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Pregame six pack: The 8-0 edition

Nov 2, 2012, 11:40 AM EDT

Brian Kelly

It may not have the glamor and intrigue of last weekend’s match-up in Norman, but Saturday’s game against 4-4 Pittsburgh counts the same.  With No. 4 Notre Dame undefeated after two-thirds of the season, any loss will knock a dream Irish season off the tracks.

Not that Brian Kelly is letting the Irish turn their focus to anything other than playing football. The head coach, who has navigated situations like this, most recently in his final season at Cincinnati, has repeatedly said that he’ll keep his team focused on the task at hand and let everybody else talk about the postseason implications.

“I think we’ve talked about that each and every week,” Kelly said. “You win two games, you win three, you win four games in a row, you start to we are about how are you going to handle success.  So this is not a first‑time conversation with our football team.  They have handled success early in the season, and they have shown that they understand that if they don’t prepare the right way, that they’ll lose.  We’re not good enough to not prepare properly, and I think they know that.”

As Notre Dame prepares for Pittsburgh, here are six tidbits, fun facts, leftovers and miscellaneous musings before the Irish take on the Panthers Saturday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

***

If history is any indication, the Panthers won’t be intimidated by Notre Dame or a top-ranked opponent.

You probably didn’t expect the Panthers to be in awe of Notre Dame Stadium or an Irish squad in the thick of the national title hunt. And Pitt certainly won’t be. The Panthers have more than held their own in South Bend, winning two of the last three games under the Golden Dome.

In 2010, the Irish held on to win 23-17 after Dayne Crist and the Irish offense stalled out and David Ruffer‘s three field goals were enough. But in 2008, the Panthers rallied from a 14-point deficit and shocked the Irish in four overtimes, winning 36-33. Both Michael Floyd and Golden Tate went over 100 yards in the air and Jimmy Clausen threw for 271 yards, but the Irish gave up a 17-3 halftime lead and couldn’t get into the end zone in any of their three overtime possessions. The loss was the third of the season for an Irish squad that started 4-1, but ended the regular season 6-6.

In 2004, The Panthers outlasted Ty Willingham‘s squad, winning 41-38 in South Bend. Darius Walker ran for 112 yards and two touchdowns and Brady Quinn threw for three more, but Pitt quarterback Tyler Palko threw for 334 yards and five touchdowns for Walt Harris, and was very bleeping proud of his team afterwards.

As briefly mentioned by Sam Werner, the last time Pitt had a chance to take on a top-three team in the country, the Panthers pulled an even more improbable upset. At 4-7, Dave Wannstedt‘s squad walked into Morgantown and beat Rich Rodriguez‘s 10-1 West Virginia squad 13-9, ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the two major polls.

***

Maybe it didn’t take a win against Oklahoma for the Irish to truly “arrive.”

It may move the dial and start a healthy debate, but for a team that’s been considered irrelevant, Notre Dame has quietly played pretty good football lately. Since mid-September 2011, only seven teams in college football have won more games that the Irish, with Notre Dame going 16-3 in their last 19 games.

Take a look at the not too shabby list of teams that have put together a better run than the Irish:

Oregon: 19-1
Alabama: 18-1
Boise State: 17-2
Northern Illinois: 18-3
Georgia: 17-3
Kansas State: 17-3

Considering the Irish lead the nation in victories over Top 25 teams this season, beating No. 10 Michigan State, No. 18 Michigan, No. 17 Stanford, and No. 8 Oklahoma, Brian Kelly has shown himself to be a coach that does a very good job in the W/L column, a pretty good area to show expertise.

If the Irish can win on Saturday, Kelly will have played .850 football over his last 20 games, a winning percentage that would fall between Chris Petersen (.920) and Urban Meyer (.831), the two most efficient winners currently coaching in college football. As it stands now, Kelly’s winning percentage in his 22 seasons as a head coach is .742, good for seventh.

***

Notre Dame’s defense: The place where high-scoring offenses go to die.

Last night on ESPN, Mark May cited Pittsburgh’s 42-point offensive outburst against Temple as reason for belief that the Panthers offense could put up some points against Notre Dame’s defense. That logic doesn’t look too solid when you consider that six of Notre Dame’s eight opponents scored 40 or more points in the game they played before facing the Irish.

