Pittsburgh enters this Saturday's game against Notre Dame with a 4-4 record. The Panthers have lost their last two games, including this past weekend's 21-10 defeat to Georgia Tech. They fell 24-21 to Navy the week prior.
For what it's worth, Duke joins Notre Dame as a common opponent for both Navy and Pitt this season. The Blue Devils lost 58-55 to Pittsburgh back on Sept. 21, but trounced Navy 35-7 on Oct. 12.
The Panthers are averaging just 122.5 rushing yards per game this season. That average ranks 104th of 123 FBS teams in the most recent NCAA rankings. Georgia Tech stuffed Pitt's rushing attack this past Saturday. The Panthers were held to minus-5 rushing yards. Part of that was due to quarterback Tom Savage being sacked five times for minus-24 yards, but running backs Isaac Bennett and James Connor also combined for just 19 yards on 14 carries.
Bennett, a junior, leads the Panthers with 543 yards on 105 carries (5.3 avg.) with a team-high five touchdown runs this season. Connor, a true freshman from Erie, PA, has 385 yards on 79 carries (4.9) with four TDs.
Savage is a senior playing in his only season of eligibility at Pittsburgh. His college career began in 2009 at Rutgers. He threw for more passing yards and touchdown passes with 2,211 and 14, respectively, than any freshman in Big East history that season to earn Freshman All-America honors. Savage started just four games as a sophomore though in 2010 and transferred to Arizona prior to the 2011 season.
He never played for the Wildcats and transferred to Pitt before last season. Irish head coach Brian Kelly faced Savage when the quarterback was still at Rutgers and Kelly was still the head coach at Cincinnati in 2009.
"(He is) a big kid, strong armed and obviously they like to throw the football with him," Kelly said of Savage. "He's got some talented receivers. We're going to have to prepare ourselves for a kid that likes to throw the football and has some weapons."
Savage has completed 133-of-219 passes (60%) for 1,779 yards this season. The senior from Springfield, PA has 14 touchdown passes and seven interceptions with a 143.67 quarterback efficiency rating. Pitt's 223.4 passing yard average ranks 70th in the nation to give the Panthers a total offense ranking of No. 103 entering this weekend.
Savage's top receiving targets are Tyler Boyd and Devin Street. Boyd, a true freshman, leads the Panthers with 45 receptions and six touchdown grabs. He also has 644 yards. Street, a fifth-year senior, has 40 catches for a team-high 690 yards with four touchdowns. Street's 40 receptions this season give him a Pitt school record 191 for his career. Tight end Manasseh Garner is Pitt's only other double-digit receiver with 14 catches for 141 yards and two TDs.
Pittsburgh's defense is allowing 26.8 points (No. 67 nationally), which is slightly more than the 26.1 points (No. 79) the Panther offense averages per game. Pitt allows 164 rushing yards (No. 64), 202 passing yards (No. 18) and 366 total yards (No. 33) per game through its eight games in 2013.
The Panthers have forced a total of 11 turnovers through those eight games. They are even in giveaways-takeaways for the season. Interestingly, opponents have fumbled 17 times this season, but Pitt has recovered just five of them (meaning opposing players have put 12 other fumbles on the ground but have ultimately been able to recover them). By comparison, Notre Dame opponents have put the ball on the ground 11 times and the Irish have recovered four of them.
Linebacker Todd Thomas leads Pitt with 53 tackles (35 solo), while 6-foot-3, 225-pound safety turned linebacker Anthony Gonzalez is second with 51 tackles (31 solo). Safety Jason Hendricks is not far behind with 47 tackles (31 solo).
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald has been a major force for Pitt in the trenches. His 19.5 tackles for loss leads the nation this season. He is also third in the nation with 9.0 sacks. Donald is coming off a monster game in the loss to Georgia Tech that saw him record 11 tackles (all solo), with six TFLs, two forced fumbles and a sack. The six TFLs are the most by any FBS player this season.
Donald is one of two of the top active sack leaders in the FBS that Notre Dame will see over the next two games. His 27.5 sacks are the most of any active FBS player, while BYU's Kyle Van Noy (26.0) ranks No. 2 among active players in that category.
The Panthers are averaging 10.4 yards on eight punt returns. Kevin Weatherspoon has seven of them for an 11.6 average. The bulk of them came on a 56-yard return against Old Dominion. Boyd and Lafayette Pitts have handled 12 and nine kick returns, respectively. Boyd is averaging 20.8 yards, while Pitts sports a 19.7 average.
Kicker Chris Blewitt has hit 24-of-25 PATs and 7-of-9 field goals. His field goal misses are from 24 and 36 yards. Blewitt's long was a 47-yarder against Virginia Tech. He has also averaged 58.7 yards on 40 kickoffs with nine touchbacks. Punter Matt Yoklic has a 43.2 yard average on 43 punts. He has five touchbacks and has landed 11 kicks inside the 20 this season.