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Home intensity key for Notre Dame

Notre Dame quarterback Everett Gols(5) looks pass against Oklahomduring second quarter an NCAA college football game Norman Okla. Saturday Oct.

Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson (5) looks to pass against Oklahoma during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012. Notre Dame won 30-13. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)

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Updated: December 4, 2012 6:14AM



SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame tackle Zack Martin watched Theo Riddick cross the goal line with 96 seconds left in a sudden blowout, and then he looked up and saw the backs of thousands of Oklahoma fans trudging toward the exits.

“You could see everyone pour out of the stadium,” Martin said. “It was pretty sweet.”

There’s something about being on the road that appeals to these Irish, something about being the enemy and being screamed at, that brings out the best version of this Notre Dame team, the most intense version, the most focused version.

“When you come out and you hear a bunch of people yelling at you, booing you, it amps you up a little more,” said cornerback Bennett Jackson.

The trick is finding that same focus at Notre Dame Stadium as the Irish prepare to host Pittsburgh on Saturday. Yes, the Irish are 4-0 at home, but those wins against Purdue, Michigan, Stanford and BYU have all been nail-biters, all decided by a touchdown or less. On the road, Notre Dame has just one turnover — an Everett Golson interception in the opener against Navy in Dublin — and has committed just 15 penalties. At home, the Irish have seven turnovers and 27 penalties.

“It’s because we don’t have a Jumbotron,” Martin deadpanned. “That’s the main reason”

Irish coach Brian Kelly said it has much to do with opponents’ raising their game as it does with Notre Dame coming out flat.

“I don’t want to make more out of it,” Kelly said. “I think teams that come into Notre Dame Stadium play their very, very best. We have to match that intensity.”

And the Irish haven’t. In their last two home games, the Irish trailed at the half — 10-3 to Stanford and 14-7 to BYU. The first half of the BYU game was probably the least-inspired stretch of football the Irish have played all season. In both games, Notre Dame came out of the locker room with a sense of urgency for the second half, a renewed energy that carried the team to narrow victories. But it’s a dangerous way to play.

“We just have to do a better job of getting our energy up,” Martin said. “That’s the biggest thing. We pick our energy up at home at halftime, in the second half. We’ve got to come into a game in the first quarter with the same energy we show on the road.”

Pitt, at 4-4, certainly will bring the intensity. The longtime rivals have split the last four meetings, with all four games decided by four points or less, including ND’s 15-12 win last year. The Panthers will be at full strength, too, despite Thursday night’s revelation that three star players — senior tailback Ray Graham, receiver Devin Street and cornerback Lafayette Pitts — were charged with assault and conspiracy for an alleged incident on Oct. 21. All three players denied involvement, and Pitt said in an official statement Friday that it would not rush to judgment, and that all three players will be active “while we gain more clarity on the situation.”

With the negative press, with a middling 4-4 record, and as 16-point underdogs, the Panthers likely will have that bunker mentality that has suited the Irish so well on the road this season.

It’s up to Notre Dame to match it.

Key player: Everett Golson, Notre Dame QB. Coming off his coming-out party against Oklahoma, it’s critical for Golson’s confidence and development to put together back-to-back strong games. Pitt is allowing fewer than 200 passing yards per game.

Pitt will win if: The Irish come out terribly flat after the big win at Oklahoma, and Pitt QB Tino Sunseri (13 TD, 2 INT) can move the ball consistently through the air.

ND will win if: It can continue to dominate time of possession and the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

Prediction: Notre Dame 27-10

— Mark Lazerus,
Sun-Times Media



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