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Mourning might give Irish edge

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Coach Brian Kelly (right) and players have been mum since a videographer's death this week.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick wouldn't speculate about the Notre Dame football team's mental state for today's game against Tulsa in the wake of the tragic death of videographer Declan Sullivan on Wednesday.

''We care about winning and losing here,'' he said, ''but it doesn't matter right now.''

That was Thursday. It might matter a little more today when the Irish (4-4) hosts the Golden Hurricane (4-3) at Notre Dame Stadium.

But who knows- While Tulsa never has played Notre Dame in football and lags well behind Oklahoma and Oklahoma State for recognition in its own state, the Irish might be an even bigger mystery today.

Earlier in the week, coach Brian Kelly was concerned about his team's response to being run over by Navy, which rushed for 367 yards in a 35-17 victory last Saturday.

But by Wednesday afternoon, that issue became moot -- and the mental challenge for the Irish much greater. Sullivan, a 20-year-old junior from Long Grove and Carmel High School, died when the portable tower he was using to videotape practice collapsed in high winds onto Courtney Lane outside the LaBar Practice Complex.

The tragedy has shaken the players and coaches, but to what degree is unknown. The Irish practiced --indoors -- on Thursday and Friday, but no coaches or players have spoken publicly since the incident.

Chances are the Irish will be ready to go. Notre Dame bonds in tragedy as well as a community can, as was evident Thursday night at the moving Mass of Remembrance for Sullivan in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on campus. And in the past, the football team has found inspiration simply in wearing green jerseys.

It also can't be ignored that the Irish come into today's game with a decided advantage: quarterback Dayne Crist and the 18th-ranked passing game in the country (283 yards per game) against Tulsa's 120th-ranked pass defense (330 yards per game), the worst in Division I.

Oklahoma State torched Tulsa for 574 passing yards. Even Tulane, which averages 202 passing yards against the rest of its schedule, had 446 against the Golden Hurricane.

It's a huge opportunity for an Irish offense making progress throughout the season, relative to its competition. Notre Dame's offense has exceeded its opponent's defensive average in six of the last seven games and came up just 11 yards short against Stanford with 351 yards. Tulsa is 108th in the country in total yards allowed (443 per game).

After crapping out against Navy last week, the Irish defense is on the spot against a Tulsa offense that ranks eighth nationally (492 yards per game), including 221 rushing yards per game. But much of that came against a schedule that includes four teams ranked 97th or lower in total defense -- 579 vs. East Carolina (105th), 546 vs. Bowling Green (114th), 447 vs. Memphis (111th) and 424 vs. Oklahoma State (97th), plus 539 vs. Central Arkansas (63rd in I-AA).

So while Notre Dame mourns, the football season will go on.

''It's an opportunity to honor Declan,'' Swarbrick said. ''We'll wear decals on our helmets that reflect Declan as a member of our family. We'll have a moment of silence before the game. And we'll dedicate this game to his memory.''

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