Here’s a quick look at the offenses that stalled out at Notre Dame:

Purdue
Before: 48-6 win over Eastern Kentucky
Notre Dame: 20-17 loss
After: 54-16 win over Eastern Michigan

Michigan State
Before: 41-7 win over Central Michigan
Notre Dame: 20-3 loss
After: 23-7 win over Eastern Michigan

Michigan
Before: 63-13 win over UMass
Notre Dame: 13-6 loss
After: 44-13 win over Purdue

Miami
Before: 44-37 win over North Carolina State
Notre Dame: 41-3 loss
After: 18-14 loss to North Carolina

Stanford
Before: 54-48 win over Arizona
Notre Dame: 20-13 loss
After: 21-3 win over Cal

BYU
Before: 42-24 loss to Oregon State
Notre Dame: 17-14 loss
After: 41-17 win over Georgia Tech

Oklahoma
Before: 52-7 win over Kansas
Notre Dame: 30-13 loss

The opponents that came in scoring 40 or more points have scored a total of 55 points against the Irish, and none scored more than 17.

***

Notre Dame has turned November into its best month. And they’ve got Paul Longo to thank for it.

After losing eight of its last nine November football games, Brian Kelly has turned November into his team’s strongest month. The Irish are 6-1 in the month, with their lone loss coming to Andrew Luck and Stanford last year. With this being the most important November in over a decade, Kelly was asked about the process that goes into winning late in the season. Not surprisingly, strength and conditioning coordinator Paul Longo has something to do with it.

“Our strength and conditioning, our nutrition, the way we take care of ourselves, our schedule has really kind of taken shape and form over the last couple years that our guys feel fresh. We’re hitting peaks in the weight room right now,” Kelly said Tuesday. “We’re peaking out in November. So we’re stronger as a football team right now.”

That Irish football players are able to peak in the weight room in the middle of the season shows you just how far this team has come since Kelly took it over. When athletic director Jack Swarbrick discussed some of the factors that went into improving the overall health of the football program, he noted the loss of size and strength as the football season wore on.

“The weight loss on defense was 13 pounds per player during the season,” Swarbrick said back in December of 2009. “Our weight loss on the defensive side of the ball was a little shocking.”

Numbers like that were a big reason why training table was implemented, and a big reason why Kelly was a tough-talker early in his tenure, cracking that, “Eating at Burger King at three in the morning is not going to make you the best for your eight o’clock workouts.”  With nutrition now handled in a completely different manner and Longo’s weight lifting structure allowing guys like Stephon Tuitt to put up a personal-best on the bench press in late October, Kelly gave a little bit more insight into the training program that has turned this team around.

“It’s a year-round process. It’s not top heavy as it relates to the off-season. We’re not killing them in January and February. We have different stages of our weight training. January, February, you’re building a lot of that mental toughness in those two months. We’re getting after you pretty good. But we’re not trying to put too much weight on your back.

“I think the other thing that Coach Longo does a great job of is understanding having a team ready to play football and a team that needs to add a coat of armor. There’s a lot of levels to it. Paul does a great job of managing things out through strength and conditioning so we play our very best in November, December and January.”

Don’t expect Kelly to get too much more explanatory than that.

“It’s all based for us to peak in November,” center Braxston Cave told CSNChicago’s JJ Stankevitz. “I don’t think he would tell anybody his secret, his formula, how he does it. But since I’ve been here, it’s worked every year.”

***

Entering the game, assault charges again three players add more uncertainty to the Pitt depth chart.

Never mind the season-ending injuries that have decimated Pitt’s defense. Word broke last night that Paul Chryst’s team might have bigger issues, with assault charges being filed against three Pitt players, including standout running back Ray Graham and wide receiver Devin Street.

This from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Three University of Pittsburgh football players were charged with assault and conspiracy Thursday night after police said they surrounded a man in Oakland last month and one of them punched him in the head.

Running back Ray Graham, 22, of Elizabeth, N.J., wide receiver Devin Street, 21, of Bethlehem, Pa., and defensive back Lafayette Pitts, 20, of East Pittsburgh, were not arrested but will receive summonses by mail telling them to report to court Jan. 9 for a preliminary hearing.

