Defensive tackle Greg Pauly has put together an outstanding senior season. Pauly presence inside has made life difficult for opposing running backs.
"I haven't that much," said Pauly when asked if he's thought about playing his final home game in Notre Dame Stadium. "I kind of hit me tonight at practice. I think it's not really going to hit me until fourth quarter, end of the game."
We asked Pauly if running out of the tunnel for the last time will be an emotional experience for him.
"I'm going to say hopefully I don't, but I probably will," said Pauly. "I'm going to try not to think about it too much."
The Irish defense has really played well most of this season and Pauly said the results have been a product of having a great time playing football again this season.
"It's been fun out there," said Pauly of his senior season. "We've been flying around, playing as hard as we can, playing as a unit, and things have been happening for us."
Defensive line coach Greg Mattison has nothing but high praise for Pauly and has always admitted he was a favorite. We asked Pauly his feelings about Mattiosn.
"I think he's definitely helped me a lot," Pauly said. "He's a great coach. He's one of those guys that's kind of old school. He expects you to work your tail off. If you do that, good things are going to happen."
As for Pittsburgh, Pauly said he expects another tough test from the Panthers.
"They're a tough team," he said. "They're looking to get another win and come in here and beat us in our house. We've got to stop them from doing that."
So what's the future hold for the Waukesha, Wisc. native?
"Hopefully play on the next level," said Pauly. "That's every kid's dream."
And where does Pauly hope to play his professional career?
"I'm a cheesehead," Pauly said with a laugh. "I'm a packer fan!"
Another departing senior is Quentin Burrell. The two-year starter has seen the Irish secondary through the ups and downs they've experienced. We asked Burrell if he's thought about his final game.
"I haven't," Burrell said. "I know it's not going to hit me until I step out on the field and realize that this is my last game here."
The Irish secondary bounced back with a nice game after a dismal second half against Boston College. Burrell said the secondary has never lacked the confidence needed to play at a high level.
"We always knew what we could do," he said. "Things unfortunately bounced the wrong way against Boston College, but we knew if we came with the right mindset going down to Tennessee coming out with a W and we did."
Burrell was asked what his ideal scenario would be for his final home game.
"No. 1, with a victory," said Burrell. "Hopefully I'll get a couple of interceptions or have a lot of tackles, but the main goal is coming out victorious."
As for Pittsburgh, Burrell says the Irish secondary just needs to take the same mentality they had against Tennessee into Saturday's game against Pitt.
"I think the main thing is how we did at Tennessee," he said. "Just being real aggressive, making tackles, and being sound in our technique and our fundamentals."
Head coach Tyrone Willingham has coached for 28 seasons and has seen plenty of final homes games from seniors. Willingham was asked if losing some of his best players hurts at times.
"It really doesn't hurt," he said. "It's really a joyous moment because if you feel like you've done all the right things for them, then you kind of feel good about hopefully what they're going to do."
While Willingham said he doesn't mind losing seniors, we asked him if his attitude changes when he loses eight senior starters on defense like he will in 2005.
"It does," said Willingham with a big laugh. "As always it's who you lose that's most important. That is a reflection of what's going happen in 2005, but the emotions about those guys are still there. It is a great thing in life to surround yourself with great people."
Coming off such a emotional win over Tennessee, the worry is that the Irish might let down against Pittsburgh this weekend. Willingham said he's confident his leadership will have the team focused on the right opponent this week.
"You want them to have Tennessee out of their system," the third-year Irish coach said. "We will not play Tennessee this weekend. All our attention has to be on Pittsburgh. I think our leadership and our seniors understand that. I think we've shown on other occasions to play in big ballgames and come back and play the next weekend and play well."
The struggling Irish offense continues to be the topic of discussion lately. Willingham was asked if he's seen signs of this offense being close to being the potent offense he's hoping for.
"We've been there. We've done great things. We've scored points against good football teams—it's just the ability to keep it going," said Willingham. "And the thing you also have to factor in is sometimes these other guys have guys that are on scholarship too."
The Irish could use a breakout game for the offense this week. With a week off following Saturday's game, a strong performance on offense could be just the confidence boost this Irish team needs before heading out to Los Angeles to take on rival USC.