Notre Dame won back-to-back victories for the first time under head coach Brian Kelly last week and hopefully it will start a run for the 3-3 Irish.
The Irish offense started fast last week, as usual, then faded just as fast. The defense again improved slowing the running attack of Pittsburgh but the pass defense still needs work. The key to victory for the Irish was the special teams play, especially the kicking game. Field goal kicker David Ruffer had a great day hitting three field goals, one a 50-yarder. His work went a long way in getting a win for the Irish.
The Irish needed a win like last week. The Irish had to hold off the Panthers three times near the end to preserve the win and that should build confidence. As you build confidence the rest will fall into place. The offense has to become more consistent and that starts with QB Dayne Crist. He has moments of greatness and moments of just another QB learning a new system. Good teams become better teams with a consistent offensive attack and that begins at the quarterback spot. Crist has to become more consistent and Kelly feels he will has he settles into the spread offense installed by Kelly this year. And as I said before, the Irish have to develop a running game. Teams don't win consistently that can't run the football
Today the Irish face Western Michigan. On paper the Broncos don't appear to match up with the talent the Irish has but you don't play games on paper. The Irish can't have a letdown today.
Western Michigan, based in Kalamazoo, about and hour and a half drive from South Bend, enters at 2-3. The Broncos have beaten Nicholls State, 49-14, and Ball State, 45-16, last week. The three losses were to Michigan State, 38-14; Toledo, 37-24; and Idaho, 33-13.
The Broncos running attack is led by Aaron Winchester and Alex Carder. Carder is also the starting quarteback and is dangerous as a thrower and runner. His top receivers are Jordan White and Juan Nunez.
This will be the third game between the two schools but the first in 90 years. The last time the two played was in 1920. The Irish won that one, 41-0, and the year before, 53-0.
The game will be televised nationally by NBC-TV with a 2:40 p.m. kickoff. Note the change in the starting time. All home games for the remainder of the season start one hour earlier.
IRISH NOTES:Today Adidas and Notre Dame will unveil their new "techfit" compression football jerseys featuring a compression fit and weighing 30 percent lighter than standard football jerseys. The Adidas techfit jersey will help players be lighter and faster on the field, the manufacturer and ND athletic department claims....As I mentioned, Ruffer was the difference in the game. In addition to the 50-yarder, he also had boots of 32 and 31 yards....Another ND kicker played a key role last week. Punter Ben Turk. His five boots averaged 47 yards. On three of its last four drives, Pitt's offense was pinned on its seven, 10 and six yard lines. Two of the three didn't advance past the 15....Pitt ran for more yards than ND, 110-87, and threw for more yards, 272-242. Obviously, the Irish got to run the ball better for the offense to work. Crist ran seven times but gained only a net of five yards with three turning into sacks. His 10-yard TD run, however, was another key to victory....Irish received a big blow to the offense this week when it was announced that junior tight end Kyle Rudolph will undergo surgery for a hamstring injury that will end his season at six games. Rudolph is considered one of the top tight ends in the country and was expected to give up his senior year and go pro after this season. He was projected to be a first round pick in the NFL draft. The rehab time is projected to be at least six months. How this will impact on his decision to go pro, or stay his senior year because of the recovery period, is not known. Rudolph had the surgery yesterday and it was performed by Dr. Brian Ratigan. Ratigan is on the ND medical staff and played linebacker for the Irish from 1989-92. In addition to his medical degree he is also a graduate of law school. Rudolph's place in the lineup today will be taken by sophomore Tyler Eifert, which will be his second career start. He will be backed up by senior Mike Ragone. Ragone dropped in the depth chart this year due to recurring injuries. Eifert also has a history of injuries. Ragone sufferd season-ending knee injuries in both his senior season in high school and sophomore year at ND. He also has off-the-field issues including an arrest for possession of marijuana last spring. Allen has a hip flexor injury and is doubtfull for today. It is a game time decision if he will play, Kelly said. Taking ihs place will be Cierre Wood...Again, the defense played well but gave up the big play. Last week it was the 56-yard pass play for a score by Pitt. When the opposing team's quarterback scrambles, the Irish seem to give up a big play. That is something the Irish defensive coaches must correct....Some game stats. Crist was 24 of 39 for 232 and a score. Allen had 56 yards on 13 rushes, Wood 28 on seven. Receiving: Theo Riddick caught seven fo 75 yards; Michael Floyd, seven for 59 and a score; and Rudolph, five for 38....ND now stands 97th in rushing offense after facing the No. 13 rushing defense in Pitt. That comes after facing the No. 5 rushing defense in Boston College. Today's opponent, Western Michigan, is No. 82 and next week, Navy, is No. 83. ND's rushing defense climbed from 68th to 52nd and total defense improved from 89th to 83rd. In turnover category, the Irish are now 76th after being 94th last week....Ruffer is one of only four kickers nationally who have attempted at least 10 field goals and made every one of them this season....Crist has moved up in pass-efficiency rankings, from 59th to 57th....ND is one of five teams that have not converted a fourth down this season. The Irish have tried only three times....Western Michigan is ranked 102 in rushing offense. It will be the last opponent the Irish will face this year that high. ND will see five straight rushing offenses ranked among the top 35....ND is ranked 38th in the latest Sagarin computer rankings. WM is 97th. Future ND opponents has Navy 55th; Tulsa 80th; Utah 23rd; Army 56th; and USC 29th....Last week the ND crowd was so loud when the Irish played defense they missed three or four defensive calls in the game. During practice this week Kelly played music turned up as loud as it could be and the coaches signaled in the defense, just as the backup quarterbacks do for the offense....The South Bend Tribune compared Crist's stats through six games with three other QBs during their first season at quarterback for the Irish. Crist is 137-233 passing for 58.8 percent, and 1,600 yards, 11 TDs, four interceptions, and 128.6 pass-efficiency rating. Jimmy Clausen was 77-135, 57.0, for 584 yards, one TD, five intercepts, 88.4 rating; Brady Quinn, 106-338, 46.5, for 1,160 yards, five TDs, 10 intercepts and 87.7 rating; and Ron Powlus, 68-130, 52.3, for 966 yards, 12 TDs, six intercepts, and 136.0 rating....Although ND is favored by 24 points today, Western Michigan is far from a pushover. This is the type of game, and team, the Irish has to be careful of and not be looking ahead to next week and Navy at the new Meadowlands. With two of ND's offensive starters out, Rudolph and Allen, the Irish must be carefull. ND's overall talent should be enough but the 24 point spread might be too much to cover.