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No rest for the weary

Joe Hettler | Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Kent Baer doesn’t consider the bye week a week off. The Irish defensive coordinator said the team works just as hard this week as weeks when there is a game.

“We work pretty hard during a bye week,” Baer said. “Today was a long practice and a hard practice and a physical practice.”

The Irish have two weeks to prepare for a road contest against No. 18 Pittsburgh Oct. 11. Notre Dame is coming off a 23-10 loss to Purdue, and are just 1-3 after losing three straight games.

Despite the poor start, coach Tyrone Willingham was pleased with the team’s performance in practice Tuesday.

“[It was a good practice] for the fact that we had an opportunity to go out and start to get some work in,” Willingham said. “Our young men practiced very well and brought a certain level of energy and focus and that was good.”

Willingham said he looks at this week and the rest of the season in a positive light, rather than dwell on the losses. If the team begins to think negatively, the rest of the season will be a negative, according to Willingham.

“I don’t think the past has anything to do with the future unless you let it,” Willingham said. “My focus has always been we play them one game at a time. If we win this next game then that gives us the best chance to win the next one.”

If the Irish are to improve, the offense must make strides this week and next in practice. The unit has struggled to run the football and have been inconsistent in scoring.

Offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick said his offense may experiment some this week, but will mainly focus on improving the unit as a whole.

“I think we want to go back and work on a few things and, really, across the board, improve ourselves at every position,” Diedrick said. “It’s a similar format that you would have during a normal week. But the things you stress are a little more individual then group.”

While the Irish offense’s ability may be questioned, the Panthers is not. Led by quarterback Rod Rutherford and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Rutherford has completed 61.7 percent of his passes for 1,171 yards and 16 touchdowns while only throwing three interceptions. His favorite target is Fitzgerald who has nine touchdowns and 32 receptions for 583 yards this season.

“[Rutherford] is a great scrambler and he has a good arm, but he also has a lot of weapons,” Baer said. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now.”

Baer also said containing Fitzgerald will be a challenge.

“If [Fitzgerald] isn’t the best wide receiver we’ll face, he’s darn close.”

Pittsburgh opened its year with a 43-3 beating of Kent State before doubly up Ball state 42-21. Toledo then upset the Panthers 35-31. Last week, Pittsburgh had its most impressive game with a 37-26 victory over Texas A&M.