Keys to Victory: #3 Notre Dame vs. Pitt

Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Cierre Wood (20) scores a touchdown in the first quarter against the Oklahoma Sooners at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. (Photo: Matt Cashore-US PRESSWIRE)

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!

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  1. Davonte Neals’ freshman year of eligibility was wasted this year making fair catches on punt returns. Seems there are a number of eligible candidates on the team that could have played this role. Didnt Goodman play this exact same role last year.

  2. JC,

    Go up to my 6:oo PM post.

    What did I say?

    Let EG use his legs and go hurry up.

    Sounds like once again you and I made the right call.

    Having said that, JC, stay with us. Don’t go over to quickly to the delusional, uncritical, BK-loving, excuse makers.

    Stay with us, my brother. We need all the critical voices we can get to counter, the “everything is perfect, no need to change or demand a thing more from this team” crowd!

  3. BK better understand EG saved his A$$ today! EG’s legs were the key to this game period! All National Championship teams have horrible games like this, especially with BK still in love with TR, mind numbing to say the least.

    As I view it, this pathetic QB torture needs to stop. EG proved today he can definately handle the pressure at home now! So BK, do yourself a favor, live or die with EG for the rest of the season. Please, let the cards fall where they are going to fall with EG.

    However, if you totally want to destroy EG’s confidence, you damn near did a perfect job of it today! This team CAN still run the table if you stay with EG and stop dinking around with TR! 3rd Quarter starts for TR are a joke.

    Yeah, give me USC with the so called VAULTED defense! Looks like it’s working fine in their 62-51 ducks basketball game! I’ll bet they are not going to like our defense by the time we get there regardless of our record. 11-0!

    Today was ugly only due to BK’s lousy coaching period. Especially QB’s and special teams.

  4. We all saw the same thing – a flat team for 3quarters – I didn’t like putting Reese or even keeping him in so long – he showed why – a really abd throw – Agree the STs need a lot of work kick coverage has been bad all year – Where was Wood for so m uch of the game. On that first – first and goal where was the sneak on that? Got lucky
    Agree not yet to that real elite level – the O has to get its act together
    Let’s see what they do the next two weeks – If we don’t see a dominant team on bothe sides of the ball – USC and whoever in a bowl game will be really tough – Aside from all that – look at what we are griping about compared to two to five years ago – we would be crying about all those close losses instead of wins

  5. Great win for the Irish! This team is special. They certainly didn’t play their best today but they found a way to win. ND was clearly the better team (outgaining Pitt 522-308) but turnovers were extremely costly. They left at least 18 points on the field today and it’s tough to win when you do that. In addition, they settled for two field goals on their first two drives of the game – should have had 10-14 points on those two drives.

    I still think ND is a year away – they are extremely young and we are seeing some growing pains. However, through it all, they are winning. Their young guys are getting better every week and they have some great senior leadership on this team. This team is really fun to watch.

    9-0 against, arguably, the most difficult schedule in the country. Here come the Irish!

    1. Another bottom line:

      We’ve won 3 close games at home against teams we were heavily favored against. Two of them in OT. One of them in 3OT to a team that lost at home to an FSC school.

      Yes, enjoy 9-0. But don’t settle for how we’re doing it.

      Why can’t we demand to beat teams up like we did Miami on a regular basis?

      BTW: If we struggle on O against USC, just remember what Oregon did to that Trojan D tonight.

      1. It’s fine to expect greatness but at the end of the day there are no pictures next to the record, just wins and losses. Bama and Oregon were not perfect yesterday but bottom line is they won.

        Your obviously a Steelers fan, remember how horrible they looked in the SB against Seattle. Who cares, they have the ring.

        I’d love to see every game be 40-0 but it just isn’t realistic. Your dealing with 18-21 year old kids. It’s fine to have a critical eye but try to enjoy the wins. There are very few opportunities to see a team have a chance to go undefeated. We’ve got that so let’s enjoy the journey.

        Is BK perfect? Hardly, but he knows more about football and coaching than all of us combined. He has a pretty impressive track record of winning and right now has a 9-0 team. It’s been nearly 20 years since we were in this position. It might be another 20 before it happens again. Going undefeated is very difficult. They’ve been playing pigskin in South Bend a very long time and there aren’t that many undefeated records on that wall.

        Enjoy the journey, life is too short!

  6. I’m lovin the 9-0 record. More than that I’m loving they finished the game with pride. They didn’t quit like in years past. Yes, we’re not ready for the likes of Bama & Oregon. But damn has this team come a looooong way since year one of Kelly’s regime.

    The O is still searching for identiy. I don’t understand some of Kelly’s calls ( C Wood for example), special teams are aweful, & red zone scoring are a problem.