Pittsburgh police wrote in a criminal complaint that they were working an overtime detail early on Oct. 21 when they tried to disperse a crowd from the intersection of Oakland Avenue and Bates Street and three people remained in the roadway.

One those people, Karl Olsheski, told police he had just been assaulted. He refused medical treatment and said he did not want to file a report, he just wanted officers to stop the man who had punched him, according to the criminal complaint.

In an interview with police, Mr. Olsheski said he was walking in Oakland with two women when Mr. Graham stopped him, said, “What’s up?” and uttered a racial slur. Mr. Olsheski said that he replied “nothing” and tried to leave but Mr. Graham, Mr. Street and Mr. Pitts surrounded him and then Mr. Street slugged him on the left side of the head, according to the criminal complaint.

A Pitt spokesman could not immediately be reached late Thursday night to comment on the football players’ status with the team.

It goes without saying that the legal system needs to play itself out, but Pitt hasn’t said anything about the charges. But if the Panthers are without Graham and Street, that’s going to be a huge hit to the team offensively.

***

If the Irish are going to be national title contenders, the offense needs to show it’s up to the task.

At this stage in the season, it’s clear that Notre Dame’s defense is ready, willing and able. But if the Irish have championship aspirations, they need to show that last week’s offensive output wasn’t a fluke.

Incomplete efforts like the Irish victories over BYU or Michigan are no longer going to cut it. (They certainly won’t against a team like USC.) For Notre Dame to win out, and impress the pollsters as they do it, they’ll need to show some consistency. And putting together a good performance against an under-manned Pitt defense is the first place to start.

After playing his best football game in front of the biggest television audience to watch a football game this season, Kelly talked about raising the bar for quarterback Everett Golson.

“I think we demand more.  Our expectations are high,” Kelly said about post-Oklahoma Golson. “You did this on the road against very good competition.  Now, what we expect on Tuesday is for you to be fully engaged, to take over the practice.  So we’re going to move that bar up a little bit on him and demand more from him today.”

Golson will have a running game that welcomes back George Atkinson, healthy after a bout with the flu. He’ll have an offensive line that’s playing its best football. If he can remember that Tyler Eifert is on his team, he should have all the weapons he needs at his disposal on Saturday.

  1. dickasman - Nov 2, 2012 at 12:04 PM

    I predict 42-0 and only 4 fair catches

    • gtizzo - Nov 2, 2012 at 1:36 PM

      Love the score prediction by I have to take the over on fair catches.

  2. domer77blowsgoats - Nov 2, 2012 at 12:24 PM

    These so called “analysts” and “experts” absolutely make me sick – it is complete bs they can sound off with no factual evidence but with the full clout and opinion swaying power that is ESPN

    May himself said a couple of weeks ago an undefeated ND would play for the NC 100% then flipped the next week

    i understand the “entertainment” aspect but there is absolutely no accountability when pushing false agendas

    Same thing happened as Sandy was approaching NJ coast – a local NYC reporter, “NOAA just released Sandy is no longer a hurricane, this is amazing and fantastic news” – which is just a technicality on the definition of what is a hurricane – people unfamiliar with such technicalities ventured outdoors only to be met with flash floods and trees falling on them

    moral of the story – FU Mark May!!

    oh and Hi Nude!!

    • gtizzo - Nov 2, 2012 at 1:42 PM

      I agree with you,

      These “analysts” who are suppose to sound “smart” normally don’t hold up to common sense. Then there are also those who hit the “regurgitate” button and find someone else to agree with. Then there is always my favorite when they talk about things that were know in preseason. I’m so tired of the “barf” button analysis passing for “insightful”. They could pay me to do that!

  3. joeschulz - Nov 2, 2012 at 12:37 PM

    If the three young men are suspended, the Irish players will be disappointed. No one with pride wants his opponent to show up with his arm in a sling. The Irish have shown a lot of pride!

    • dbldmr - Nov 2, 2012 at 1:37 PM

      Pitt has stated that, since the players deny the charges, they will be playing on Saturday.

      • notredameirish1980 - Nov 2, 2012 at 1:49 PM

        Imagine the howls from opposing fans and the media if these were ND players and the same decision was made.

      • phillyj - Nov 2, 2012 at 4:15 PM

        Stay classy, Pitt.

