Notre Dame returns home after last week’s 30-13 win over Oklahoma in Norman looking to improve to 9-0 for the first time since 1993. In order to do so, the Irish will need to avoid a classic letdown situation by continuing to do what they’ve done all season. Here’s this week’s keys to victory.
Avoid the let down
This game has potential letdown written all over it. Notre Dame is coming off a sound beating of a top 10 team on the road as a double digit underdog and is now right in the thick of the National Championship hunt. The last time this happened to Notre Dame, the Irish were 8-0 in Ty Willingham’s first season after beating double digit favorite Florida State in Tallahassee and they proceeded to lose to a hapless Boston College team in the fumble fest while wearing bright green jerseys.
I think it’s safe to assume Brian Kelly won’t be breaking out the green jerseys for a 4-4 football team, but hopefully that isn’t the only lesson he preaches to his troops form that game. Notre Dame has the talent on both sides of the ball to make this be a laugher if they are focused and play to their potential. Coming off a huge win like the win over Oklahoma though makes it extremely difficult for a group of 18-22 year olds to remain focus.
Kirk Herbstreit made a great point last week about how up until this point, Notre Dame has played the role of getting no respect. Well, a 17 point win on the road in Norman changes that perspective completely as now the Irish are being hyped as legit title contenders for the first time this season. It will take a great coaching job from Brian Kelly and staff to keep this team focused this week.
Ground and Pound… Ground and Pound
Notre Dame is what it is on offense – a ground and pound team even if most of their runs come out of the shotgun. Notre Dame has the line and the backs to run on Pitt all game long. Theo Riddick has been running tougher than we’ve ever seen; Cierre Wood has been consistently great all season long; and George Atkinson should be back to playing the role of homerun threat after missing last week’s game with the flu.
This isn’t the week to get cute on offense and try out too many new tricks. Just ground and pound the ball all day and let the offensive line take control of the game in the second half once they wear down the Pitt offensive line. Pitt is giving up 141 yards a game and Notre Dame should be able to reach that total easily. In fact, the Irish should be able to top 200 yards on the ground for the third week in a row if they come to play.
Feed off the crowd
One way to get over the letdown and hangover from last week’s win is to feed off the crowd. The home crowd better be in a frenzy before kickoff as Notre Dame fans get to welcome an undefeated team into Notre Dame Stadium for the first time in a decade and can will the to victory to improve to 9-0 for the first time in almost two decades. This isn’t the week for the down in front crowd. This is the week for people to be on their feet from start to finish cheering til they lose their voices to thank this team for playing their hearts out each week and giving them a reason to dream about a championship this late in the season for the first time in such a long time.
If you are going to the game this weekend, please get off your feet, and fill Notre Dame Stadium with the type of noise that the Hosue that Rock built used to be filled with on a weekly basis. This team has earned at least that much and they deserved to be treated to a hero’s welcome when they run onto the field tomorrow afternoon.
Let Manti do what Manti does
Defensively, Pitt does not pose any unique challenges for Notre Dame and they could potentially be without their best offensive player, Ray Graham, in light of Friday’s news that three Pitt players have been charged with assault. So, just let the defense do what its done all year – feed off of Manti Te’o and let him terrorize the Pitt offense. Te’o is firmly in the Heisman discussion and could pad his stats this week with another double digit tackle effort to go along with a sack or turnover or two.
Te’o was very effective on the blitz last week and should be again this week if he is unleashed on Pitt. Kelly and Bob Diaco know that Te’o will beed to wrack up some stats in the final few weeks to really have a shot at the Heisman and while I don’t think either would ever drastically change their approach since the defense has been so stout this year, I would also be surprised if they didn’t try to find some ways to get Manti in place to make a few big plays to help his cause as well.
Continue to work in down field passes
While I would love to see Notre Dame run for over 200 yards again this week, I would also love to see Kelly and Chuck Martin continue to stretch the field with some downfield passes like what we saw against Oklahoma with the deep shots to Chris Brown. Brown showed some serious wheels on both deep routes and now that he has come down with a big gainer, opposing defenses are going to have to respect the downfield threat he poses more and more which in turn should help continue to open up things in the running game.
Without looking too far down the road, Notre Dame is also going to have to improve its passing game over the next three games to be ready for USC and should the Irish do what we all thought unthinkable in the pre-season, navigate this schedule undefeated and head to Miami, they will certainly need an improved passing game to have a shot in any BCS game.
Everett Golson took a huge step forward last week. He looked so much more comfortable in the pocket and finally starting throwing the ball up for his receivers and letting them make a play. Kelly and Martin need to continue to develop him over these next three weeks so that by the time the Irish role into Los Angeles to take on the men of Troy, they have a balanced offensive attack that can take down the Trojans by land or air.
Am I getting a little ahead of myself? Yes, yes I am. I’m a blogger though, I can afford that luxury.
Go Irish! Beat Panthers!