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Despite turnover, Irish get it done

Published September 24. 2011 09:01AM

Although turnovers still plague the Notre Dame football team, the Irish were able to get by them, with the help of some Michigan State miscues, to finish the job last Saturday and gain their first win of the season. It was an impressive win with the final tally being 31-13 over the previously No. 15 ranked, and unbeaten, Spartans.

The Irish offense continues to look good, despite the turnovers that stop drives, but the biggest improvement last week was the run defense. The Irish held the potent MSU running attack to just 29 yards. But on the minus side the Irish pass defense continues to struggle, allowing MSU to rack up 329 yards passing.

Head coach Brian Kelly said his team had an "attitude adjustment". Kelly said the team came together during practice with the conviction they are a much better team than their 0-2 record. Despite key turnovers again this week, ND did improve, slightly. To continue to win the Irish still must eliminate the turnovers and must play much, much better pass defense. When Kelly was at Cincinnati and gaining a national reputation for building winners, his defense was rated near the bottom of all Division I schools.

Today the Irish are at Pitt to try and even their record at 2-2 and prove that last week's dominating win was no fluke.

The Panthers enter the game at 2-1, losing their first game last week at Iowa, 31-27. Pitt opened with a win over Buffalo, 35-16, followed by one over Maine, 35-29.

The Panthers like to run the ball and their top two backs are Ray Graham and Zach Brown. Graham has six touchdowns so far this season and 419 total rushing yards.

The quarterback is Tino Sunsesi, who has completed 60 of 96 attempts and three TDs with four interceptions. Top receivers are Devin Street, 15 catches for 236 yards, and a TD; and Graham, 13 for 86.

ND leads the series, 45-20-1, and has won the last 13 of 17 played and the last two of three at Pitt.

The game will be televised nationally by ABC-TV with airtime, kickoff about 12:10. The game is at Heinz Field, home of the Steelers.

IRISH NOTES:QB Tommy Rees is improving each week but he also is prone to giving the ball away. Seven of ND's 13 turnovers this year belong to Rees. He has two lost fumbles and five interceptions. The interceptions are a big concern. Last year he had nine turnovers in four games. On the plus side Rees has completed 69.7 percent of his passes against a schedule ranked in the 10 top of the NCAA. Overall he is ranked 43rd nationally in pass-efficiency. His counterpart today, Sunseri, is 73rd .... Freshman DE Aaron Lynch had a good game last week, in a reserve role, with six quarterback hurries. No Irish player had more than five individually for the entire 2010 season .... Senior CB Robert Blandon is ranked eighth nationally this week in both interceptions per game and pass defense. Blandon has to get his fellow defensive backs in the same mold to help the overall poor pass defense. The Irish did improve pass-efficiency defense because of things like interceptions, low average per attempt and yielding just one TD pass. They are still ranked 76th nationally, however, and that is not good .... Outside linebacker Prince Shembo missed last week's game for a family medical emergency. He is back this week and will play today .... ND got good news after the win. Wide receiver Chris Borwn of Charleston, S.C. committed to the Irish. He is the 15th player to verbally commit to the Irish 2012 class and the third wide receiver. He joins Deontay Greenberry of Fresno, Calif. and Justin Ferguson of Pembroke Pines, Fla. He is rated a three-star recruit. He is six-foot, two and a half inches tall, 185 pounds. He runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds. Last year as a junior he caught 52 passes for 1,105 yards and 16 TDs .... ND also received its first verbal commitment for the 2013 season from offensive tackle Steve Elmer of Midland, Mich. high schol. He is a 6-6, 300-pounder and rated one of the top juniors in the entire state of Michigan .... As your probably read or heard on TV, Syracuse and Pitt have applied for membership in the ACC and will leave the Big East in two years. When teams move from one conference to another there are questions which conferences will survive, and then talk always leads to Notre Dame and if the Irish will remain independent in football. As you know the Irish are part of the Big East in every sport but football. Al Lesar, the ND beat writer for the South Bend Tribune, and who has been following ND football for many, many years, says ND will remain independent for as long as it can. As long as ND is given a chance to get a BCS berth there is no reason for the Irish to enter a conference. Lesar wrote that the Irish are still safe at remaining an independent .... In a related story reported by the Associated Press, the Big East is negotiating with Air Force and Navy to join the conference, as football members only, to replace Pitt and Syracuse .... Notre Dame senior quarterback Dayne Crist is one of 22 players named to the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team. Crist has helped organize a fundraiser on ND's campus each of the past three years to benefit St. Baldrick's Foundation, a charity that raises money for childhood cancer research. In those three years, the group has raised approximately $100,000 for the charity .... Today is yet another important game for the Irish because of the first two losses of the season. A win today will keep ND momentum going for next week's visit to Purdue and then home in two weeks with Air Force. Last week ND was favored by five over an undefeated Michigan State team and won easily. Today they are seven-point favorites. Irish defense must continue to improve. Last week the run defense shut down MSU. It faces an even tougher task today with Pitt's running game. The pass defense will be a concern all year. My preseason pick was ND today, and I'll stay with it. I will be in Pittsburgh for the game along with many, many Irish fans from the area.

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