      • domer77blowsgoats - Nov 2, 2012 at 4:40 PM

        from ESPN story:

        “…all three players, each player was recognized by at least one, including Mitchell who recognized Street from a class they took together on vampires.”

        Vampires?

        Even Nude would have a hard time finding something to bitch about getting college credit for a class on freaking vampires!!

      • dickasman - Nov 3, 2012 at 12:12 AM

        Vampire 101 is the new sociology major. Like that book “for dummies”

  4. mtflsmitty - Nov 2, 2012 at 1:01 PM

    What is happening at ND, and has been mostly invisible to most of us as recently as three months ago, has been the shift in the development of our football “program”.

    Swarbrick’s quote from 2009 reminds me of comments he made 6 weeks ago regarding the development of all aspects go into the engine that allows a bunch of 18-22 year olds perform predictably at their highest level. Team study halls, strict enforcement of schedules, training table, etc.

    Some here have referred to Longo and other changes. But by and large we don’t see all the off field, behind the scenes changes, so we fans tend to react to what we can see. It’s understandable. But I also think it’s worth acknowledging that 2011 wasn’t as bad as it seemed, and 2012 isn’t the miracle some have portrayed it to be. My dear father had been unsold on BK for the last two years. Not surprisingly, he’s come around in recent weeks.

    I point this out because although it’s fun to comment here on what we can see, we have to acknowledge just how little we know. Consider that a mere two weeks ago so many were claiming that BK’s reputation for offensive planning was a farce. Been awfully quite on that topic lately.

    I love being a fan. And I love the fact that I can trust the system and the process. As for the system/process installed for daughter’s 8th grade volleyball team? Well that’s another story.

    Go Irish!
    Go Bearcubs!

    • bernhtp - Nov 2, 2012 at 1:37 PM

      I’ve long expressed my deep admiration for the amazing job Swarbrick has done. He may eventually be seen as the most important figure in ND athletics since Rockne.

      • dbldmr - Nov 2, 2012 at 1:42 PM

        The move (or semi-move in the case of football) to the ACC looks like an excellent one. That can be attributed to Swarbick. Brian Kelly looks like the right guy for ND…good job, Jack. Yeah, ND’s athletic program, men and women, looks like it’s in pretty good shape.

      • bernhtp - Nov 2, 2012 at 2:22 PM

        It’s much, much more than the ACC deal such as hiring Brian Kelly, making needed changes such as training table, and working behind the scenes during conference realignment – with U Texas AD in particular – to maintain ND’s independence and opportunity/role in the NC picture. ND sports programs have improved across the board, not just football.

        This has been a turbulent landscape to navigate, especially without the cover of a major conference, and Jack has handled it deftly and even brilliantly.

  5. bostonjan - Nov 2, 2012 at 1:05 PM

    Weather forecast “perfect” for Sat football: mid 40s, 10% chance of rain, 7 MPH winds

    • jerseyshorendfan1 - Nov 2, 2012 at 8:36 PM

      Mine’s not: Sandy just blew through and we’re expecting a Nor’easter early next week.

      • papadec - Nov 3, 2012 at 12:16 AM

        joisey – I feel for you – my family members in NYC & on Long Island don’t expect power for weeks – maybe not before Thanksgiving. Hang tough!

    • papadec - Nov 3, 2012 at 12:12 AM

      boston – good to see you have power for emails, after Sandy blew through.

  6. fitz79 - Nov 2, 2012 at 2:56 PM

    It’s easy to get caught up in all the BCS hype, but I, my fellow Fighting Irish fans, for one, am going to simply kick back and enjoy a successful, fun to watch Notre Dame football season. Lord knows it’s been long enough! Every once in awhile I get flashes back to 2007 and it’s hard to believe that this is the same institution. 8 games into that season we were sitting at 1-7 with no prospects of things improving. I took such a ripping from my football friends that year for sticking with ND and believing that things could one day turn around. Well that time has finally come. Long term ND fans are finally getting the reward they deserve. Do I want us to finish the regular season 12-0? You betcha. Do I want us to be in the National Championship game? Of course. But personally I’m not gonna worry about any of that right now. I’m going to kick back on Saturday and savor watching the best Notre Dame football team in decades. Go Irish!

