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Thursday, November 11, 2010
What to watch from Notre Dame: Week 11

By Brian Bennett

What to watch from Notre Dame in its final home game against Utah on Saturday:

1. Psychology report: Where are these two teams mentally? The Utes had their BCS dreams smashed in a 47-7 humiliation at home last week. The Irish, meanwhile, have lost two straight to Navy and Tulsa and still are grappling with the Declan Sullivan tragedy. Notre Dame needs a win to get closer to bowl eligibility, while Utah probably is ticketed for Las Vegas no matter what.

2. Tommy's time: True freshman Tommy Rees will make his first career start, coming off a four-touchdown, three-interception performance in relief of Dayne Crist against Tulsa. Utah has a much tougher defense than Tulsa, ranking in the Top 25 nationally in both rushing and passing defense, so this will be a more challenging assignment for Rees. But he had a bye week to get ready. Notre Dame will likely have to score in the 20s or 30s to keep pace with the Utes, who are ninth in the country at 41 points per game.

3. Senior moments? It's Senior Day for Notre Dame, and the team hopes this one goes better than the last two, which ended in losses to Syracuse in '08 and UConn in '09. Will it also be the last time we see junior receiver Michael Floyd at Notre Dame Stadium or injured tight end Kyle Rudolph on the home sidelines?

4. Shaky special teams: Utah punt returner Shaky Smithson leads the nation at 22.8 yards per return. That's noteworthy since Notre Dame gave up a punt return touchdown against Tulsa. Given the Irish's already-thin margin of error, they can't afford to yield valuable field position or points in the kicking game.