Offensively, the Irish did a complete turn around from the Purdue game. When Tyrone Willingham said they went back to basics, he really meant it. The Irish decided to start Ryan Harris at right tackle and move the much maligned Dan Stevenson to his more natural position of right guard.
This move paid dividends from the very beginning. On 3rd and 1 from the Pittsburgh 25 yard line, the Irish ran behind the right side of the offensive line.
In the prior three games, this would have resulted in a loss of a couple of yards and a field goal attempt. This time Julius Jones hit the line of scrimmage with momentum and took off for a 25 yard scoring run to put Notre Dame in front 7 to 0. This was a big confidence booster for a young offensive line trying to find an identity.
Excluding Brady Quinn's rushing statistics because they came on passing plays, the Irish ran the ball 53 times for 348 yards, which is an average of 6.6 yards per carry. Only four of those running plays resulted in loss yardage.
By comparison, the Irish had five carries for lost yardage against Michigan on only 25 rushes. And watching the game on Saturday, you could see that the amount of times an Irish running back was hit behind the line of scrimmage was significantly reduced from prior weeks.
The Notre Dame offensive line was able to give Julius Jones enough daylight that he was able to break the single game rushing record in school history with 262 yards.
Another easy way to gage the performance of an offensive line is to see how many times their team is in third and long. This time around, there weren't many for the Irish. The offensive line now needs to make the next step in their development. They need to play like this on a week to week basis.
When you have a offensive line playing well, the rest of the team falls into place. Running the ball allows the offense to stay on the field longer and give the defense some needed rest. And that is exactly what happened.
You saw an energized defense out on Hines Field Saturday night that dominated the line of scrimmage. The defensive lineman led by junior end Justin Tuck put in their best performance of the year. Coming into the game, the defense had a total of 8 sacks. The Irish managed to double that amount in just one game.
Justin Tuck led the group with 3.5 sacks and the only starting lineman that did not get a sack was Kyle Budinsack, but he chipped in with a tackle for loss yardage.
The pressure started with a sack by freshman sensation Victor Abiamiri on Pittsburgh's first offensive series and it never ended. The front four was relentless for the entire game. The defensive line with the help of the linebackers, held Pitt to 9 yards rushing and 167 yards passing. They were able to make Pittsburgh one-dimensional.
With no running game, Pittsburgh was forced into third and longs. When they did pass, Pittsburgh wasn't given time for a passing play to develop. The secondary's job against Heisman candidate Larry Fitzgerald was made easier with the pressure the line was putting on Rod Rutherford.
The Irish came to Pittsburgh with one thing in mind and that was to dominate the line of scrimmage. Willingham and his team decided to keep it real simple. They decided to run the ball and stop the run. They decided that Rutherford was going to be throwing the ball with someone draped on him all game.
They decided that they were not going to be pushed around any longer. They decided to play a physical brand of football. A style that many fans are familiar with. Now they will need that same style against an extremely talented USC team. The offensive line will be matched up against what is arguably the best defensive line in the nation. This game will be a great measuring stick for the state of Irish Football.