    • jerseyshorendfan1 - Nov 2, 2012 at 8:39 PM

      Best post I’ve ever read on here Fitz,

      • fitz79 - Nov 2, 2012 at 11:22 PM

        Thank ya sir. I just thought we could all use a reminder to appreciate what we’ve got!

  7. ndrick731 - Nov 2, 2012 at 2:57 PM

    Pitt should have moved to the SEC where players not being disciplined is the norm. Would love to see what would have happened if a white player had made a racial remark. Probably would be off the team.

  8. getsome99 - Nov 2, 2012 at 3:35 PM

    We have 3 games to develop Chris Brown into a legitimate deep threat. By talent, he already is, but his talents need to be integrated into the offense. If we can accomplish that while we win the next 3 games, USC and Alabama won’t stand a chance.

  9. yogihilt - Nov 2, 2012 at 4:24 PM

    Brad Edwards, BCS guru, just said (Fri 345pm) that if all 4 ended undefeated, ND had least chance of being in title game… no conference title game (obviously), or last game that week, …and weak next 3 games. Ala will be #1, (duh) but thinks Oregon will go to 2. ND needs some help here, but those title games must loom big with BCS figures. Oh well, would love to see ND undefeated and see it all unfold … can’t imagine not seeing Ala ND title game (if TV pressure has anything to do with it)

  10. bb90grad - Nov 2, 2012 at 5:50 PM

    I’m with fitz above. Let’s not piss away the last third of the season worrying about shoulda/woulda/couldas. Like Grandma in Parenthood, enjoy the roller coaster (even if she’s sitting in our neighbor’s car).

    If you had told me in August I would be looking at a Fiesta Bowl with K State as a second choice, I would have signed up (and still will).

    • seadomer - Nov 2, 2012 at 8:23 PM

      Of course I would love to see ND in the NC game but just as high on my list is a NON-SEC championship game.

      I know … ND vs Oregon would actually make me a little sick … that’s later

      Go Tigers … Go Cowboys … Go U .. S … still can’t

      • drdannddad - Nov 3, 2012 at 7:53 AM

        As for “Go US…..”, LOL! I can’t either! Just can’t do it!

  11. irishdodger - Nov 2, 2012 at 6:39 PM

    This is another trap game. As long as ND doesn’t turn the ball over, ND should win….get sloppy with INTs & lost fumbles and it’s upset special.

  12. 36irish - Nov 2, 2012 at 7:03 PM

    Nice 6 pack, Keith. Can’t wait until May is wearing the leprechaun suit. Keep at em Lou. Does anyone else think LSU has a shot?

    41-10 irish

    • drdannddad - Nov 3, 2012 at 7:56 AM

      Yes, I think LSU has a shot. A long shot, but a shot nonetheless. They are incredibly tough at home, and especially at night, during the Les Miles era.

  13. 36irish - Nov 2, 2012 at 7:04 PM

    Nice 6 pack, Keith. Can’t wait until May is wearing the leprechaun suit. Keep at em Lou. Does anyone else think LSU has a shot us Alabama?

    41-10 irish

  14. mtflsmitty - Nov 2, 2012 at 7:42 PM

    So we don’t have to hear about it for the next three weeks, lets all just agree the next three games could be (que ominous music) trap games. Every game where we are favored is, by definition, a trap game. We get it.

    • seadomer - Nov 2, 2012 at 8:14 PM

      No worries, most of us here are on “upset alert” since Miami game

    • heisenbyrg - Nov 2, 2012 at 8:16 PM

  15. jerseyshorendfan1 - Nov 2, 2012 at 8:50 PM

    Keith, nice job on the six pack. I just got power back tonight after being in the dark and cold since Sunday afternoon and I’ll have you know this site was my first stop. As always, your tidbits, fun facts and leftovers were phenomenal but its the miscellaneous musings that keep me coming back and always wanting more. Seriously, thanks for a job well done. Go Irish.

    • ndbcs2013 - Nov 2, 2012 at 10:51 PM

      Best wishes to you and yours, Jersey.

    • Jennifer - Nov 2, 2012 at 11:21 PM

      Glad to have you back, jsf1.. I have family in NYC, and they say the same thing….NDFB is a constant in their lives, when it’s needed most. Lots of Irish fans in NY & NJ…..Betting the coaches and players know this, and play a bit harder for them.

