Can Brian Kelly and his Notre Dame football team use last week's one-sided win over host Boston College as a springboard for more victories is the question many Irish fans are asking this week.
The Irish, 2-3, now enter a stretch in their schedule that is very manageable, many believe. Pittsburgh today is a real challenge but then the Irish are home next week with Western Michigan, followed by Navy on the road and a home game with Tulsa before a week off. Can ND put together back-to-back wins and maybe start a real win streak?
Althrough BC was not a top rated team, beating the Eagles in Boston and shutting down their running game was a plus for the Irish defense. ND stopped cold BC's Montel Harris, holding him to just 28 yards on 15 carries. He entered the game as the Atlantic Coast Conference's leading rusher. The rush total was the fewest ND defense allowed since Rutgers ran for minus six yards back in 1996.
The Irish offense again was not consistent. At times, especially in the first half, it look like a machine as Dayne Crist led ND to a quick 21-0 lead. But the Irish offense stalled later in the game and struggled in the second half. A team that wants to be considered a high caliber football club has to have a good offense for four quarters. ND's two fumbles set up to BC field goals and Crist had another interception. But to his credit, Crist's career interception rate is 2.34 percent, which is the lowest in Irish history. Jimmy Clausen and Brady Quinn are tied for second at 2.43.
The Irish offense did manage to run against one of the top rate rush defenses in the country in BC.
So overall the win was an important one for Kelly and company. The Irish still have a long way to go and the next three or four weeks will surely give ND fans a good idea if Kelly is bringing the program back. More on the game and other Irish notes later.
Today ND hosts Pitt, which has won the last two games aganist ND, both by field goals and both late in the game. Pitt won 41-38 and 36-33 in the last two outings.
The Panthers enter the game 2-2. The problem for the ND defense is Pitt running back Ray Graham, who ran for 277 yards in last Saturday's win over Florida International. Also the Panthers have a top receiver in Jon Baldwin. On the defensive side the Panthers are led by DE Jabaal Sheard.
Pitt's other win this year was over New Hampshire, 38-16. The two losses were to Utah, 27-24, in overtime, and 31-3 to Miami.
ND leads the series, 44-20-1, and has a 19-10 record in games played in South Bend. The game will be televised nationally by NBC-TV with a 3:41 p.m. kickoff.
IRISH NOTES:With Theo Riddick's rise in the Irish offense as a target of Crist, some wonder what Kelly is to do with is other two top receivers in Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph. Some feel Kelly, or Crist, spend too much time looking for Riddick and that Floyd and Rudolph are forgotten men. Riddick, a sophomore, leads the Irish in receptions with 30, with 26 coming in the last three games, for 320 yards and three TDs. Floyd, a junior, is listed as a candidate for the Biletnikoff Award and the nation's top wide receiver, has 28 catches for 408 yards. Rudolph, considered one of the top tight ends in the country, has 23 catches for 290 yards, but only two catches for three yards combined in the last two games. Obviously, Kelly's spread offense should mean just that in getting the ball to not only Riddick but Floyd and Rudloph. A trio of receivers like that should make for a difflicult afternoon for any opponent.....Today ND players will wear pink armbands and/or wristbands and Kelly and his staff will wear an Adidas line of apparel and headwear that will commemorate National Breast Cancer Awareness Month....Senior kicker David Ruffer's consecutive field goal streak, which started with a 42-yarder at Pittsburgh last Nov. 14, now stands at 13 heading into today's game. Nick Tausch holds the record for consecutive field goals made at 14. Incidentally, Tausch will handle kickoffs replacing Ruffer. The reason, Kelly said, is that Tausch's ability to place the ball better than Ruffer....Kelly is 2-1 in games against Pitt. The record is for games between Pitt and Cincinnati....Freshman Bennett Jackson didn't waste his first start on kickoff returns. He had a 43-yard return on the opening kickoff and his returns on other opportunities gave the Irish some very good field position....Kelly was on his team throughout the entire game last week getting into the faces of players due to mistakes they made. I don't see anything wrong with that. I think that is what the ND players need, to be pushed more....At one point during last week's game the Irish offensive line was missing guard Chris Stewart, center Braxston Cave and tackle Taylor Dever, all on the bench with injuries. Stewart suffered a contusion but is ready for today; Cave had a ankle injury and is ready for today; and Dever had a hamstring injury which makes him questionable....LB sophomore Manti Te'o had 10 tackles last week. A good showing but it actually caused him to slip to No. 2 in the nation with an average of 12.8 per game....ND's defense continues to improve. Of BC's 17 possessions, 10 ended in three and outs. However, ND continues to give up the big play at times and that just won't do. The defense improved nationally from 103rd in the nation to 89th this week. Pitt's Graham, as I mentioned, will be a big test today for the "D"....Crist continues to have good moments and bad moments. He must get more consistent. The fact Kelly is letting him run the ball more will help the spread offense. But, as mentioned before, running the ball sets Crist up for injury, something the Irish can't afford....Some game stats. Crist was 24 of 44 for 203 yards, two TDs and one intercept. Armando Allen had 90 yards on 19 rushes and a score and Robert Hughes four for 12. Riddick caught nine for 69 yards and a score; Floyd four for 69; Allen four for 26; and John Goodman, three for 19. Defensively Carlo Calabrese matched Te'o tackles with 10.....I said last week's game the BC game was an important one for Kelly, not only because it was a homecoming of sorts for him but the Irish needed a win bad. Now that the Irish won the game today's contest with Pitt is just as important. As I noted at the beginning, ND has a chance to not only win two in a row, a first for Kelly in his short stint as coach, but it could lead to a string of wins that would put the Irish on track for a winning season. In my preseason picks I had ND winning today. I still feel the Irish will have the edge but it won't be easy.