    That being said he’s built(ing) a team from the defense first persecutive. And in my eyes it’s working! The D is the idenity of the team and that’s a pretty important piece of the puzzle if we want to compete against Bama for national championships.

    There is plenty of negatives from this game. We found out where we are weak. I have to ask if this game would have been won last year? Or three years ago? Or 6? I don’t think so. Kelly has instilled FIGHT into these kids and that gets me excited. I’m no apologist….. Just a fan who saw the teams character come out despite turn overs & statistics.

    1. But if he is an offensive guru and can make something out of nothing at Cincy, why not in year 3 have here some semblance of an offense or even have an offensive identity? You better hope BK is responsible for the D, because I am pretty sure Diaco will be the hottest name in the land for HC positions.

      1. Agreed……Diaco is obviously a big part of the defensive succses. What I’m referring to howevervis the defensive personal that he’s brought in.

        A good portion (IMO) of the problem with the O is EG. he’s young, growing, maturing within the offense. He’s showing at times he “going” to be special often in the future. For now it’s most likly going to be hit and miss with him. The offensive line is all over place as well. Sometimes they act like their ready to cram the ball down the throats of a defensive front seven…….and other times not o much. BK has focused a great deal of his recruiting effort on the defensive side of the ball. Between those efforts, Diaco, & the athletes the defense has carried this team.

        The offense will grow…. It has to.

  7. fxm,

    There is no secret.

    Bama is the most complete team in college football in the last decade.

    Oregon is unstoppable on O.

    ND is very good (not great!) on D and mediocre on O. And they are downright dreadful on STs.

    Objectively speaking I don’t see this ND team coming close to either Bama or Oregon. I do think we can play with and even beat LSU or UF.

    Perhaps BK will turn something on and prove me wrong. I’d love nothing more that seeing ND beat Bama or Oregon in the NC game and have to eat my words!

    1. Special teams are a nightmare. ND played horrible for three quarters. They turned the ball over three times and still one. BK needs to stop putting Reese in the game. Also, kick off team is horrible, field position was always better for Pitt. Turk is reverting back to the punter he was last year. How many times is he going to shank one off his foot and give the other team field position on the 50. Is there anyone else who can kick. Golson is learning but very hot and cold. Wide receivers dropped some balls today. This game shouldn’t have been as close. ND beat themselves and good teams don’t do that. I have five teams better than them and a loss at the Condoms

      1. Jack,

        BTW: I just saw ASU’s QB (YES, QB!) execute a better pooch ount than Turk has done in his entire misbegotten ND career!

  8. Wow, the Ducks are wiping their butt with USC. Our coach allegedly has some of that secret formula, but I guess he is saving it for some more pressing occasions.

  9. BTW: I can just here the excuse makers now, that is, when they get out of the closet and put on their rose-colored glasses.

    They’ll say something like, wow, can some of you just be happy and enjoy ND being 9-0?

    My response to that is no, losers, there are no trophies or titles given for being 9-0. Have ND fans become so accustomed to losing that they’ll celebrate anything?!

    We just barely beat at home in triple OT an unranked team that lost at home to Youngstown St.!

    Can anyone stop Oregon?!

    Frankly, my wishes notwithstanding, I’d love to see Alabama play Oregon for the NC to see true strength vs. true strength. The proverbial clash of the immovable object vs. the unstoppable force.

    For the record: No, I don’t think ND can score enough on Bama or stop Oregon enough to give either team a game. Would love to be proved wrong, however!

    1. I would rather play Bama even though they may swallow our offense whole. Absent turnovers, nobody is stopping Oregon.

  10. I think the problem with that is that BK is our STs coach, OC, and talent evaluator.

    BK’s arrogance of thinking he can do all these things plus be the HC at ND is going to cost him his real job when he can’t win a game there because of STs, or a game here because his O can’t score TDs in the redzone, or we don’t have a much needed TO somewhere.

    BK, show some humility and smarts and get a STs coach and get an OC. Stick to being a HC. That’s hard enough at ND!

    1. Why was Cam McDaniel not used at running back and why does Riddick get so many carries? Cierre Wood almost gained as many yards as Riddick on half the carries!

      1. Cam McDaniel is stuck behind Riddick, Wood, and Atkinson on the depth chart so you wont see him get many carries if any unless its in the 4th Qtr. with a big lead. BK has fallen in love with Riddick and therefore he gets the majority of the carries. I think Cierre Wood is their best RB option but he got himself in BKs doghouse for smoking dope. Look for Cam to get his shot next year as Riddick is a senior and Wood goes Pro

  11. Wins a win. No need to apologize for that!

    Having said that, we’re probably dropping out of the top 3.

    Doesn’t matter for now. But we nned not kid ourselves. This team has major problems.

