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Pregame Twelve Pack: Pitt edition

Oct 8, 2010, 1:00 PM EDT

We’re back with the Pitt Pregame Twelve Pack. Twelve fun facts, tidbits, leftovers and miscellaneous musings as we head into the Pitt game.

1. Feel good about the Irish this weekend? Feel good about October 9th.

If you’re looking for a reason to feel confident about the Irish this Saturday, just look at the calendar. Notre Dame plays some very good football on October 9th, having never lost a football game on the date in the program’s history.

The Irish have gone 13-0-1 all-time on the date, the lone tie coming back in 1937 when the Irish played a scoreless draw with Illinois.

Here’s a rundown of the Irish on Oct. 9:

     2004 — ND 23, Stanford 15
     1999 — ND 48, Arizona State 17
     1993 — ND 44, Pitt 0
     1982 — ND 16, Miami 14
     1971 — ND 17, Miami 0
     1965 — ND 17, Army 0
     1954 — ND 33, Pitt 0
     1948 — ND 26, Michigan State 7
     1943 — ND 35, Michigan 12
     1937 — ND 0, Illinois 0
     1926 — ND 20, Minnesota 7
     1915 — ND 34, Haskell 0
     1909 — ND 58, Olivet 0

The 1943 game between the Irish in the Wolverines featured the number one and two ranked teams in the country, with No. 1 Notre Dame coming out victorious.

2. Irish have the size advantage up front, Pitt holds the size advantage on the edges.

I was surprised to see Notre Dame have a fairly large advantage in the battle up front. On average, Notre Dame’s offense line out-weights Pitt’s defensive front by nearly 37 pounds, with Irish offensive linemen averaging 306 pounds and Pitt defensive linemen averaging 270. On the flip-side, Pitt’s offensive line only out-weighs the Irish front three of the Irish by a mere 8 pounds, stacking up at 299 pounds on the Panthers offensive front while the Irish d-line averages 291 pounds.

In the secondary, the advantage heavily skews in the favor of Pitt though, with the average Pitt WR/TE checking in at 6-foot-5, and the average Notre Dame DB measuring a shade above six-feet tall. Meanwhile, the average Notre Dame WR/TE stands a quarter-inch under 6-foot-2, while the Panthers secondary averages over 5-foot-11.

Last year, the size advantage of Pitt’s receivers and tight ends played a massive part in the game. We’ll see if the Irish can nullify that advantage with some smart pressure on raw quarterback Tino Sunseri.

3. How good was Ray Graham last week? Historically good.

Pitt tailback Ray Graham set the world on fire last week with a monster game, rushing for 277 yards on 29 carries for three TDs. Graham’s game was the best rushing performance of the season in FBS, out-gaining the day Denard Robinson had against Notre Dame by 19 yards, on just one more carry.

Graham’s game also went down in the Pitt record book as one of the best in school history. His 277 yards was shy only Tony Dorsett’s game in 1975 against Notre Dame where he ran for 303 yards on 23 carries and one touchown, averaging an astonishing 13.2 yards per carry.

Graham had 374 all-purpose yards against Florida International, gaining those yards on 34 plays, an average of 11 yards per touch.

4. Tausch takes Ruffer’s kickoff job, Ruffer could take Tausch’s record.

Brian Kelly announced that sophomore Nick Tausch will be taking over for David Ruffer on kickoffs, but Ruffer would continue to kick field goals.

“Tausch was pretty consistent with his kickoffs in terms of placement,” Kelly said about the switch.
“One of the big things in our kickoff is ball placement. And we weren’t
getting a consistent ball placement. He was kicking it, he was kicking
it hard. But we’d have a squeeze left on and he’d kick it to the right
and really compromise some of our coverages. This is really about ball
placement. Nick’s always been a little bit better at ball placement. He
hasn’t kicked it as deep. But we’re willing to take a little bit off to
ensure some better placement.”

Tausch will get to put his foot to the ball, but Ruffer still will be taking dead aim at the school record Tausch holds for consecutive field goals made with 14. Ruffer sits at 13, making every single kick he’s attempted since he saw the field last year.

