Notre Dame Football: Iowa

Week 4: Did you know?

September, 23, 2011
9/23/11
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Once again, kudos to ESPN Stats & Information for the help.
  • Pitt coach Todd Graham is looking to become the first coach to beat Notre Dame in consecutive seasons with two different teams. Grahan's Tulsa team won at Notre Dame last season. Only three coaches have ever beaten the Fighting Irish with two different schools (Howard Jones with Iowa and USC, Johnny Majors with Pitt and Tennessee, and Dennis Erickson with Miami and Oregon State. Randy Edsall could become the fourth when Maryland plays Notre Dame on Nov. 12.)
  • Pitt is 20-45-1 against Notre Dame, making it one of only five schools with at least 20 wins against the Irish. (Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue and USC are the others.)
  • Notre Dame's 13 turnovers are tied with Western Kentucky for the most in the FBS. Its turnover margin (-8) is the worst in the nation.
  • Michael Floyd's 202 career catches are fifth-most among active FBS players. His 2,936 career receiving yards and 30 career receiving touchdowns each rank second.
  • Pitt has won three of the past five meetings between this school, though Notre Dame won 11 of the previous 12.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- A day before being admitted into the ACC, Pittsburgh's football team held a 17-point fourth-quarter lead in a hostile Big Ten stadium before losing by four.

Sound familiar?

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallTodd Graham's departure forced Pitt to find its fourth head coach in a two-year span.
OK, so the Panthers' collapse in a 31-27 loss to Iowa didn't exactly replicate Notre Dame's 35-31 loss at Michigan a week earlier. And, to be fair, the loss Saturday was Pitt's first of the season, so it might not be scratching its head and playing with the same chip on its shoulder that the Fighting Irish did in the culmination of two frustrating weeks Saturday, a 31-13 win against Michigan State for victory No. 1.

Brian Kelly, for one, doesn't think Pitt will let its loss linger.

"They're a football team in a first year with coach [Todd] Graham," Kelly said during a conference call Sunday. "They're still learning, they're still learning about the coaching staff. I know where they are relative to that development. We'll be more concerned with what we do and how we do it then losing a tough game. I know we lost a couple tough games, too, and the first thing he'll probably do is talk about, 'Put that behind you, because you've got Notre Dame coming into town. Because if you let that linger you'll get beat by Notre Dame.'

"So I'm pretty sure what happened last week won't have much effect on what happens this week."

What the Irish should be more concerned about is not letting what happened last year against Graham happen again.

Last year's game against Tulsa, Graham's previous head-coaching stop, was supposed to provide ample opportunity for the Irish to bounce back from a tough loss to Navy and get back over .500.

Instead, the Golden Hurricanes knocked Dayne Crist out of the game, ending his season. They scored 10 unanswered points in the second half and picked off Tommy Rees in the end zone in the final minute, sealing a 28-27 win that was the program's first against a BCS-AQ team since 1996.

More troubling is how they did it.

They blocked an extra point and returned it 98 yards for two the other way.

They returned an interception 66 yards for a touchdown.

And, late in the third quarter, they returned a punt 59 yards for a score.

Notre Dame finally put two weeks of misery behind it with a win this past Saturday, and with a favorable schedule in the next three weeks, it can be tempting for the team to look ahead.

To prevent that, the Irish should look back at the last time they faced a Graham-coached team, and know that the more talented one they will face Saturday may carry an anger that is all-too-familiar.

Notre Dame knew the feeling just a short week ago.

Weekend rewind: Notre Dame

September, 19, 2011
9/19/11
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A Notre Dame win makes this look back at the weekend much more enjoyably for many of you, as the Fighting Irish washed away the demons from a pair of heartbreaking losses to top Michigan State 31-13.

The Good: The pass rush was at its absolute best Saturday, knocking around Kirk Cousins and holding the Spartans' ground attack to 29 yards on 23 carries. Freshman Aaron Lynch, who didn't play at Michigan a week earlier, led the charge with six hurries, five tackles and one sack that forced Cousins to fumble.

The Bad: Three turnovers are still three too many. As Brian Kelly said afterward, he's not at the point where he will simply take the bad with the good because of a win: "We've got to hold onto a punt late in the game. We can't do that. And Tommy [Rees]'s developing, and I'm not happy with interceptions but he knows what's happening and he's going to continue to get better.

The Ugly: What was Mark Dantonio thinking? Down 11 just before halftime and set to get the ball to start the second half, the MSU coach passed on a chip-shot field goal by attempting another fake against the Irish. Surely, Notre Dame's guard was up, and the call made little sense given the time and situation. The attempt was stuffed, MSU went three-and-out to start the second half and the Irish scored on the next possession to make it 28-13.

Turning point: Robert Blanton's interception and ensuing 82-yard return put to rest any nightmares Irish fans had after John Goodman fumbled a punt return in the MSU red zone. The pick secured the first win of the season for Notre Dame and sent a sigh of relief throughout town.

Call of the day: George Atkinson III's 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown answered MSU's first score and made it a 14-3 game early. The Irish executed the play by bringing an "ambush" player, walk-on Chris Salvi, from one side of the field to the other, taking out the coverage and contain men simultaneously. It created enough room for Atkinson, a freshman, to take it all the way and give the Irish some much-needed momentum.

Next up: The Irish travel to Heinz Field to take on a Pitt team that must be feeling how Notre Dame felt after Weeks 1 and 2. The Panthers blew a 24-3 lead at Iowa on Saturday and ultimately fell 31-27.

What we learned about Notre Dame: Week 3

September, 18, 2011
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1. These guys can rush: Aaron Lynch set the tone early by sacking Kirk Cousins and forcing a fumble. The defense continued the assault all day long, getting to Cousins time and time again and rendering the Spartans' run game moot.

2. Special teams can make all the difference: George Atkinson III's kickoff return for a score made it 14-3 early and the Irish never looked back. The return came after MSU's first scoring drive and gave Notre Dame plenty of momentum and distance the rest of the way.

3. Turnovers need to be curtailed: Three turnovers are still too many. Tommy Rees, at 19, is still growing as a quarterback and will make mistakes, but senior John Goodman's fumble of a punt return deep in his own territory could have been costly if not for Blanton's pick three plays later. Three is better than five, and the Irish have at least showed they're capable of bouncing back from mistakes by not letting up against MSU on Saturday. But at some point the bleeding has to stop.

4. Don't look now, but the Irish could be in business: The Irish should be favored in every game moving forward except for the final one, at Stanford. For now, they can focus on a Pitt team that looked more vulnerable Saturday than the Irish themselves through the first two weeks, as the Panthers blew a 21-point lead to Iowa in a 31-27 loss. Purdue and Air Force follow for Notre Dame before its bye, after which it will host rival USC in its first home night game in 21 years.

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