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Final thoughts before kickoff

Nov 9, 2013, 11:49 AM EDT

Moshood Adeniji, Stephon Tuitt AP

With injuries piled up and a bye week on the horizon, the Irish face a crossroad they’ve been at before. Beat Pittsburgh and take a week to recover, allowing key contributors like Ishaq Williams and Kona Schwenke a chance to heal before dealing with BYU at home. 

The Irish may be battered and bruised, but they also seem to distance themselves from teams past, with the mental toughness needed to push forward when physical limitation strike. That toughness will be tested tonight, with Pitt hoping to settle the score after nearly toppling Notre Dame’s undefeated season last year. 

Let’s go over some final thoughts before kickoff. 

How will the running back position evolve? It looked like the Irish found a featured running back in Tarean Folston, but Brian Kelly did his best to downplay any separation. We’ll see how the carries shake out and if Folston can continue to run with confidence and power, doing so against a tougher defense than the Midshipmen. 

Can Tommy Rees attack Pitt downfield? Throwing the football in November at night in Pittsburgh isn’t the easiest thing in the world, especially in an offense that relies on precision. With the wind set to pickup in the evening and temperatures dipping into the mid-40s, Rees will need to have a good day from the pocket if the Irish offense wants to continue moving forward. 

This Pitt secondary hasn’t always held up this year, and the emergence of Ben Koyack has added another weapon for defenses to think about. TJ Jones is on a touchdown streak that’s inching closer to the school’s record, and he’ll likely be targeted early and often tonight. 

How will the defensive line hold up? Expect Louis Nix to make his presence felt almost immediately, matched up with Aaron Donald in a game that’ll feature two of college football’s best defensive tackles. Nix and Donald’s games aren’t all that similar, but expect the two weeks off to do Big Lou some good and for him to come out fired up. 

Stephon Tuitt could have a field day tonight against a Pitt offensive line that’s had trouble holding up. Tuitt playing big could lessen the importance of Sheldon Day, who will once again be less than 100 percent as his balky ankle limits his explosiveness. 

Even with limitations, the Irish will be at their best up front with Tuitt, Nix and Day. But it’ll be interesting to follow the rotation Mike Elston relies on, and see who that next man is between Isaac Rochell, Jarron Jones, Justin Utupo or Tyler Stockton. 

How many snaps will the starting linebackers take? It’s going to be a long night for Carlo Calabrese, Dan Fox, Prince Shembo and Jaylon Smith. Don’t expect a lot of time off for a group that’s going to need to bring a hard hat to work tonight. 

Pitt’s going to try their best to establish the run and it’ll be up to these four to play physical at the point of attack and be sure tacklers. If you watched Trick Shot Monday carefully, you saw a small cast on linebacker Joe Schmidt’s thumb. Kendall Moore seems to have earned the staff’s confidence and could be utilized, but after him and Romeo Okwara, the depth drops off quite a bit. 

Prince Shembo has been a feast or famine pass rusher all season. He could eat quite well tonight. 

Can the Irish find their mojo on special teams? Kickoff coverage has struggled. A nice punt return was called back. After nearly winning the game on special teams against Michigan State, the Irish nearly lost one last week. 

If the Irish get into a slugfest Saturday night, they can’t have their third unit let down the offense and the defense. With injuries taking first tier players like Ben Councell off kick units, guys like James Onwualu are going to need to make plays. 

  1. newmexicoirish - Nov 9, 2013 at 12:14 PM

    A combination of very physical punch them in the mouth defense, a healthy dose of running the ball, and picking our spots throwing and the Irish will leave Pennsylvania with a solid and convincing win. Oh, add in some improved play on special teams too.

  2. richisirish - Nov 9, 2013 at 12:40 PM

    Love the Shembo shout out, it’s hammer time for #55!

    btw anyone planning to watch BYU-Wisc?

  3. newmexicoirish - Nov 9, 2013 at 12:48 PM

    I am definitely going to watch BYU/Wisconsin. Someone referred to BYU in one of Keith’s other articles as a “tune up” game. I think they’re going to prove to be a bit more than a tune up. I’m anxious to see them play, especially against a ranked team.

  4. nudeman - Nov 9, 2013 at 1:21 PM

    This is for BostonJan, or maybe anyone else who knows the answer: On the previous article you posted something about BC tearing up ND’s locker room. What is the story there? When did that happen?

    • dickasman - Nov 9, 2013 at 2:10 PM

      They were prolly looking for that last piece of crack in the carpet but I dunno. Just guessing.

    • dickasman - Nov 9, 2013 at 2:17 PM

      Nude, when will you be unleashing getsome? I miss him dearly!

  5. fnc111 - Nov 9, 2013 at 2:06 PM

    Alex Anzalone made a great decision on what college to attend. Not. Year one and UF wont even be playing in a bowl game.

    • dickasman - Nov 9, 2013 at 2:13 PM

      It is my understanding that they have one of finer dishes that could be served up to an 18 yo called poonski. On top of that you can get away w a lot. How Tebow ended up there just boggles my mind. Just makes me wonder if he is really who we thought he was.

  6. dickasman - Nov 9, 2013 at 2:15 PM

    Guys can we all try stay sober tonight n put down the craft beers for one night? Reach for the stars n reach for odouls. Taste like crap you’ll never wanna drink again!

    • ndgoldandblue - Nov 9, 2013 at 4:11 PM

      I’ve never tried O’Douls. Remember Pabst N.A.? Whatever happened to that beer?

  7. bernhtp - Nov 9, 2013 at 5:02 PM

    Anyone else watching Nelson Aghlor tear up the Cal Bears? Two punt returns for TDs just in the first half so far. God, I wish he had come to ND.

    • nudeman - Nov 9, 2013 at 5:08 PM

      I recall his recruitment. A real bright kid with somewhat of a worldly background and I thought ND had a good shot.

    • papadec - Nov 9, 2013 at 6:48 PM

      Nah – I’ve been flipping between the Michigan/Nebraska & BYU/Wisconsin games.

  8. mtflsmitty - Nov 9, 2013 at 5:15 PM

    First half: ND 14, Pitt 10
    Final: ND 34, Pitt 23

    • scottatnd - Nov 9, 2013 at 5:28 PM

      I’ll drink to that.

      • papadec - Nov 9, 2013 at 5:41 PM

        I’ll drink during that!

      • papadec - Nov 9, 2013 at 5:41 PM

        I’ll drink during that!

      • papadec - Nov 9, 2013 at 5:42 PM

        How did that double post happen? I haven’t had a drink yet.

  9. kapnd73 - Nov 9, 2013 at 5:31 PM

    Pressing question: no menu talk? Jersey, Notre Dan?
    Just trying to stay loose, plus I’m hungry…

    • scottatnd - Nov 9, 2013 at 5:56 PM

      I’m about to order a pizza from Lutz’s drive in.

      • papadec - Nov 9, 2013 at 6:53 PM

        I’ve been marinating a flank steak that I’ll throw on the grill, later. Nothing fancy on the side dishes – K.I.S.S. works best for me on game day. Probably anyday, for that matter.

    • NotreDan - Nov 9, 2013 at 6:35 PM

      I just finished a whole rib eye roast with braised cabbage with sage butter.

      Now, some Jameson on the rocks to get ready for kickoff.

      • kapnd73 - Nov 9, 2013 at 7:29 PM

        Mmmm, pizza, marinated flank steak, rib eye, sage butter…Some epicureans among us!
        I’ve been craving a pasta carbonara or arrabbiata, but now beef is sounding pretty good. (How’s everyone’s cholesterol?)

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