5. Brian Kelly 2, Dave Wannstedt 1.

That’s the overall record when these two coaches get together, with Kelly’s Cincinnati Bearcats beating Wannstedt’s Panthers the last two times they’ve played. Last season’s loss might have been the most crushing defeat for Wannstedt’s troops, losing their second straight last-second defeat, after falling in the Backyard Brawl to an unranked West Virginia team on a field goal as time expired. Wannstedt’s loss to Kelly’s Bearcats was had the Panthers blowing a 31-10 first half lead, and losing on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Tony Pike to Armon Binns with 33 seconds remaining in the game, a loss made possible when holder Andrew Janocko mishandled a snap on an extra point with just 1:36 remaining.

In 2008, Kelly’s Bearcats survived a late charge by Pitt led by running back LeSean McCoy and tight end Dorrin Dickerson and held on for a 28-21 victory, the victory for the No. 19 rated Cincinnati squad clinching the Big East championship. In 2007, it was Wannstedt springing the surprise on Kelly, the Panthers winning just their third game of the season and holding a Ben Mauk led offense in check as the Bearcats lost just their second game in eight attempts.

“I think we both know that we have a good grasp of — they know what
we’re going to do offensively, and we kind of know what they’re going to
do defensively, so I think that’s a wash,” Kelly said earlier this week. “I still think this comes down to who’s better prepared and who executes
better on Saturday, because we know each other so well. They’re like a
conference opponent more than anything else, going into a conference
game.”

6. There’s another ugly home losing streak that the Irish would like to end this Saturday.

While it doesn’t match the streak Boston College had run up over the last decade, Pitt is playing for an unprecedented third straight road victory at Notre Dame Stadium. The Panthers have won their previous two stops in South Bend, including the quadruple overtime win over the Irish in 2008, where Pitt escaped with a 36-33 victory.

In all, Pitt has won three of the last four games against the Irish, including their 27-22 victory over Notre Dame last year. Over the last 31 games, Pitt is 22-9, their winningest stretch since the 2001-03 seasons. In contrast, over the last 31 games, Notre Dame is 11-14.

7. Stopping the run with be the key to Irish victory.

With Ray Graham and Dion Lewis the best one-two punch the Irish will see all season in the backfield, stopping the run will be the key to victory for Notre Dame. The Irish saw a statistical surge after their dominating performance last week at Boston College, having their rush defense go from near the bottom of the heap in FBS up to a much more respectable 68th against the run.

In fact, the Irish run defense was one of the best performances the Irish have had since the Lou Holtz era ended. The Eagles’ five yards of rushing was the best performance the Irish have had since they held Stanford to -11 rushing yards in 2005, and the second-best performance by an Irish defense since 1998. The Eagles two rushing first downs were the fewest allowed since Holtz’s Irish squad held Vanderbilt to just one rushing first down on September 5, 1996.

8. Both Pitt and the Irish have been on the wrong side of some very close losses.

Over the last two seasons, the Irish have lost an incredible amount of close football games. Even including the 23-point victory by Stanford, the Irish average loss over the past two years has been by 6.4 points — a combined 58 points in 9 defeats.

Pitt has also had its share of hard luck, with their five losses over the past two seasons coming by a combined 42 points, an average of 8.4 points per game. A pretty remarkable number when you consider that the Panthers lost by 28 points to Miami two weeks ago, skewing the numbers quite a bit. Throw the Miami game out, and Pitt’s average loss the past two seasons has been by 3.5 points. That’s nearly a mirror image of their three losses in 2009, games Pitt lost by a combined 11 points, with two of those losses coming in the game’s final minute.

9. The Irish need to play a better game of give and take.

Pouring through the weekly stats, one area that Notre Dame needs to improve is their give/take ratio. Notre Dame is -4 on turnovers, taking the ball away from opponents 8 times, but giving it away 12. The Irish have given up 30 points off turnovers, allowing three touchdowns and three field goals to the opposing team. Offensively, the Irish have only managed 10 points off opponent turnovers, with a touchdown against Purdue in the first quarter of the season and a field goal after Zeke Motta recovered a muffed punt against Stanford.

It’s interesting that seven of the eight turnovers the Irish have forced have come via the interception, and the defense has yet to force a fumble. Meanwhile, the Irish turnovers come equal parts fumble and interception, with the Irish already losing five fumbles.

For the Irish to play winning football down the stretch, they’ll need to capitalize on the turnovers they force and do a better job of holding onto the football.

