Necessary Ingredient

Fifth-year senior offensive guard Chris Watt expects to shake off pain and instability in his right knee Saturday night when the Irish take on the always-pesky Panthers at Heinz Field. Considering the foe lined up directly across from Watt and his interior brethren, a return to the fold is more mandatory than merely beneficial.

It was a scenario familiar enough to football fans that the end result falls definitively into the "best-case scenario" realm.

One of Notre Dame's three most improved players from last season through the first half of 2013, Chris Watt fell awkwardly in the second quarter of a blowout win over Air Force. He got up as football players are schooled to do, paused, then crumpled to the ground. Pain, confusion, and for those watching in the stands, on TV, and on the Irish sidelines, a sense of dread.

Watt felt it too.

"It was a combination block with Zack (Martin) and the (Air Force) 'backer was going to my left. I was trying to get back on the end to help Zack out with the 'backer and my right foot got stuck in the ground," said Watt, reliving the moment at Wednesday's media gathering. "At that point I got hit in the air and my leg bent awkwardly.

"When I got up, I wasn't sure what it was. Some pain set in and I knew this didn't feel right."

Watt knows now it's a PCL tear. Surgery isn't required for the injury though time to heal is. Neither will take place. Watt in fact tried to play last Saturday but noticed during pre-game warmups he wasn't close to 100 percent.

"I'm feeling better, a lot better than last week," he said of his present status. "Going into the (Navy) game I was expecting to play.

"There was a little bit of instability. We ran a couple of outside zone plays, some inside zone plays and I wasn't getting to my guy," he said of full-speed pre-game reps. "I didn't feel I could get to him and I have a lot of pride in the way I play. Not being able to help the team out, I didn't want to put myself out there and hurt the team."

If Watt feels something similar Saturday night, the offensive front might not recover as seamlessly in his absence. Watt and fellow guard Steve Elmer plus center Nick Martin are tasked with limiting the impact of Pittsburgh's all-everything pocket collapsed, Aaron Donald.

"What's great about this week is I've continued to build confidence every day," said Watt of the injury. "Full pads Tuesday and Wednesday. Through preparation and film, reading my keys every play, I'm prepared (for Donald). I've played a long time and will try to use that experience to my advantage as well.

Undersized at 6'0" 285 pounds, Donald's 19.5 tackles for loss this season leads the nation. So too does his 27.5 career sacks.

"There are things we've seen as to when he's penetrating or using a swim move," said Watt of Donald's pass-rushing acumen on film. "He gets a little more skinny to use his hands against you and get you off of him."

If Watt's injury proves too painful or the knee unstable, junior Conor Hanratty would start for the second straight week in his stead. With Elmer (two career starts) and Nick Martin (in his first season as a starter) along the interior, plus true sophomore Ronnie Stanley at right tackle (like Martin, will make his 10th career start Saturday), Notre Dame would feature its least experienced offensive front since 2007.

Watt though believes he's ready.

"It's an injury that will heal over time," he offered. "Last week it was pretty bad and this week I've made a few subtle adjustments as far as certain steps I take.

"It's hard to describe because I've never had it. It's almost like it locks…over time, you won't even notice after awhile. It'll heal, kind of. It's a weird healing process.

"By the bowl game I probably won't even notice it."

He likely will Saturday night, Part One of a three-game march the Irish hope will end with a BCS Bowl bid. Top Stories