Saturday night special: Another primetime affair

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With thousands of Irish fans descending on the National Mall last night (check out the awesome photos from Notre Dame’s website) the Irish are done with the pomp and circumstance and ready to take on Randy Edsall’s Maryland team tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

Here are a couple quick notes before getting to the live blog and game tonight.

Keep your eyes on Mike Golic.

The senior center is finally getting his chance in the starting lineup with Braxston Cave done for the season after foot surgery, and it’ll be up to Golic to keep the offensive line on a roll. The Irish haven’t given up a sack in since September and face a running defense that’s there for the taking. It’s also a great opportunity for Golic to audition for a fifth year of eligibility, something that was more than a long shot entering the season.

“Everything really hasn’t gone according to plan like I envisioned it coming in,” Golic said. “It has been a process of getting a little bit bigger and getting acclimated to the speed of the college game and just waiting for my opportunity. Obviously, it took a lot longer than I planned originally, but through my own little support system with my family and the guys around me I’ve kept the faith knowing there’s a time and place for everything.”

Offensive line coach Ed Warinner mentioned this week that Golic has cross-trained at guard and could easily fit into that super-sub category like Andrew Nuss has this year, but I’m guessing any personnel decisions won’t be made until this year’s recruiting class shakes out.

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Edsall vs. Kelly: Round Four.

Brian Kelly is 2-1 in games against Randy Edsall, but it’s been a pretty spirited rivalry.

2007: Cincinatti 27, UConn 3 — (BK finished 10-3, Edsall 9-4
2008: UConn 40, Cincinnati 16 (BK finished 11-3, Edsall 8-5)
2009: Cincinnati 47, UConn 45 (BK finished 12-0, Edsall 8-5)

In 2007, quarterback Ben Mauk (older brother of one-time Irish recruit Maty Mauk) threw three touchdown passes in his 33 attempts and the Bearcats surprised a stout UConn defense and ran away with it. The Bearcats reached eight regular season wins for the first time since 1993.

In 2008, future first round draft pick Donald Brown powered UConn’s offense, running for 150 yards and two touchdowns before the Huskies pulled away with 23 unanswered second half points. Tony Pike and Chazz Anderson gained only 259 yards on 47 passing attempts.

In 2009, the Huskies and Bearcats played a good ol’ fashioned barn-burner, with Zach Collaros throwing for 480 yards and Cincy holding on after racing to 20-point halftime lead. Collaros was filling in for Tony Pike, and found Mardy Gilyard 12 times for 172 yards. The win was one of three tight games the Bearcats won down the stretch.

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Beware of the mobile quarterback.

It’s not exactly a secret that the Irish haven’t done their best work on defense against mobile quarterbacks, with B.J. Daniels and Denard Robinson giving Bob Diaco’s troops headaches this year in two losing efforts. (Even Matt Barkley, while not to be confused with Daniels or Robinson, kept plays alive inside the pocket with quick feet, buying time for his receivers.)

While incumbent starter Danny O’Brien has struggled with the transition to Randy Edsall’s offensive system, C.J. Brown has shown that he can be an effective weapon on the ground, running for 7.4 yards an attempt and having two 100-yard games already this season. Brown’s passing numbers leave much to be desired (44 of 91, 5 TD 4 INT), but the Irish will need to contain Brown and eliminate the big plays from a running quarterback with a defense that’s more than a little battered and bruised.

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Take care of your business.

Neutral site games are great, but if the Irish don’t walk out of the nation’s capital with a convincing win, they’ll have done themselves quite a disservice. Of the teams in the Top 25 that the Irish need to jump above, Cincinnati, Georgia Tech and Texas have already lost. Penn State fell to Nebraska and has a difficult road ahead of them, and Baylor and Auburn are on the ropes against Kansas (Kansas?!) and Georgia repectively, while Kansas State is down going into halftime to Texas A&M.

It’s certainly way too early to even think the Irish can back door their way into the BCS, but they need an impressive victory to remind pollsters that they’re well deserving of a place in the Top 25. Take care of their business against an over-matched but highly motivated Maryland team, and they should send that message.