Pitt unfazed by Notre Dame mystique
No one needs to tell Pitt coach Paul Chryst about the rich history of athletics at Notre Dame.
“I played hoops there,” he said, smiling.
Actually, it was a pickup basketball game many years ago when he was visiting his brother Rick, who was a baseball player for the Irish.
All kidding aside, Chryst respects the tradition at Notre Dame and is excited to usher his football team Saturday into South Bend, Ind., to play the No. 3-ranked and undefeated Irish.
“I do get caught up in traditions of football, and that's one of those places,” he said.
But he plans no bus tour of the campus or to kneel at the base of Touchdown Jesus. Plus, he is sincere when he says he has no interest in spoiling the best Notre Dame season in 10 years.
He is more interested in what a victory would mean to the Panthers, who are 17-point underdogs, than what a defeat would do to the Irish.
“It's not about knocking them off to ruin their season,” Chryst said. “It's an opportunity to go play a great team and to win for us. It has nothing to do with being a spoiler. Every week you want to go win, and this week is no different.”
Chryst wants his players — especially the younger ones who never have played in Notre Dame Stadium — to savor the experience without it overwhelming them.
“Emotion is a big part of it, and keeping it in check is a big part of that,” he said.
Playing Notre Dame is nothing new to the Pitt seniors. This will be the fifth consecutive season the teams have met (each winning twice previously), and the streak will reach six in a row Nov. 9, 2013, at Heinz Field. Beyond that, the Irish will start playing ACC teams on a rotating basis.
“It's definitely an awesome place to play, great tradition,” Pitt senior guard Chris Jacobson said. “It's a great experience for the younger kids to realize it, but you know it's just another trip. It's just another away game we have to get ready for.
“I don't know if it's a Pitt/West Virginia type (rivalry), but we get to go to South Bend and that's pretty cool.”The game, however, stands alone in Chryst's first season. Notre Dame is the highest-ranked Pitt opponent since the Panthers met and defeated No. 2 West Virginia in 2007. Plus, the Irish (8-0) have perhaps the nation's stingiest defense, led by Heisman Trophy candidate Manti Te'o at linebacker.
Chryst is impressed by Te'o but no more than the players around him.
“He's sudden, he's powerful,” Chryst said. “He leads their team in interceptions (five). That's pretty unique for a linebacker.
“He makes those around him better, and yet they make him better. There are a lot of good players on that defense.”
Pitt center Ryan Turnley has noticed Te'o's ability to anticipate plays.
“He'll jump things,” Turnley said, “and the thing that makes him a great player is he is right most of the time.”
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7997.