"Man, I'm just expecting to have fun over there," said Russell Tialavea with a smile. "This is going to be a great experience for us, and we expect to have a good game. We're confident that we can do well, and you have to be confident or else you probably shouldn't be playing."
Many are expecting Notre Dame to cruise past the Cougars and onto Oklahoma. If the Cougars are to have a good game against Notre Dame, then defensively they'll have to be successful up front against a tough Irish offensive line.
"They have big guys up front who are very physical, but I feel like we're pretty strong up front and match up well with them," said Tialavea. "We just have to do our job and have fun out there."
Let's take a look at the offensive line of No. 5 Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish offensive line is experienced and one of the most talented groups the Cougars will face all season long.
Left tackle Zack Martin
Senior Zack Martin comes in at 6 feet 4 inches and 305 pounds. Out of high school, Martin was rated 110 out of ESPN's top 150 and the 10th best offensive lineman. At Notre Dame he started at the guard position as a sophomore. His junior year he was switched to the left tackle position, where he again started every game in 2011. Martin is considered Notre Dame's top offensive lineman.
"I'll be going up against [Martin] and he's a good player," said Tialavea. "I feel like he's one of their best players and they talk about him a lot. He's aggressive, physical and he's got some quickness in him."
Left guard Chris Watt
Chris Watt is a 6-foot-3-inch, 310-pound senior with a lot of experience. In high school, Watt was selected to participate in the U.S. Army All-American game. He was also a USA Today All-American, Parade All-American, and was ranked the 31st best player nationally and top offensive guard in the nation by Scout. Watt has started since his sophomore year and is a part of an Irish line that has allowed only 17 sacks in 13 games, which is the fewest since 1998.
"Their guards are very big and physical," said Tialavea. "They come down really well on the double team and are probably the best double-team blockers we'll face all season long."
Center Braxston Cave
Senior Braxston Cave comes in at 6 feet 3 inches, 304 pounds and has played in 35 games over his college career. Cave started in 13 games in 2010 and nine games in 2011 prior to suffering a season-ending injury. In high school, Cave was named to the Scout.com All-American second team and rated the second best player in the state of Indiana and fourth best center in the nation.
Right guard Mike Golic Jr.
Coming in at 6 feet 3 inches and 295 pounds, Mike Golic Jr. is considered the utility lineman for the Irish. He'll be playing right guard but can also play center if needed. He saw action in three games in 2009 and 12 games in 2010 and 2011. In high school, Golic was selected to play in the U.S. Army All-American game and was rated by Scout as the 30th best guard in the nation.
Right tackle Christian Lombard
At 6 feet 5 inches and 309 pounds, Lombard is the tallest of the Irish linemen. He is also talented and has the high school accolades to prove it. Lombard was named a USA Today first-team prep All-American, EA Sports first-team All-American, Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Illinois and rated the 13th best offensive lineman nationally by SuperPrep.
"They're a pretty physical group and they come downfield pretty hard," said Tialavea. "It seems like they like to stay more on the front line rather than block down into the second tier of the defense. They like to stay low and keep on the double team. From what I've seen on film, they don't really go for the linebackers but keep on the defensive line up front. We're going to have to play very physical up front and stay low."
The Cougar front struggled to put pressure on Oregon State backup quarterback Cody Vaz last week.
"They did a lot of max protection and did a good job up front, but there's something we can take away from that game heading into Notre Dame," Tialavea said. "We got a good look at things and learned some things heading into this next game. Their line is pretty big and physical, but I feel like we're going to be ready by the time we get to South Bend."
All season long head coach Brian Kelly has played two quarterbacks, starter Everett Golson and former starter Tommy Rees. However, Golson's status for this Saturday is uncertain after he suffered a concussion last week.
"We're going to have to try and put some pressure of the quarterback against this o-line group," Tialavea said. "I know Ziggy [Ansah] is going to get double and tripled, so the rest of us are going to have to do our job."
If Golson isn't able to go, the Irish might still go with two quarterbacks. Rees would be a more prototypical passing quarterback, while Andrew Hendrix is more of a running threat like Golson.
Tialavea's three keys to victory
"My three keys to victory would be to, first of all, we need to play sound up front," he said. "That's the first thing. Then the second thing I would say is we have to play hard every down, and the last thing is to stay focused."