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Irish hope to avoid letdown

Heather VanHoegarden | Wednesday, November 10, 2004

After their second win against a top-ten team, one that made them bowl-eligible and brought them back into the national spotlight on the football field, the Irish will face a team that has struggled most of this season.It sounds like the perfect time for a letdown – but don’t tell this team that – they have plenty to play for when Pittsburgh comes to town Saturday.”I’ve always said this, and will continue to say it-When you have success, it can be just as detrimental to you as failure,” Irish coach Tyrone Willingham said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. “That’s where you have to guard against those things and you have to have a certain level of maturity. When teams have that level of maturity, you see them be much more consistent week in and week out. That’s what we’re hoping to get to.”Willingham and the Irish will count on their seniors to avoid a letdown against the Panthers, 5-3, who come off a double-overtime loss to Syracuse, 31-28. The Panthers, much like the Irish have been inconsistent this season, losing to Connecticut and escaping Furman in overtime, while they beat Boston College.The last thing the No. 24 Irish want to do is have a letdown after an emotional road win last weekend, especially because Notre Dame knows that Pittsburgh would love to knock them off to make it bowl-eligible.”But what we understand, and I think our players understand, is that everyone that plays Notre Dame, this is their bowl game, this is their national championship,” Willingham said. “We have to be prepared to bring that emotional level to any contest. Everything less than that makes for a difficult day.”Meanwhile, the Irish are looking for a bowl of their own. A win on Saturday would put the Irish at 7-3 going into their final game at Southern California. But Willingham said there are plenty of other people to worry about what bowl the Irish might find themselves in.”As you know, there are so many variables about the bowls,” Willingham said. “I can’t calculate them yet, so I’m better off just to stay away from them. “What we do know-we are bowl eligible. We do know with every win we have a chance to increase, in most cases, what bowl we can go to. So that is my focus for our team. Every win creates another level. We have two remaining games, so if we can win those two, not putting the second game in front of the first game, but if we can win this one, hopefully it will establish a certain level of bowl game we can go to.”Irish running back Ryan Grant said if the team stays focused, they won’t have a problem with a letdown this weekend.”We have to stay focused, understand that we have a good Pittsburgh team coming in,” Grant said. “We have to get it done, get a win.”Grant and his fellow seniors will be playing their last game in an Irish uniform at Notre Dame Stadium, perhaps added motivation for a group that has played an important role this season.”I’m going to lay it on the line for my boys,” Grant said. “We have to get the win. You definitely don’t want to lose. So I’m going to do everything I can to help us get the win.”