    1. Our soft white underbelly was really exposed today. I am very happy to win, but can’t complain if the pollsters take us to the woodshed.

    1. What is your beef with the BK apologist rhetoric? If by apologist you mean somebody that supports our coach, then I’m your guy. Is he Knute Rockne no, but he has won nearly 200 games, national championships, won the MAC with Central Michigan, took Cincy (yes, Cincy) to two straight BCS games, and he has this ND team at 9-0.

      Bama looked beatable finally and while Oregon is amazing to watch at some point they will need to stop somebody.

      So we can all sit here and point out the flaws of this team and we all know what they are, but at the end of the day they are 9-0 and 100% of us would have taken it back in August regardless of how they would get there.

      Are we good enough to win it all, I don’t know, maybe maybe not. But I do know that BK has put us in a chance to do so. BC has ended these dreams the last two times we have been this deep in a season. BC is horrible but this will be their Super Bowl. I for one don’t care how we win, just as long as we do.

      1. The apologist fails to see things as they are.

        After 3 seasons ND still looks lost on O. Redzone production is horrendous. STs play is atrocious. We burn TOs because we look lost. Anything I just said not true?!

        As for Bama they looked beatable to a top 5 team, that played for the NC last season and has one several titles the last several years, on the road in one of the toughest places to play. Are you really comparing our struggles with Pitt to Bama’s game with LSU?!

        You say you can point out flaws on this team. So why don’t you? It seems that a lot of people here like to just point out the good. That means some of us here feel obliged to keep it real and point out the pluses and minuses.

        You want to see a really negative so-called ND fan, go to Bleacher Report’s ND site and read the comments from someone called “dickasman”. This guy is not only harsh about ND’s performances but doesn’t say one good thing about the team. He also doesn’t close ranks like we do around here when haters come on board.

      2. Meant won not one several titles. Reading and writing w/ a bad cold. Head is a little clouded.

  12. That’s why I said to go with EG and the no huddle to let him use his legs and athleticism!

    Now time for the D to get the ball back or at least allow us to play for OT.

    Go Irish!

  13. Now or never.

    Regardless, this isn’t a NC team. Gimmicky, non-productive O. Bad STs. Poor coaching decisions.

  14. IF (note to the haters I’m saying “IF”) we lose recall the STs play (a problem all season long) and the missed redzone opportunities (a problem all season long).

      1. That’s on BK, then!

        Realitically, after the EG TO, we need to rethink the season. This game and NC hopes I fear are over (although I hope for the miracle).

        What we need now is to beat BC and Wake. Then find someway to beat USC in LA.

        Then win the bowl game.


  15. Brindza is a mess! Once more, STs are horrible at ND. If BK can’t see that then I don’t have any respect for him going forward.

    We need to move the chains. Why go to the endzone 3 times, esp. if not to Eifert every time.

  16. Let me suggest that we start doing whatever rituals are needed now. We’re going to need them!

    Don’t watch TV or go online for a week if we lose this game because the haters are going to hate with good reason to do so.

  17. i could see this game happening a mile away. the moment we all woke up last sunday the majority of everyone out there, as well as the irish players i bet (no matter how much they said otherwise all week), was about the bcs standings ….and strength of schedule….and being 11-0 when we play usc…..

    the ONLY thing that mattered at that time was pittsburgh. no we find ourselves down 11.

    if this is going to be a “special” season, then this needs to be a “special” 4th quarter.

    nothing matters up to this point except for how we finish out THIS afternoon


  18. Nightmare time! This is what ND football has been for too long. Losing a home game to a much inferior team. It has happened to very coach since Lou Holtz in his last few season. The ghosts came the weekend after Holloween!

    Go hurry up with EG (who can at least move on the run!).

    1. He is part. There are 3 other running backs on the team that are better than him. Brian Kelly is a horrible playcaller!

  19. I’m still waiting for those who think this team is so above criticism to step up NOW (not after the fact)….

  20. Do we have a STs coach at ND?!

    If so, fire him now!!!

    We need a new STs philosophy next season, esp. with a struggling O.

  21. Recall the Pitt gets the ball to start the 2nd half. Big D stance needed here. No points. Preferably 3 and out.

  22. I hope we win. I hope we dpominate the 2nd half and even win big.

    But where are all the the rose-colored glass wearers? Here’s your chance to come out of your closets and make a bold prediction about how ND will go 4 for 4 in the redzone in the 2nd half. Tell us how EG (or TR) will complete 75% of his passes and throw for 3 TDs. Go ahead!

    If ND comes back and wins this, you’ll see the internet tough guys come out of their closets after the fact and yell at me and the others here who have the guts to call things like we see them.

    What I’ve been pointing out all season remain a problem: redzone O and burining TOs. Is it unfair of me to point that out? Or is it just stating the obvious?!

