The first goal for the Notre Dame defense is the same each week, stop the run. But that goal may never be as important as it is this week when the Irish face Pittsburgh and top running back LeSean McCoy.
"(He has) excellent balance, very good vision and I think he does a really good job of using the other player, the defender's, lack of balance, lack of concentration against him," Notre Dame defensive coordinator Corwin Brown said. "He's got really good feet and if he catches you leaning he'll go the other way."
McCoy has 835 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns through seven games this season.
"He's obviously a great player. He's got pretty much everything you need to be a great back," linebacker Harrison Smith said. "He's fast, he's got great vision, he's quick, he can break tackles. He's definitely a guy that we're looking at. We need to try to stop him or slow him down."
The best back that Notre Dame has faced so far this season is Michigan State's Javon Ringer, but while both are great backs, there are some differences.
"They both have their own styles. I think Ringer was a little bit more of a balanced back," safety Kyle McCarthy said. "This guy uses his athleticism, he's strong, he's got speed. This guy is very, very gifted. He doesn't really have a glaring weakness so we've got to be ready for it."
Notre Dame's most valuable player this week may not even play on Saturday. Freshman running back Jonas Gray got his first career carries against Washington, but his job this week is to play the role of McCoy on the scout team.
"Jonas has been doing a tremendous job. He's absolutely been working his tail off for us and it's definitely going to help us on Saturday," McCarthy said. "He's real similar just the way he runs. He's a very powerful back, but at times he can be shifty and turn on the jets and hit the outside. He's been giving us a real good look."
"He's a little bit bigger than McCoy is I think, but he's one of those quick backs that has a little bit of moves," Smith said. "He's real powerful too, so he's been giving us a great look."
THREATS IN PITT PASSING GAME TOO: The Irish would love to get a lead and force the Panthers to pass, but Pitt has weapons in the passing game too.
Starting quarterback Bill Stull suffered a head injury last week and Pitt probably will not announce a starter until game time, but whether it's Stull or sophomore Pat Bostick, it will not change the Irish defensive plans.
"There are differences, but at the end of the day for us, what we would like to do is have tough reads, feel the pressure of the pocket and do a good job of making his job difficult," Brown said. "At the end of the day, it really doesn't matter for us who plays because you have to adjust and have to attack them the same way."
"They're definitely big," cornerback Raeshon McNeil said. "They throw some deep balls down the field so we're definitely going to have to go up with them and go up and play the ball."
Baldwin, a freshman who picked Pittsburgh over Notre Dame, has been getting more and more involved during the season.
"He's a very good receiver. They like to go deep, especially with him. Put him on the backside and let him go one-on-one a little bit to try to utilize his size," McNeil said. "We're definitely going to have to basically change our mindset on how to play him because he's probably one of the taller receivers that we've seen this year.
"If he's got a step on you, you've got to play the pocket. If you're with him, you've got turn around and do your best to make a play on the ball. He's definitely got a few inches on all of us, we're not going to be able to let the ball come down, we're not going to be able to wait for it, we're definitely going to have to jump up and go up and try to play it."
McCarthy said that the Panthers use the run game to set up their passing attack.
"They're a real solid team, there's really no glaring weakness in their offense," he said. "They obviously have a great rushing attack and a very good complementary passing attack, play-action pass to go with it. We need to be ready in all phases."
DEFENSE TRIES TO BUILD ON EFFORT IN SEATTLE: Brown's unit played their best game by far against Washington and now the challenge is to try to carry that over to the Pitt game.
"What we want to do every week is, things we do well we'd like to build upon those, things we don't do well improve in that area. At the end of the day, no matter who you play against, you're trying to execute and you're trying to limit things and you have goals and that's what you want to do," Brown said. "As a competitor and as a defensive unit, you always want to limit points, stop teams from running, pressure the quarterback, get turnovers. So that's kind of where we are every week."
The Irish defense was dominant against the Huskies, but not perfect.
"We always want to create turnovers. One of our main goals is always to score on defense and to set up a score, we really didn't do that," Brown said. "Because when you do that then that's when you're really having a big or major impact on the game."
Brown does not think he needs to fight to get his players' attention after last week's superb performance.
"Our guys are pretty level-headed and I think overall we're pretty good at putting the last game behind us," he said. "We play a game and then there are things that we need to do to get better, there are things we did well. For the most part, we do a fairly decent job of realizing that. Hopefully that'll continue."
McNeil believes that last week's game will be a positive for the Irish.
