SOUTH BEND, Indiana (Ticker) -- Notre Dame's best offense continues to be its defense.
Sparked by a dominating defensive effort, the eighth-ranked Fighting Irish remained unbeaten with a 14-6 victory over Pittsburgh.
While the Fighting Irish have been slow to adapt to new coach Tyrone Willingham's West Coast offense, their defense has been opportunistic and provided headaches for the opposition.
On Saturday, Notre Dame (6-0) continued its trend, getting little from its offense but plenty from its defense. The Fighting Irish collected eight sacks and forced three more turnovers.
"I can't say enough about our defense," Irish coach Tyrone Willingham said. "Our guys really stepped up today."
The Fighting Irish got their biggest turnover with under two minutes remaining. The Panthers drove inside the Fighting Irish 25 and, on third down, quarterback Rod Rutherford ran back at least 20 yards and tried to throw away the ball. But it landed in the arms of cornerback Preston Jackson along the left sideline.
"The quarterback scrambled so we knew he couldn't throw that ball deep," Jackson said. "I saw the tight end coming out, and I knew the ball had to come to him. The defense we had called was perfect and we just executed it."
"He tried to throw the ball out of bounds, but he was under pressure and did not get enough on it," Pittsburgh coach Walt Harris said of Rutherford. "He said he thought he had enough on it, but in the end he was just a little short."
By forcing three turnovers, the Irish are now plus-11 in that category this season.
Carlyle Holiday, who was questionable with a shoulder injury, threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Arnaz Battle in the second quarter and Ryan Grant scored on a one-yard run in the fourth for Notre Dame.
Willingham became the first Notre Dame coach to win his first six games since Ara Parseghian in 1964.
David Abdul kicked field goals for 29 and 25 yards in the first half for Pittsburgh (5-2).
A tight game throughout, the Irish made a huge play on defense in the fourth quarter to seize the momentum.
After punter Joey Hilbold pinned the Panthers deep in their own territory, the Irish got the turnover they were looking for. Trying to scramble, Rutherford was drilled by senior free safety Glenn Earl and the Irish recovered the fumble at the 13 with 9:28 remaining.
The Irish used the ground game to reach the end zone with Grant taking a pitch from Holiday and scoring on a one-yard run with 7:08 left to make it 14-6. Grant had 42 yards on 19 carries.
Holiday, who missed last week's game against Stanford, had an efficient afternoon as he completed 16-of-25 passes for 145 yards with a touchdown and interception.
"I thought Carlyle did a good job today," Willingham said. "He made smart decisoins for us in this game. His absence gave him a chance to see things he might have not noticed while on the field."
With coach Walt Harris going away from the running game, Rutherford endured heavy pressure and completed 19-of-43 passes for 313 yards and an interception.
On the game's first drive, Rutherford found his big tight end Kris Wilson for a long gain that gave the Panthers a 1st-and-goal. But the drive stalled and Abdul kicked a 29-yard field goal.
With a stingy defense of their own that entered the contest with a plus-10 turnover ration, the Panthers carried the slim lead into the second quarter before the Irish's offense got rolling.
Holiday engineered nine-play, 80-yard drive that he capped with an 11-yard TD pass to Battle with 9:50 left in the half, giving the Irish a 7-6 lead. Battle had 10 catches for 110 yards.
The Panthers were behind at the half despite garnering a 284-119 edge in total yards and having 13 first downs, compared to five for Notre Dame.
"Their defense is solid," Holiday said. "They're a really good team. I think they'll win the Big East title. That's probably one of the best defenses we'll playy all season."
Notre Dame notched its 10th win in 11 games against Pittsburgh.
"Our defense played tremendously," Harris said. "Offensively we moved the ball except for the third and fourth quarters (but) we struggled to move the ball consistently. Notre Dame has been living on turnovers and that was devastating to us this afternoon. We had a chance to win this game, but we could not finish."