College football previews

No. 4 Irish try to keep their focus on Pitt

2012-11-02T19:15:00Z 2012-11-03T01:17:14Z No. 4 Irish try to keep their focus on PittThe Associated Press The Associated Press
November 02, 2012 7:15 pm  • 

Fourth-ranked Notre Dame and Pittsburgh are looking to avoid distractions on Saturday.

The Fighting Irish (8-0) tried all week to distance themselves from talk about possibly playing for their first national championship since 1988. They skipped discussions about how the 2002 team stumbled at this same point.

They've done their best to escape the demand for tickets — and their time — that friends and family have created leading up to recent games at Notre Dame Stadium, where the Irish haven't been as dominant as they have been on the road.

It's a problem that perplexes the Irish. Notre Dame's average margin of victory at home is five points and away from South Bend it's 28 points. Coach Brian Kelly said he believes the Irish have to raise the intensity at home.

"I think teams that come into Notre Dame Stadium play their very, very best. We have to match that intensity," he said.

The biggest differences for the Irish at Notre Dame Stadium and away are turnovers, penalties and their rushing offense and defense. Seven of Notre Dame's eight turnovers have occurred at home and the Irish have committed 27 penalties at home and 15 away. Meanwhile, the Irish are averaging 110 yards a game more away from South Bend while the defense is holding opponents to 41.5 yards a game less away from South Bend.

"I don't know. That's the same thing we talked about this week. We have to come with the same energy at home as we do on the road," Kelly said.

The Panthers (4-4) have a different sort of distraction after leading rusher Ray Graham, leading receiver Devin Street and defensive back Lafayette Pitts were charged Thursday with misdemeanor counts of simple assault and conspiracy involving three other students. The players deny being involved and will play on Saturday.

Left tackle Zack Martin and other Irish players say playing in hostile stadiums might help motivate them.

"When you come out you hear a bunch of people yelling at you, booing you, it amps you up a little more," cornerback Bennett Jackson said. "I don't think that has anything to do with playing home or away. I think people lose mental focus."

The Irish are trying to avoid the fate of the 2002 team that started 8-0, then was upset by unranked Boston College following a big win at Florida State.

IU looks for some Big Ten momentum: If Iowa wants to have any chance of contending for the Big Ten Legends Division, Saturday's game at Indiana is practically a must-win. Same goes for the Hoosiers if they want to have a chance to play for a Big Ten title.

Neither the Hoosiers (3-5, 1-3) nor the Hawkeyes (4-4, 2-2) are happy with the way they are playing.

"I'm concerned about everything right now," Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz said. "Offense, defense, specials teams and just how we play collectively. That's our task."

Iowa has lost two straight and is coming off a 28-17 loss to Northwestern in which running back Mark Weisman suffered a leg injury. Ferentz said Weisman has been taken off the depth chart this week.

The Hoosiers are coming off their first Big Ten win since beating Purdue in 2010. They beat Illinois last week, 31-17, to snap an 11-game Big Ten losing streak.

It was a win, but Indiana coach Kevin Wilson called it one of their worst performances.

"Of course it was nice that we got a win, but there are a lot of things that we need to clean up on," Wilson said. "We had some good performances, but there are some things that we need to continue to polish if we're going to have a chance this week and down the stretch with these remaining four games in the league."

E.C.'s Short expected to play as Purdue hosts Penn State: Purdue didn't expect to be in desperation mode halfway through the Big Ten schedule.

The Boilermakers entered the season with experience on offense and star power on defense in defensive tackle Kawann Short, an E.C. Central graduate, and cornerback Ricardo Allen. They were expected to take advantage of a weakened Big Ten Leaders Division with both Ohio State and Penn State ineligible for postseason play because of NCAA rules violations.

Purdue (3-5, 0-4) has lost its first four conference games, including three by double digits. The key is to stop the bleeding before the Boilermakers are out of the bowl picture, starting Saturday at home against surprising Penn State (5-3, 3-1). Purdue must win three of its final four games to become bowl eligible.

Things have gotten so bad that Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke put out a statement early in the week.

"Our student-athletes, alumni, fans, coaching staff and administration all expect to see the program move forward and take a step up the postseason ladder," Burke said. "Currently, our performance has kept us from reaching our goals. But we have a third of the season left to play, and our focus is to achieve that consistency over the remaining four games. We need to press forward, converting potential into results and having fun playing Boilermaker football."

Coach Danny Hope expects his team to rally, given the urgency of the situation. Last week's 44-28 loss to Minnesota put a great deal of pressure on Hope and the team for the rest of the season.

Hope has benched quarterback Caleb TerBush and replaced him with Robert Marve, a sixth-year senior who has torn his left ACL three times. The strong-armed, talented Marve is more of a risk-taker than TerBush, and he has been much more effective. TerBush completed 58 percent of his passes and has a 119 passer rating with 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions while Marve has completed 65 percent and has a 136.9 passer rating with six touchdowns and two interceptions.

Short injured his right ankle last weekend but Hope expects him to play. He leads the Boilermakers with four sacks and nine tackles for loss. The Boilermakers hope Short and the defense improve so the bad vibes circulating around Hope and the program can go away.

Stakes dramatically different for Buckeyes, Illini: To outside observers, it looks like a mismatch.

No. 6 Ohio State is 10-0, can clinch a share of the title in its Big Ten division and can keep alive any flickering hopes of being the last unbeaten standing when the final poll votes are cast.

Illinois (2-6) has lost its last five games and in conference play is 0-4 this year with a 10-game losing skid. With problems on both sides of the ball, the Illini are four-touchdown underdogs.

For both teams, the opponent isn't as important as how each team plays.

The Buckeyes' Urban Meyer doesn't want any letup as his team cruises into its bye week before two last, pivotal games to end the season.

"Here's the thing: How good are we?" Meyer said. "That's the question to ask ourselves."

Illinois coach Tim Beckman, a former Meyer assistant, is seeking a sign of hope in an otherwise dreary season.

"We understand Ohio State is a good football team," he said. "The only thing we can control is what we do. Those are the things that we talk about every day that we step there on the practice field or in the meeting rooms — how can you improve yourself today? That's what we ask our players to do."

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