"Obviously we had a pretty good performance last week, a shutout all of the way to the last few minutes of the game. It's definitely a way that we want to enter this game," he said. "It was a great game to come off of going into this game. We want to basically attack the run game and try to do our best to stop what they do best, which is run the ball. That will definitely be a big challenge for us and I think last week having some success against the run game against Washington will definitely help us out a little bit."
PITT DEFENSE TRIES TO PUT RUTGERS BEHIND IT: While the Irish defense had its best day last weekend, the Panthers will be coming off their worst performance, allowing 54 points to Rutgers.
Charlie Weis does not expect the Irish offense to easily duplicate what the Scarlet Knights did against Pitt.
"Rutgers hit them with some big plays in the game," he said. "Rutgers completed 14 passes in the game. Six of them went for touchdowns. What are the odds of those stats coming up? It just doesn't happen that way. So, I mean, they just hit them on a day, Rutgers made the plays, give them credit."
Jimmy Clausen was amazed when he found out the score of the Pitt-Rutgers matchup.
"When I saw it, I was kind of surprised because Pitt's defense is one of the best defenses in the country," he said. "If you watch the tape, they gave up a few long passes for touchdowns. In previous games, they didn't do that. Their defense is real good. We're just going to have to do what we do, drive the ball down the field, put touchdowns on the board."
Like Weis, Clausen does not expect the Pitt defense to struggle in South Bend.
"I think it was an odd week for them. But this is college football; anything can happen on any given day. We just have to be prepared for Saturday, hopefully come out with a victory," he said. "Previously they've been able to stop the run, stop the pass. They're a real physical defense up front. Their secondary likes to come down, play the run. The two corners outside are pretty good. To see what Rutgers did to them surprised me a little bit."
ND OFFENSE KNOWS IT HAS TO IMPROVE: The Irish offense was dominant at times against the Huskies, but it did not play with the consistency that the defense played with.
"I was OK with the first quarter and OK with the third quarter. Really we didn't throw the ball after that first drive in the third quarter. But we can't have a second quarter where we leave that many points on the field like we did," Weis said. "Because there's going to be games where if you leave points on the field like we did in the second quarter on Saturday, you're going to end up losing. So I think that that's the next step is to make the most of every scoring opportunity, make sure we don't sell ourselves short."
Clausen said that there were a couple of reasons for the Irish's second-quarter struggles.
"I'd say I was off rhythm in the second quarter. It's hard when the offense is in third-and-long situations, fourth-and-19 situations, where you have to throw the ball in order to get the first down," he said. "It was different than the first and third quarter when we were dictating whether we're going to throw it or run it."
Weis believes that the fact that his offense was not satisfied with its performance shows that the unit is maturing.
"When guys get aggravated when they score 33, that's a good thing. That's not a bad thing," he said. "They left points on the board because you think about it, how did this game go, touchdown, touchdown, interception, field goal to start off the first half. Then the second half, touchdown, field goal touchdown. So I'm not worrying about how it ended up in the fourth quarter. We're trying to run out the clock. The one stagnant part was in that second quarter."
GRIMES' BACK IMPROVING: Wide receiver David Grimes did not play against Washington because of nagging back spasms, but he hopes to be ready by Saturday.
"He came to us (Monday) and told me he thought he was a full go. So I told him I'll watch (this week) and see whether I agree with him or not," he said. "He intends to go this week, and we'll see how those spasms are acting when he's out there in practice, because I really don't know the answer until after I see him running around out there."
After practicing Tuesday, Grimes said that he still felt fine on Wednesday.
"Felt pretty good," he said. "Ran around a little bit, got involved. I felt pretty good overall."
LINEBACKER WILL BE SAFETY IN 2009: Harrison Smith was brought in as a safety, but was needed to play linebacker this year. Weis did not dance around a question about where Smith's future lies with the Irish.
"I see him as a free safety. That's where I see him. He might have to drop a few pounds," he said. "I think that the one thing that he can do for us is -- he's one of those rare people who can play deep or drop down. This year we needed him to drop down. And that's what he's done. And he's really helped us. But I think that -- I see his future more in the secondary."
Smith sees eye-to-eye with his head coach.
"Even this year, I still feel like I'm a safety just playing up. That's just kind of my mindset, but I feel that's more of my natural position," he said. "It's a lot of fun getting down there and mixing it up and having to go against linemen all of the time. It's been a lot of fun, but I still kind of have that mindset, which is kind of a bad thing sometimes."
The sophomore believes that playing linebacker this year will benefit him when he returns to safety as a junior.
"I just know pretty much the whole defense more in depth and just know where everyone else is going to be," he said. "You know where other people are going to play so you can play off of them. Then the physicality of playing down there every snap, I think that'll help me carry over to the secondary."