#3 Notre Dame (8-0) v. Pittsburgh (4-4)
Notre Dame Stadium – South Bend, IN – 3:30 EST on NBC
Don't miss – Rapid Reaction: Notre Dame 30, Oklahoma 13
First Things – What. A. Week. As fans, we've certainly reveled in the indulgences offered to the Irish faithful over the past few days. Friends, haters and media alike took to us for the purposes of eating their crow in large, bountiful scoops. Surely many in blue and gold forced extra helpings on the biggest of doubters, none more so than our own Knute School Fool who is embracing the hate. Not even the most optimistic Irish fan could have pictured Notre Dame hitting the road and throwing down 17 unanswered points in the final nine minutes in Norman. To our everlasting joy Bob Stoops tried to march down the field for a score that would have done nothing but ease the disturbing nature of their collapse and the Irish defense closed the game with a punishing sack by Prince Shembo. In my dreams the junior outside linebacker was screaming "NO SOUP FOR YOU!!!" before I realize Shembo was 4 when that Seinfeld episode dropped in 1995 and was more likely yelling something not as safe for television. While the supporters of our team have celebrated the biggest win in 10,14 or 20 years depending on who you ask, the task at hand for the Notre Dame Football Team surrounds finding a way to beat Pitt and continue rolling towards a seemingly inevitable BCS game in January. Can the Irish avoid a trap game against a team on the rise? Can they score more than 20 points in a true home game? Can a player win a Heisman while playing 3 of 4 November games that won't gather national attention? Aren't these pretty awesome problems to have? Onto a quick preview
Five Things To Watch
5. Tino Sunseri's Final Shot At ND – Sunseri, as much as it seems, is entering his third year starting for the Panthers and not his 13th. The senior has shown some improvement under his 3rd coach and sits at 8th nationally in Passer Rating. Notre Dame's defense and more pointedly its secondary executed a specific game-plan perfectly against OU's Landry Jones but a let-down could be waiting. Sunseri has the ability and play-makers to make the Irish pay if they are out of sync as was the case early against BYU.
4. Criminal Charges Affect Pitt ? – Very late last night it came across the wire that 3 Pitt starters were being charged, not arrested at any point, in connection to an off-campus brawl involving some ladies. All indications are the players deny the accusations and will start against Notre Dame. It's far from an ideal situation for a first-year head coach, looking for a statement win, to be informed about with less than 48 hours until kickoff. If Pitt, not Notre Dame, comes out flat, then the hand wringing over the entire situation will take some blame in Eastern Pennsylvania.
3. HeisManti Needs Some Help – As mentioned in the podcast by the great John Walters (listen above or here), Manti is not likely to finish in the Top 20-30 of the NCAA in tackles because the defense is playing so well that they aren't on the field enough. Te'o will now be the face of a unit that is expected to embarrass the next three opponents and anything less than full squad dominance and some more hits and turnovers for the highlight reel will negatively affect, at no fault of his own, the growing chances of him trekking to New York City. The 2012 Irish season isn't about individual accolades, but it'd be nice if Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, All-American, School Record talk dominated the next three second halves over "Is it time for the closer Tommy Rees??"
2. Golson 2 Steps Forward, Now What? – In the progression of our sophomore quarterback, Saturday in Oklahoma was like 200 steps forward. What Brian Kelly and Chuck Martin do next will be debated hotly no matter the direction. Do they risk their stellar defense down the stretch by continuing to allow Golson to grow or focus on just grabbing the win. How the offense utilizes his unique skill set over the next three weeks will determine whether the Irish are …
1. Winning With Style OR Just Win Baby – We've said for 2 full months and likely longer that the Irish's 2012 slate didn't demand style points. If they won every game by a single point, then the degree of difficulty achieved would place the Irish in the championship game. With just 1/3 of the season to play that looks more increasingly like it may not be the case. Almost as amazing as this revelation is the very real possibility that USC will be playing for only pride Thanksgiving weekend while the Irish are the ones with everything to lose. Notre Dame may need to stick the knife in this November and try and give it a few extra twists. As Alabama-LSU & Oregon-USC dominate College Football talk Sunday morning, there needs to be something that makes the human factors in the BCS formula say "Well did ya see the Irish?!?" Or LSU & USC could do us all a favor and clear the debris currently sitting between a Notre Dame-Kansas State bloodbath. I'll take option two.
Predicting The Game & What We'll See
Let's be sure you're using the right football lingo. BYU was a "Trap Game". Pitt is a "Hangover Game". Got it? The same focus that propelled Saturday's play-by-lay man Brett Musberger to emphatically proclaim "Let's make this loud and clear – NOTRE DAME IS RELAVANT AGAIN" cannot be expected in full against Pitt. The Panthers have some athletes and experience taking on the Irish and will score some points. One thing I expect to continue is second-half dominance by a team that continues to embrace the moment. While a 14-19 point win won't have Irish tongues wagging, it also won't have too many anti-Irish gums flapping about their deficiencies against weaker opponents. As they've done all season, let's support a team that gets it done, no matter how ugly.
Pitt will score an early TD and grab another score before the half. Brian Kelly will focus in on expanding Tyler Eifert's role in the offense for the stretch run while mixing in a healthy dose of Cierre Wood & Theo Riddick. Defensively, Sunseri will find some players running free much like BYU early and he'll take advantage. Golson's running will be tempered in comparison to Oklahoma because Kelly will focus in on the offense's base and attempt to avoid showing too much of the playbook. While the play calling goes back to a more vanilla look, expect to see the youngsters, namely Chris Brown & Davonte Neal, getting extra snaps all game, even if it's to run block and play decoy. The third quarter is all Irish and the game is no longer in doubt when the 4th kicks off. Tommy Rees pads some stats, Andrew Hendrix & Cam McDaniel run over some weary Panther defenders, and Stephon Tuitt grabs two more sacks to solidify an All-America campaign that won't be denied.