    1. First of all relax, second how on earth would you know if and when he calls an audible.

      30 long minutes left. Believe!

  23. 1st and goal from the 2, run it 4 times and if they stop us fine they can have the ball right there. Maybe he needs to let Hendrix play in the red zone. Eventually the D was going to show up a little flat and it shouldn’t be fatal.

  24. Had we had just 1 extra TO we could’ve gotten in 2-3 more plays. That allows the O to get closer to the goal line and makes the FG attempt shorter.

    But who needs TOs with an unstoppable O like BK has?!

  25. ND isn’t showing up. I guess 8-1 is what they want to be. They look horrible and Golson can’t play at home. I hope they get their head out of their ass

  26. Is Manti T’eo playing today?!

    Horrendous O scheme. Gutless 1st half. Not BCS, much less NC, stuff here, people.

    ND needs to win its next 3 or the old ghosts will resurface.

  27. anyone who predicted a blow out in this game was delusional.
    pitts ALWAYS comes hard when playing ND. especially in south bend. and T. sunseri has enough experienced and capability to ruin our day.

    people are gonna have to step up. on offense as well as defense. no one is going to just hand us a W

    1. None of the experts on the Scout site picked a blow out. That being said, teams like this should be blown-out by those with BCS aspirations.

    1. Now Rob, I am glad all those stout hardy guys who see nothing to complain about are having another opportunity to whistle past the graveyard. For me, this red zone situation is a nightmare and will result in a stupid loss either today or some other game this year.

  28. Watch-out with the refs! I’m seeing a trend here early.

    Let me say it again: ND needs to scored TDs in the redzone, esp. if it wants to win big.

  29. Great opp today to really get the offence going . Just keep grinding boys and beat pitt!!!. Wanna see a punt return if possible ND always seems to be starting in there own end and more times then not they drive the field imagine this team with sone short fields from time to time look out!!! really wanna see Gholston play well like last week keep fighting boys EMBRACE THE HATE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  30. I agree, EG needs to use today’s game as an opportunity to continue his seasoning. He has struggled at home so I hope that changes. EVERY game can be an upset game. That’s why the focus should be a week to week process and not looking ahead. That’s BK’s job to ensure that. When ND starts putting together consistent seasons of solid winning ( which based upon the current course seems to be a good start)then as a fan, I’ll feel little more easy in my own mind about defining what should be “automatic wins.” I haven’t felt that way since 1988-1996.

    As to Pitt, good D, OL play & running the ball (give it to CW a little more too) and play action with some designed QB runs.

    Go Irish, bring on the tsunami wave of Blue & Gold to wash away the Panthers.

    1. Jack & storespook,

      We will win big today with EG leading the way! OU was a huge confidence builder for EG.

      Hence, the ESPN pundits will still bomb-shell a winning ND in favor of their beloved SEC boys.

      No worries, as long as we keep winning game by game, Mark May will be forced to endorse Big Bird by years’ end!

      Here come the Irish!

  31. EG needs to put together his best game at home. For some reason his worst games are at home. He showed signs against Standford before going out. If EG plays well ND will win easily, if he struggles, it could be a long day. We shall see, that is why they pay the game

  32. what I am feeling this game can be a start in progress for Everett Golson. These games are important, yes they are. To this quarterback we have as being a young man, it’s more important to see him gain experience and read the defenses ahead. Let alone one thing, he is young, but the more experience you get the better off your going to be. I see this team coming together, but all and each man showing the will to win. Somthing we all haven’t seen in years. This team is coming together as one, and as they do they will never be looked at as a team that candle the big boys. So to me, these next three weeks marks a statement, leading up to u USC. Are we as good as we are? Time will tell the story, but tomorrow will start the process, as said many times. If this team is as good as they are, then only then, show it, and stay true to eachother on this team, one game at a time. We can be the best team out there, time will tell.

  33. This game does not have the hallmark of an upset. I can’t see ND falling asleep on teams that have kicked their a$$ over the last 10 years.

    It’s really simple, all Coach Kelly has to do is show a 1 min of random losses to Pitt, BC and USC to remind these kids they are one game away from losing it all.

    This game will be over by halftime or the 3rd Quarter. Prediction?

    ND 31
    Pitt 9

  34. KEY TO VICTORY: In my opinion it is crucial to sell the kids (ND) on the dangerous nature of this particular opponent. Pittsburgh has defeated ND two out of the last three meetings in South Bend. ND’S secondary is suspect and Mark May has no doubt been coaching the Panther from a distance all week. This has the hallmark stamp of an upset.

  35. Kudos Frank,

    It’s all about EG improving game by game. Especially against Pitt at HOME!
    No, you not getting ahead of yourself! EG does indeed, need big games before USC!

    Here come the Irish!

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