run plays called," Kelly said. "I think early on we were hesitant; we weren't really sure; we were worried about ball security, and we still are. But I think as the season has progressed we have looked at him a little bit different in terms of running him.
"We hope that what he takes from this game that if you just keep fighting and keep sticking with the game plan, you've got a chance. Every step for him has been a learning experience."