It’s a Trap!
While unlikely, this game has all the markings to be a trap game for the Irish. For starters, Notre Dame is coming off back-to-back huge wins over ranked opponents in primetime. The effort, intensity, and preparation for those huge games is absolutely exhausting — but paid off big time in the form of two statement wins.
The intensity of preparing for a (then ranked) Top-10 rival in Stanford in primetime and practicing with blaring Metallica music all week to get ready for the hostile environment of Blacksburg isn’t the same as getting ready for a home game at 2:30 vs. a 3-3 team.
I’m not saying the team will have no intensity in practice and just take the week off, but mentally, the drop-off from preparing and playing in these huge games to all of a sudden getting ready for a mediocre Pittsburgh team is real.
The perfect example of this ominously involves Pittsburgh and the 2012 season. Notre Dame just had a statement 30-13 win vs the No. 8 ranked Oklahoma Sooners in Norman during primetime. The following week, it took three overtimes and a fluke missed field goal to beat a 4-4 Pitt team at home. It was a game that by all means Notre Dame should have lost.
Next, and possibly the biggest factor, is the fact that there’s a bye week next week. Football is a tough game to play and the grind and wear and tear of a season is real. Minor injuries stack up, bruises never go away, and your body is under constant stress. The structure of practices, the training staff, and state of the art facilities make recovery convenient and easy, but constant hitting and practice takes its toll.
It is very possible Notre Dame overlooks Pitt and focuses more on making it to that bye week. Getting a full week of less hitting and more recovery is within reach for the Irish, and that might take away from the focus on the game. The good teams push past the monotony of the season and handle business week-in and week-out. This will be another gauge on not only the mental toughness of this team, but on the coaching and preparation done on Brian Kelly’s part.