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Football: Call ’em out

Matthew DeFranks | Wednesday, November 6, 2013

J.P. Holtz made no attempt to hide his feeling for Notre Dame.
“I just think they’re really cocky and their coaches are really cocky. I just don’t like that,” Holtz said to reporters Monday.
Holtz’s Panthers (4-4) will look to do Saturday what they could not last year – take down Notre Dame. The No. 23 Irish (7-2) enter Pittsburgh on the heels of four consecutive victories and back-to-back offensive performances of 45 and 38 points against Air Force and Navy, respectively.
“We found a pretty good rhythm, offensively, over the last few weeks,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “We want to build on that.”
Despite his offense’s recent success, Kelly said the unit cannot lead the Irish to a BCS bowl game on its own.
“We know more about our strengths and weaknesses offensively, and that’s pretty clear, and I think we know now …  who we are offensively and that is where we’ll move forward,” he said. “I don’t think we’re a strength in terms of being able to carry this team. We’re going to need every piece working together.”
The Irish will have to deal with Panthers senior defensive tackle Aaron Donald, whom Kelly described as a “one-man wrecking crew.” Donald leads the nation in tackles for loss per game and is third in sacks per game. On the season, the 6-foot, 285-pounder has 36 tackles, 19.5 for loss and nine sacks.
“We know about him from last year,” Kelly said. “Big, physical defensive line, and he will be somebody that we will have to game-plan and find a way to slow down.”
In last year’s 29-26 triple-overtime Irish win, Donald had seven tackles, including one for loss.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Panthers have struggled to find consistency. In their last three games against BCS conference opponents, the Panthers have rushed for a combined 26 yards, including a minus-8 figure against Georgia Tech last week.
Still, Kelly said running the football is a staple of Pittsburgh teams.
“Running the football has always been one of their trademarks, because they always had outstanding running backs through the years that we played them,” Kelly said. “This year it seems to be more prolific in terms of throwing the football. Maybe that’s a little bit different from last year.”
Pittsburgh senior Tom Savage (whom Kelly played while he was at Cincinnati and Savage was at Rutgers) has thrown for 1,779 yards and 14 touchdowns with seven interceptions. He has managed to do this behind an offensive line that has allowed 29 sacks. Pittsburgh ranks 118th in the country (out of 123 teams) in sacks allowed per game.
Kelly said the Panthers always play the Irish tough.
“Midwestern team, tough, blue collar, physical, they don’t seem to like Notre Dame very much, and they want to beat Notre Dame,” he said. “I think it’s one of those games where you know you’re going to go in and it’s going to be a fight. We’re prepared for that.”

Updates on injuries
While Kelly announced on Sunday junior linebacker Ben Councell had suffered a “significant knee injury” during the win over Navy, he confirmed Councell hurt his ACL and will be out for the rest of the season. Councell would likely be limited during spring practice, Kelly said.
Sophomore linebacker Romeo Okwara, who has seen time as a defensive end, drop linebacker and cat linebacker, will fill in for Councell as freshman Jaylon Smith’s backup.
Kelly said senior nose tackle Louis Nix and sophomore defensive end Sheldon Day would both practice and he is hoping for them to play Saturday.
With a depleted front seven, the Irish will look toward other players – like graduate student Tyler Stockton, senior defensive lineman Justin Utupo, junior linebacker Anthony Rabasa, sophomore defensive lineman Jarron Jones and freshman defensive lineman Isaac Rochell – to take some snaps.
Contact Matthew DeFranks at mdefrank@nd.edu