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Something to build on

Joe Hettler | Tuesday, October 14, 2003

It might have only been one victory, but Saturday’s dominating performance on the road against Pittsburgh could be the turning point for the Irish this season.

After barely squeaking out a win over Washington State in its first game, Notre Dame dropped three straight games and fell to a measly 1-3.

But Saturday may have turned the tides.

“This game gave us a great deal of confidence,” Irish quarterback Brady Quinn said.

The Irish defense completely shut down the Pittsburgh offense, holding them to only 175 total yards and the offense gained 352 yards on the ground – the most by a Notre Dame team since 1999.

“We’ve just never given up since the first week,” offensive lineman Jim Molinaro said. “We’ve just kept moving forward. We knew we had to keep making progress and really build on what we accomplished [Saturday].”

The bye week may have been the biggest factor in helping Notre Dame make such vast improvements. The week off gave the coaches a chance to move people around, like inserting freshman Ryan Harris into the right tackle spot and moving Dan Stevenson to right guard. The move paid off as the Irish had a successful rushing attack.

“I think everyone really kept their focus during the bye week,” Molinaro said. “It’s been really important not to listen to any outside voices. It’s going to come. If we keep working hard it will come our way.”

Heading into the Pittsburgh game, arguably the weakest part of the team was the running game. But that unit can now build on the record-breaking rushing performance of Julius Jones and the dominating way it played on the final drive, when the Irish ran off the last nine minutes of the game. That momentum could stay with Notre Dame when it takes on No. 5 USC next weekend at home.

“We had confidence in each other,” offensive lineman Bob Morton said, talking about the running backs and offensive lineman. “Sometimes you bicker back and forth. But this time we just said, ‘If there’s a hole, hit it, if there’s not a hole, make one.’ In the past two weeks, there’s been a lot of maturity.”

The Irish must now look ahead to the Trojans, Boston College on the road and then a home game against Florida State. If Notre Dame can find a way to get through that stretch, they will have a good chance of finishing the season on a strong note, with games against Navy, BYU, Stanford and Syracuse to end the year.