    • dickasman - Nov 3, 2012 at 12:16 AM

      Don’t lie, according to my ip insection records, you went to Aquanet.com then snooki.com immediately followed by beeg.com.

  16. seadomer - Nov 2, 2012 at 8:58 PM

    Ha ha … Mark May just picked ND ,,, to beat Pitt … no biggie but just the admission is hilarious

    • jmfinsd - Nov 2, 2012 at 9:23 PM

      I saw that, too. It’s reverse psychology. He’s picking ND to jinx us against his alma mater. His 40+ point comment suggests he thinks Pitt actually has a chance.

  17. ndtod - Nov 2, 2012 at 9:16 PM

    As much as I want to “just enjoy it,,” I can’t until we have a three-score lead in the second half. Lets go up big early.

    • drdannddad - Nov 3, 2012 at 8:04 AM

      Amen! My wife and I attended the BYU game, not expecting much drama. Instead, we experienced a real nail-biter. That one was still in doubt late! The feeling in the stadium and on campus afterward was more relief than exhilaration. Nevertheless, the beer at BW3 tasted extra good that night! Nothing quite like “victory beer.”

      So yes, let’s put this one away early, and often!

      • floridairish - Nov 3, 2012 at 9:38 AM

        My wife and I were there also. I’ve never heard the stadium so quiet during a game. It was a relief when we pulled it out. The pregame beers at Legends were good too!

  18. dickasman - Nov 3, 2012 at 12:18 AM

    Lol at zack Martin….I guess he was asked about nd playing better on the road vs at home and he said its because we don’t have a jumbotron, lol…because of that comment, he’s my rkg.

  19. dermmite - Nov 3, 2012 at 12:18 AM

    Thats some badass shit fitz79. The kind of shit that makes me want to “fuck some shit up.”

    • dickasman - Nov 3, 2012 at 12:22 AM

      Your comment made me so HOTT! Shtting and fcking are my 2 favorite things next to snorting couple lines w escorts. Thanks for the memories!

      • bernhtp - Nov 3, 2012 at 8:08 AM

        You seem to have found your soulmate.

  20. dermmite - Nov 3, 2012 at 12:31 AM

    How Hot?

  21. norcalirish - Nov 3, 2012 at 8:02 AM

    The story about the Pitt players assaulting that guy is obviously false…everybody knows that only white people are racist, duhhhhh.

  22. ndfaithful - Nov 3, 2012 at 11:19 AM

    After hearing BK’s comments this week, I think he’s confident that Golson is getting it. He also made a lot of comments about ‘starting fast’. I think you’re going to see a slight change in play calling in the first and second quarters. I think you’ll see a more aggressive effort to get a lead. If it works, I think you’ll see him try to ‘show off’ the offense. This could be a big turning point. Although we blew out Navy, Miami, and to some extent Oklahoma – we all keep hearing about how our offense is not that good and hurting us in the AP poll. If ND can, I think they will put up some monster numbers and go for some ‘style points’. I think you’ll see our ‘style’ is to smash Pitt in the face with the run game and turn some guys like Chris Brown loose in the secondary.

    I think they’ll do it. My score prediction – ND 49, Pitt 6.

    Dear God – please let Manti carry the ball into the end zone today. More than once would be nice.

    Finally – I hope OSU, LSU (in spite of that jagoff Miles), and (pardon me while I throw up in my mouth) USC have spectacular games this week.

    GO IRISH!!!!

    • ndgoldandblue - Nov 3, 2012 at 11:40 AM

      Good post. I’m telling you, I would love to see a big offensive game today. Kelly called a great game last week, but I’m not sure he completely trusts Golson yet. I’d love to see the training wheels come off this week. There is no reason why, with our talent on offense, we shouldn’t be able to put up some big numbers in the next four weeks (that’s right, I’m including you, USC).

      As for the pollsters, they gotta’ do what they gotta’ do, but I would be more than elated to see our Irish finish the season with 10+ wins and a BCS bowl game (and victory). That was the goal at the beginning of the year, and a lot of people, fans included, thought that a BCS bowl was a big stretch. I’d say the Irish have exceeded expectations.

      As for today, I’m sticking with my original prediction: 31-6 Irish.

      • drdannddad - Nov 3, 2012 at 2:58 PM

        Kelly’s play calling last week was phenomenal! Shades of Lou in big games.

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