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Irish struggle, but even mark at 2-2

Published October 01. 2011 09:01AM

It wasn't very pretty and the Irish didn't look very good, but as they say, a win is a win. Notre Dame managed to even its record to 2-2 by edging by a well-prepated Pitt team last week.

The Irish, and especially quarterback Tommy Rees, struggled all afternoon in Heinz Field to gain the 15-12 victory. Despite all the problems Rees had he managed to lead the Irish on an 85 yard drive late in the fourth quarter for the winning touchdown plus two point conversion. On the drive Rees was eight for eight passing including the TD throw and the conversion throw.

Notre Dame did play well as a team defensively but also showed signs of still having a lot of problems to correct. Pitt managed to shutdown ND's top receiver, Michael Floyd, and the pass defense again struggled. But overall the defense played another good game.

ND coach Brian Kelly called the win a "blue-collar kind of day." ND just kept battling and playing the game plan and eventually hung on and won. This is the type of win, however, that is a big plus. When you struggle, your offense is not sharp because the QB is having a bad day and you still win, is a plus.

The defense came up with big plays at key moments. After putting Pitt back on their own five yardline, running back Ray Graham broke loose for a 42 yards that just as easily could have been a TD if not for outside lineback Prince Shembo chasing him down. Four plays later Pitt had to give up the ball.

Another key defensive stand was in the second quarter when Pitt drove to the Irish 11. Darius Fleming and Harrison Smith made tackles for losses on the series forcing Pitt to go for three.

Then with less than three minutes to play Shembo sacked Pitt QB Tino Sunseri for an 11 yard loss forcing a fourth and 25.

Hopefully the experience of such a game goes a long way for the young Irish players in helping them to continue winning games.

Today the Irish are at Purdue for its annual meeting with the Boilermakers. This is the second of five night games for ND.

Purdue enters the game at 2-1 with wins over Middle Tennessee, 27-24, and Southeast Missouri, 59-0, last week. The loss was to Rice, 24-22, in the second week of the season.

Leading the Boilers is QB Caleb TerBush, who is 51 for 81 and 546 yards passing with only one interception, and three TD tosses for far. Top receivers are Justin Siller with 14 catches for 138 yards, O.J. Ross, 11 for 111 and Gary Bush, eight for 41. Rushing leaders are Ralph Bolden with 227 yards on 39 carries and two scores, Akeem Shavoss, 188 on 29 and three scores and TerBush 121 on 27 and one score.

ND leads the series, 54-26-2, and has won 20 of last 25 played between the schools.

The game will be televised nationally by ESPN with a 8:06 p.m. kickoff.

IRISH NOTES:Rees had a bad day, no doubt about it, but everyone does once in a while and hopefully he will learn from it. Rees' biggest problem is turnovers. He has committed nine turnovers. Compare that to Dayne Crist, who he replaced, who had only nine turnovers in nine starts last season. Rees' QB rating is 133.64 which is slightly above what he did last year in four starts. Rees' biggest pluses is his poise under pressure, knowing the offense the best of the four ND QBs on the roster and a 66 percent completion rate. Another knock on Rees is he appears like he doesn't want to run the ball. Last week on several plays there appeared to be running room for him when his receivers were covered, but he chose to still try and throw the ball rather than take the 10-plus yards Pitt was giving him....The Sagarin computer rankings has rated ND the best 2-2 team in the nation, out of 22 total, the 25th best team overall and the one which has played the fifth-toughest schedule among the 120 FBS teams....Give credit to Pitt last week, the Panthers did an excellent job of taking Floyd out of the game and was well-prepared in stopping the Irish offense. Pitt rebounded from the loss to the Irish by upseting previously unbeaten South Florida Thursday night, 44-17....Defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt and Aaron Lynch had good days for the "D". Their sack in the fourth quarter of the Pitt QB was the beginning of the end for the Panthers....Some interesting facts on turnovers and ND teams of the past. Since 1964, eight ND teams have committed at least 10 turnovers in its first three games, of those eight, three won national championships and no team lost more than three games....The Irish have outgained their opponents by a collective 464-156 in the first quarter this season....ND outrushed Pitt, 182-103, with 154 of them coming in the first half, the most by an Irish offense in the first half under Kelly....For the day Rees completed 24 of 41 passes for 216 yards, a TD and an interception. He is now 6-1 as a starter....With Floyd bottled up, Rees went to tight end Tyler Eifert who had eight catches for 75 yards including the one for the winning TD and the one for the two point conversion....Theo Riddick had six catches for 52 yards....Mistakes continue to hamper ND. An interception, fumble, botched field goal attempt, roughing the punter penalty, a holding call and a hand in the face penalty all hurt....Through four games, Cierre Wood has 393 yards on 83 carries and four TDs. Jonas Gray has 232 on 25 and one score. That score came last week on a 79 yard run to give ND a 7-6 lead. That was the longest run from scrimmage for a score for ND since 2000 when Terrance Howard went 80 yards for a score against West Virginia....Former head football coach Lou Holtz and his wife, Beth, have donated $1million to ND....In my preseason picks I went with ND today against old rival Purdue. Purdue is a team hard to figure out. They enter 2-1 with wins over two teams that are not nationally recognized as top level programs and a two point loss to Rice, another team hard to figure out. Purdue always gives the Irish a run. ND is favored by 13 on the road so the bookies must feel the Irish can handle the Boilermakers. Hopefully Rees got his bad game out of him and Floyd gets back into the flow.

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