10. Irish try to keep it in the family with the Martin brothers.

With Zack Martin one of the best surprises on the season, Notre Dame looked to make it a family affair by offering Zack’s younger brother Nick a scholarship this week. The younger Martin is a three-star recruit, and currently committed to Kentucky, where both of Martin’s parents went to college.

Martin has offers from Big Ten schools like Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State and Northwestern, and has been committed to Kentucky since August. Former Irish assistant and current Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips also was a teammate of Keith Martin, Zack and Nick’s father, so it might be a tough recruit to pull this late in the game. The Irish offer came in the last few days, so if Notre Dame is going to gain another recruit along the offensive line, they’ll likely have to make up quite a bit of ground.

11. The career starts leader on defense is probably not who you’d expect.

When you think of guys that have been a lynch-pin of the Irish defense for the past few years, you’re not likely to think of Kerry Neal. But it’s Neal that sits atop the career starts list on the Irish defense with 26 games, joined by safety Harrison Smith and cornerback Darrin Walls.

Neal winning the outside linebacker job over Brian Smith and Steve Filer was one of the surprises of fall camp. And while his 17 tackles over five starts this year aren’t going to bowl anyone over with his productivity, Neal is playing better as the season goes on.

You tend to forget that Kerry started five games as a true freshman in 2007, 11 games as a sophomore and five games at defensive end in 2009. Neal’s development as a player was likely stunted by the shifting between a 3-4 system and a 4-3 system, and while he isn’t the prototype of what Kelly and Bob Diaco look for in their defensive system, Neal has become a solid veteran player getting key minutes for the Irish defense.

12. Don’t blame John Goodman for all the fair catches.

I was especially hard on John Goodman last week for his inability to get anything going on punt returns after taking over for Armando Allen as the primary deep man. It seemed like Goodman was content to either fair catch the ball or he continued to let punts land and roll for an extra chunk of yardage, one of my biggest pet peeves for any return man. But Brian Kelly placed the blame on the erratic punts of Ryan Quigley, who kicked 11 times for an average of 40 yards, his worst day of the season.

“They sprayed the ball. They had about 60 yards of roll on the ground,” Kelly said.
“The kid came in as the top punter in the country and didn’t kick it 40
yards. So one of those things where, finally, he did kick a couple, and
it was just a fair catch situation.”

Pitt starts Dan Hutchins at both punter and kicker and he’s one of the best in the Big East, so Goodman is likely to get a chance at returning kicks from a punter that’s far more accurate this week.

 

  1. Irish Fan - Oct 8, 2010 at 2:27 PM

    Unfortunately, we are going to lose to Pitt by at least 3 touchdowns.
    We can’t recruit many of the players that Pitt admits due to our rigorous academic standards.
    More importantly, however, no amount of talent, coaching, or prepartion can overcome God’s desire to penslize ND football for the Church’s pedophile priests and the Church’s cover-up.
    Oh well…

  2. DblDmr - Oct 8, 2010 at 2:39 PM

    It’s good to see that stupidity never takes a holiday. I’m sure God is desperately concerned with Notre Dame’s football program as an offset to pedophilia and bureaucracy. In the event that some future ND team were to have a perfect season I guess that would mean that all is forgiven, eh?

  3. RichND - Oct 8, 2010 at 3:26 PM

    DblDmr –
    I don’t normally comment on these msg boards, but I’ve got to give you props for your “stupidy never takes a holiday” comment. I’m still lmao at my desk.

  4. BryanW - Oct 8, 2010 at 3:31 PM

    We sure are lucky that God is only 3 touchdowns mad at us! I thought the pedophile priests were good enough for that much on their own. Surely the cover up would have caused Pitt to score at least twice more. What luck! Don’t doubt DblDmr. Don’t you remember how bad Israel’s football team was after the David/Bathsheba incident? (Zero wins that season!) If you’ve ever read the Bible, you would know that God passes down His judgment specifically through athletic competition. Your best bet is to represent a secular, public institution since no one in the public sector does anything that could bring judgment on the football team.

  5. LetterJ13 - Oct 8, 2010 at 3:34 PM

    What a turd.

