Notre Dame needs to show same urgency at home that it displays on road
BY MARK LAZERUS firstname.lastname@example.org November 2, 2012 9:10PM
SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 03: Zack Martin #70 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish awaits the start of play against the University of South Florida Bulls at Notre Dame Stadium on September 3, 2011 in South Bend, Indiana. South Florida defeated Notre Dame 23-20. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Zack Martin
The facts: 2:30, Ch. 7, 890-AM.
Updated: December 4, 2012 6:17AM
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame tackle Zack Martin watched Theo Riddick cross the goal line with 96 seconds left in a sudden blowout, then he looked up and saw the backs of thousands of Oklahoma fans trudging toward the exits.
“You could see everyone pour out of the stadium,” Martin said. “It was pretty sweet.”
There’s something about being on the road that appeals to these Irish, something about being the enemy and being screamed at that brings out the best version of this Notre Dame team, the most intense version, the most focused version.
“When you come out and hear a bunch of people yelling at you, booing you, it amps you up a little more,” cornerback Bennett Jackson said.
The trick is finding that same focus at Notre Dame Stadium as the Irish prepare to host Pittsburgh on Saturday. The Irish are 4-0 at home, but those wins against Purdue, Michigan, Stanford and BYU have been nail-biters decided by a touchdown or less.
On the road, Notre Dame has only one turnover — an Everett Golson interception in the opener against Navy in Dublin — and has committed only 15 penalties. At home, the Irish have seven turnovers and 27 penalties.
“It’s because we don’t have a Jumbotron,” Martin deadpanned. “That’s the main reason.”
Irish coach Brian Kelly said it has much to do with opponents raising their game as it does with Notre Dame coming out flat.
“I don’t want to make more out of it,” Kelly said. “I think teams that come into Notre Dame Stadium play their very, very best. We have to match that intensity.”
And the Irish haven’t. In their last two home games, the Irish trailed at the half — 10-3 to Stanford and 14-7 to BYU. The first half of the BYU game was probably the least inspired stretch of football the Irish have played all season.
In both games, Notre Dame came out of the locker room with a sense of urgency for the second half, a renewed energy that carried the team to narrow victories. But it’s a dangerous way to play.
“We just have to do a better job of getting our energy up,” Martin said. “That’s the biggest thing. We pick our energy up at home at halftime, in the second half. We’ve got to come into a game in the first quarter with the same energy we show on the road.”
Pitt, at 4-4, certainly will bring the intensity. The longtime rivals have split the last four meetings, with all four games decided by four points or fewer, including ND’s 15-12 win last year.
The Panthers will be at full strength, too, despite Thursday night’s revelation that three star players — tailback Ray Graham, receiver Devin Street and cornerback Lafayette Pitts — were charged with assault and conspiracy for an alleged incident Oct. 21.
All three players denied involvement, and Pitt said in an official statement Friday that it would not rush to judgment and that all three players will be active “while we gain more clarity on the situation.”
With the negative press, with a middling record and as 16-point underdogs, the Panthers likely will have that bunker mentality that has suited the Irish so well on the road this season. It’s up to Notre Dame to match it.
“On the road, it’s the team vs. the world,” Martin said. “We have to have the same mentality at home because we know guys are coming in here to beat us.”