To say this has been a roller-coaster type season for Notre Dame is an understatement. Just when you think you have this team figured out, they go out and do the unpredictable. The one nearly constant has been the play of the defense. Yes, they have had breakdowns and missed some golden opportunities, but if it weren't for their performance, this team would be well below .500 rather than 6-3.
Irish Eyes had the opportunity to speak with three players Monday to get their reaction of their upset over Tennessee and thoughts about the upcoming game with Pittsburgh.
Senior linebacker Derek Curry has played the Panthers a number of times as a three-year starter and the Sealy, Texas native believes the Irish will see a motivated Pitt team on Saturday.
"We watched a little bit of film yesterday, and they actually have a really good team," said Curry. "Their record doesn't show exactly how good they have been playing at times. They have a really mobile quarterback and he can move around really well. They definitely have the ability to run the ball and they are going to do some of the same things you saw this past week in terms of personnel and types of runs they are going to use.
"But a lot of this comes down to how hard we are going to play and my main focus is to get past what happened this last week. We had a great win, but at the same time the only thing we need to carry over this week is the energy, and we have to let go of the fact that we won that game and focus in on Pittsburgh as this is a pivotal game for what we have to do for this season."
enior running back Ryan Grant also looks for Pitt to come in and play the Irish tough.
"We have to stay focused and understand we have a good Pittsburgh team coming in and we have to accomplish this week and get it done and get a win," Grant said.
The veteran back only had 12 carries against the Vols but remains upbeat and said, "It felt good out there. I was telling the backs that I don't know how many times we are going to get the ball so when we get the ball; we have to do something with it and make some plays. I was just trying to do what I can for the team, compete, and get out there and I'm glad we got the win."You definitely have to stay mentally sharp and part of that is me being one the leaders on the team. I have to make sure all the other guys are mentally sharp. I can't worry about not getting the ball. I have to make sure that the other guys are taking care of business, whoever is in is taking care of business, and I feel that is part of my role on the team."
Grant will be playing in his last home game on Saturday and the senior says he'll remember his Irish career fondly.
"My career here has gone fast, but I feel I'm mature and ready to move on and take that next step," he said. "I feel like I've taken advantage of the time I have spent with these guys; the good and the bad and working hard and competing every day. I appreciate the time I've had with them, and I'd lay it on the line for them because they know they are my brothers for life but you have to move on."
The New York native shared some of his good memories of his time at Notre Dame by saying, "Honestly, outside of the games, just the workouts; the winter and summer workouts with these guys. Waking up early, grinding it out, and seeing guys throwing up and really working.
"People don't understand how much we have to love this game to go through the stuff we go through to play this game--the stuff that prepares us just for the games. All the stuff we do just to play a three-hour game.
"I'm probably sure I won't remember the score of games, but I'll remember when Tuck [Justin] was throwing up and certain other guys on this team were throwing up when we were working out. I've known these guys basically every day for the past four years so I've learned a lot about them. I've seen them grow as people and mature as men and I've seen some of the goofy things they do. Just a lot of good memories."
Senior offensive lineman Dan Stevenson shared some thoughts on the Pitt Panthers.
"They have been struggling a little bit but obviously they have beaten Boston College, and they have won some good games. You can't always look at the facts of who they have lost to or has played them tough like Furman.
"When you're Notre Dame you have to expect everybody's best game. So we can't expect them to come out and play us the way they did Furman. You have to expect them to come out and play their best game of the year. When they play well they have a great team, so it is definitely something we can't look past and we have to take the approach to go out there and play our best game."
Stevenson said the win at Tennessee was important for this Irish team and what they want to accomplish the rest of this year.
"It was obviously a huge win," said Stevenson. "It was something nobody thought we could do and it definitely put us back on the track for what we wanted to accomplish. Obviously our first goal is not achievable now (winning national championship) but there is still definitely a lot out there to be had for us.
"It was a huge win. It was a win that a lot of people didn't think we could get so going down to a place like that, Tennessee, to go down there and accomplish something like that obviously put this team back on track. It kinda of helps us refocus on what we still have to achieve and to show people that we can be a great team.
"We beat Michigan, we beat Tennessee, both are top-10 ranked teams and when all the experts said we had no chance. So things like that you definitely have to build on and it gives you that edge to go out there and keep that going. Obviously, we have a great game ahead of us this week and a bigger game two weeks from that, so it definitely helps us keep our focus and realize we have a lot to play for."
When asked if this would be his last game in Notre Dame Stadium the veteran said, "No, no, I'll probably be back next year."
The biggest question for the Irish as they prepare for Pittsburgh is the state of the offense. So far this season the Irish offense is like a missing piece to a puzzle - you can't finish the job until you have the missing piece. The Irish will need to find the missing piece if they want a strong finish to their season.