Pittsburgh-Notre Dame Preview
After turning in perhaps its most impressive performance of the season last week, undefeated Notre Dame is trying to stay focused on the task at hand with a presumably less challenging opponent up next.
The No. 4 Irish look to improve to 9-0 for the first time since 1993 when they host Pittsburgh on Saturday.
The Irish won 30-13 at then-No. 8 Oklahoma last week, making them the only team in the country with four wins against Top 25 teams - two of them coming on the road versus top 10 opponents.
Notre Dame outscored the Sooners 20-7 in the fourth quarter and moved up two spots to third in the BCS standings. Coach Brian Kelly, though, is trying to keep the hype surrounding his team down.
"We really don't think about that. We really don't care what other people think of us," Kelly said. "(The players) really just care about each other, Notre Dame, and winning football games. They'll let everybody else decide who we are."
They are definitely one of the best defensive teams in the country, shutting down an Oklahoma squad that came in averaging 44.7 points. Notre Dame is allowing 9.9 points a contest - second to top-ranked Alabama.
Heisman Trophy candidate Manti Te'o recorded 11 tackles and his fifth interception of the season, most among FBS linebackers and tied for second overall. Te'o is averaging 10 tackles per game for a team giving up 293.0 yards per contest.
"We've come a long way," Te'o said. "We're going to continue to get better. That's our main goal right now. Just continue to get better and not be satisfied with being 8-0."
The next challenge for the Irish is shutting down a Pittsburgh team that posted its highest point total against an FBS opponent in 13 years last week, winning 47-17 over Temple.
For Notre Dame, it's a familiar scenario. Six opponents reached the 40-point mark immediately before playing the Irish, and all of them failed to score more than 17 against Notre Dame.
Pittsburgh's Tino Sunseri has thrown 13 touchdowns and two interceptions while posting a 164.8 passer rating, eighth best in the country. He went 20 of 28 for 321 yards and three scores against Temple while running back Ray Graham had his best game of the season, rushing for 109 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries.
Graham, the Panthers' leading rusher with 622 yards and seven touchdowns, was one of three Pitt football players charged Thursday with simple assault and conspiracy in connection with an incident last month involving three other students. Graham, Devin Street, the team's leading receiver with 50 catches for 695 yards and four scores, and Lafayette Pitts, the top kick-returner for the Panthers (4-4), deny they were involved in a confrontation with a student who told police he was hit in the head by one of the players.
All three will play Saturday.
This comes just days after first-year coach Paul Chryst decided to restore players' names to the backs of their jerseys. He decided they would be taken off when he was hired in January until the team proved it deserved otherwise.
"I knew it was important to (the players)," Chryst said. "I thought it was the right thing for this group at this time. The initial reasoning was we wanted to make sure they understood the most important thing is the team.
"And truly, we've got some guys doing some real unselfish acts for this team."
Chryst's squad will face a tall order in shutting down Notre Dame's powerful ground game, which is averaging 196.5 yards. The Irish have run for more than 200 in each of the last two contests, rolling up 215 versus the Sooners.
That typically strong effort was complemented by a solid performance from Everett Golson, who went 13 of 25 for 177 yards and ran 11 times for 64 yards and a score. Golson, who sat out against BYU the previous week due to a concussion, hasn't thrown an interception in 71 attempts over his last three games while rushing for 156 yards.
"That's what we're trying to get with Everett in there," Kelly said. "Not an offense that throws it 50 times nor an offense that runs it 50 times, one that's balanced and difficult to defend."
While Notre Dame has won the last two meetings, Pitt has taken two of three in South Bend, including a four-overtime victory in 2008.