  6. Irish Fan - Oct 8, 2010 at 3:57 PM

    Mock my conclusions and analysis if you like.
    I guess that you are all in favor of pedophilia.
    Mark my words, the priest sexual scandal and the Chuch’s subsequent cover up will take a toll on us this year.
    God is displeased, and his ire will be reflected in our Won-Loss record.
    We can all hope for the best, but my bet is that the “chickens have come to roost.”
    Go Irish (anyway).

  7. Bradwins - Oct 8, 2010 at 3:58 PM

    Anyone else happen to notice that the combined score of ND-Pitt contests played on October 9th is ND 77, PITT 0?

  8. WD '80 - Oct 8, 2010 at 4:24 PM

    Irish Fan
    If you for one minute think God gives a rat’s ass about the outcome of ANY football game . . .
    That He is displeased with the state of affairs concerning some errant priests and any cover-up, I think that goes without saying. While I do not profess to know His inner workings, I would have to assume He is generally displeased with ANYONE who does something idiotic, cruel immoral or harmful in His name. Holy wars, inquisitions and genocide come readily to mind – all of which PALE in comparison to the results of a football game. But, Irish Fan, whatever you’re smokin’ – – please share with the rest of us.

  9. Danno27 - Oct 8, 2010 at 4:43 PM

    You said we’d lose last week for the same reasons, nincompoop.
    Keith, I’m all for free speech, but isn’t there some sort of abuse filter applicable?
    Also, I’m interested to read that bit about Nick Martin. I would love to see one more good OL prospect in this year’s class.

  10. Chuckie - Oct 8, 2010 at 5:10 PM

    Football is not in God’s plan, and the outcome of any game is entirely subject to football considerations…NOT God. The same as HIV is not a punishment for sexual misconduct. These behave according to the impersonal, unfeeling, and non-judgemental laws of nature.
    The Irish team is improving slowly but steadily, and that is good to see. But it has NOTHING to do with God. Matter of fact, as people draw substantially closer to God, there is a distinct probability of feeling a distant emptiness called the “dark night of the soul”. It is a mysterious reality which many saintly people have felt, but which is a common phenomenon. Blessed Theresa of Calcutta experienced this darkness for over 40 years. It is along the lines of: “Father, why have you abandoned me?”

  11. ryan glaser - Oct 8, 2010 at 7:23 PM

    irish fan you my friend are a douche

  12. jan - Oct 8, 2010 at 7:56 PM

    Folks, let’s please just ignore these idiotic non football comments. Keith provides excellent food for football thought, as usual.
    The crux is stopping the Pitt run, eliminating the Irish turnovers, and pressuring their QB. I believe that the Irish have been getting more experience in each of these areas within the new system and up and down the roster. I envision a huge day for the Irish D and the offense giving Crist plenty of time to pick apart the Pitt secondary and for AA and Hughes to run well.
    This is the week that we see the Irish go for the kill. Breakout week.

  13. ryan glaser - Oct 8, 2010 at 9:44 PM

    you must not pay a whole lot of attention to recruiting. they are gonning through a big transition. we defineatley out recruit pitt every year. gimmie a break. some people must just come out of the woods with these commits. nd wins 34 20

  14. Jennifer - Oct 8, 2010 at 10:38 PM

    Totally with Danno on this one. Next?

  15. Robert Ternes - Oct 9, 2010 at 6:27 AM

    Hey Keith: You might want to check your math. You wrote: “Over the last 31 games, Pitt is 22-9, their winningest stretch since the 2001-03 seasons. In contrast, over the last 31 games, Notre Dame is 11-14.” 22+9 = 31; however, 11+14 = 25 What about the other 6 games. ;-D

  16. SpankMonkey - Oct 9, 2010 at 9:42 AM

    I think this will be a good day
    Really hope it is
    It could be a turn around
    Show us what you got!
    Have a heart!
    Sure hope we can pull this one off
    Unless we don’t make a showing
    Can I get a whoop whoop?
    Keep up the good work

  17. Rick - Oct 9, 2010 at 10:37 AM

    If God is angry at ND, he must be furious at BC….

  18. #1 IRISHFAN - Oct 9, 2010 at 12:01 PM

    Herbstreit just jumped on the wagon??? 9-3???? What happened who threatened him and made him give this insincere prediction?? Or is it just reverse psychology?

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