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Football: Prep for Pitt

Andrew Owens | Wednesday, September 21, 2011

After beating rival Michigan State 31-13 last weekend, Irish coach Brian Kelly and his squad will face a familiar opponent under a first-year coach when they travel to Pittsburgh Saturday.

Panthers coach Todd Graham is in his inaugural season at Pittsburgh (2-1), but defeated Notre Dame in 2010 when he coached Tulsa to a 28-27 victory at Notre Dame Stadium. Kelly said the team has watched film of that game to prepare for Graham’s squad.

“He knows us quite well from last year,” Kelly said. “We’re familiar with his system. Now he essentially put in his philosophy and his system of offense and defense at Pittsburgh. When you’re watching film, you’re seeing a lot of similarities to his Tulsa club.

“We’ve done a lot of film study on their games this year, but we’ve also looked at last year as well in terms of how the games played out, and also the thing things that we need to do better than last year.”

Pittsburgh junior running back Ray Graham has rushed for 419 yards and six touchdowns in three games this season. The Panthers will attempt to utilize the talented back against an Irish defense that allowed only 29 yards rushing to Michigan State.

“Looking at Pittsburgh, obviously the first guy that stands out is Ray Graham,” Kelly said. “Outstanding running back, multi-dimensional in that he can catch the ball coming out of the backfield, he can lineup as a wide receiver.”

Shembo returns to the field

Irish sophomore linebacker Prince Shembo practiced with the team Tuesday after missing Saturday’s contest due to a family emergency. Kelly said he expects Shembo to play this weekend.

“That family matter that we talked about has really turned out to be quite remarkable, so we’re happy for Prince and his family,” Kelly said.

Big 10 referees admit mistake

After Irish sophomore wide receiver T.J. Jones caught a 26-yard touchdown pass in the win over Michigan State, the team was penalized 15 yards due to an unsportsmanlike conduct infraction.

Jones had lifted his gloves to the crowd and put them together to show off the leprechaun logo. Kelly said the Big 10 informed Notre Dame that a penalty should not have been called.

“We got a clarification that it, in fact, is not a penalty … Now, if he does that and puts it in somebody’s face or jumps into the Michigan State band, then that would be an unsportsmanlike penalty,” Kelly said.

Kelly said he received assurances from the NCAA before the season that such a player holding up the gloves to the crowd would not receive a penalty.

Scouts admire Lynch

Several NFL scouts were impressed with freshman defensive end Aaron Lynch’s performance Saturday, Kelly said.

“He’s a pretty good looking kid,” he said. “I mean, I think we had about 11 scouts in, and they said that he physically looks like an NFL player right now. He’s got a lot of work to do as it relates to all the other little things that come with being a great player. He’s certainly not there as an everyday player yet. He can’t play every down yet, but he’s getting better.”

Lynch recorded five tackles, including a sack and a forced fumble of Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins.