The fourth-ranked University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish hosts the unranked University of Pittsburgh Panthers in Notre Dame Stadium today. This will be the 68th meeting between the Fighting Irish and the Panthers in a series that began in 1909. Only West Virginia and Penn State have played the Panthers more than the Irish. The game is scheduled for kickoff at 3:39 EST on NBC. The long range weather forecast calls for 44 degrees, a 30 percent chance of showers, and wind from the northeast at 6 MPH.
The Irish hold a 46-20-1 lead in the series including last year’s 15-12 win at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. The Irish have won the last two in a row after losing two in a row from 2008 to 2011. At home Notre Dame leads Pitt 20-10-0. Coach Brian Kelly is 4-1 versus Pittsburgh winning two with the Irish and two at Cincinnati.
Pittsburgh is led by Paul Chryst in his first year at Pitt and in his twenty-third year of coaching. The son of a coach, Chryst was a three-year letter winner for Wisconsin. He began coaching as a graduate assistant at West Virginia. He has worked under Don Nehlen at West Virginia, Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin, Mike Riley twice at Oregon State and once with the San Diego Chargers, and with Bret Bielema at Wisconsin. He has always been on the offensive side of the ball including six years as the Wisconsin offensive coordinator and quarterback coach from 2006 to 2011.
Chryst has brought a team first attitude to Pittsburgh exhibited by the Panthers having their names back on their jerseys this week. He had kept the name off the jerseys all season until his players proved that they were buying into the team first mentality. Chryst promised the team that a win over Temple and the name would go on the jerseys. He was quoted as saying that his team had some guys that were doing some real unselfish acts for the team. Coach Chyrst has no record against Notre Dame.
Pittsburgh has 12 players on their squad who have already received their degree which is second only to Virginia Tech’s 15 graduates on their roster. Also the Panthers were technically on their sixth head coach in their past 15 games at the start of the 2012 season. The half dozen head coaches were Dave Wannstedt, Notre Dame’s Mike Haywood, Todd Graham, Paul Chryst, and two interim coaches.
The Panthers come to South Bend with a 4-4 record, but are 4-2 since losing their first two games. Pittsburgh has wins over Virginia Tech 35-17, Gardner-Webb 55-10, Buffalo 20-6, and Temple 47-17. Their losses have been to Youngstown State 17-31, Cincinnati 10-34, Syracuse 13-14, and Louisville 35-45. Pittsburgh’s opponents have a combined record of 25-24. Eliminate the two FCS teams and that record is 20-13 by the FBS teams that Pitt has played.
New head coach Paul Chryst brought a running game with him from Wisconsin, but it’s been in the passing game that he’s been most successful at improving so far in his tenure. Pitt’s passing efficiency is currently ranked eighth in the FBS placing them ahead of the likes of Arizona State, Texas Tech, and USC to name a few. Last year, Pittsburgh was ranked 93rd in passing efficiency.
The Panthers feature a running game that includes inside and outside zone and power principles in their blocking schemes, excellent screens and draws, and a solid passing game that features good play action passing. The Panthers also run a good two minute offense.
The Pittsburgh offense is ranked 44th in total offense with 432 yards per game, 77th rushing at 150 yards, and 31st in passing at 282 yards. The Panthers are ranked 29th in scoring at 29 points per game. Third down efficiency finds Pitt ranked 25th gaining first downs on 53 of 114 third down attempts for a 47 percent success rate.
Pittsburgh is ranked 90th in sacks allowed with 20 sacks. They are one of the best in avoiding turnovers and are ranked sixth with only seven turnovers, two interceptions and five lost fumbles.
In the Red Zone the Panthers are ranked 59th, converting 30 of their 37 trips inside their opponent’s 20. They have 14 rushing touchdowns, nine passing touchdowns, and seven field goals for those 30 scores.
Trick Plays & Wrinkles
Wide receiver Ronald Jones #14, a former high school quarterback, was 3 for 3 passing last year averaging 17 yards and two of those went for touchdowns. Fullback Mark Giubilato was a high school quarterback as well.
Pittsburgh will run a loaded formation on goal line and short yardage similar to Oklahoma’s, but with Sunseri taking a direct snap and handing off to the tailback, either Ray Graham #1 or Rushel Shell #4. The similarity with Oklahoma is having a fullback and tight end in the backfield aligned behind the tackles blocking for the tailback. Pitt also brings in an offensive lineman wearing #94 as a tight end and he’s a load as a straight ahead blocker. I would not be surprised to see Sunseri boot off this formation and run or throw.
Pitt runs end-arounds and reverses with their wide receivers.
Quarterback Tino Sunseri can, and has, quick kicked.
Pittsburgh’s Significant Offensive Player and Starters
QB Tino Sunseri #12, 6-2, 215, fifth year, 39 games, 34 starts
RB Ray Graham #1, 5-9, 190, fifth year, 41 games, 18 starts
FB Mark Giubilato, 6-2, 230, RS sophomore, 21 games, 2 starts
WR Devin Street #15, 6-4, 190, RS junior, 34 games, 25 starts
WR Mike Shanahan #87, 6-5, 225, fifth year, 45 games, 33 starts
LT Cory King #78, RS junior, 6-6, 325, 23 games, 13 starts
LG Chris Jacobson #54, 6-3, 295, fifth year, 40 games, 25 starts
C Ryan Turnley #75, 6-6, 230, fifth year, 38 games, 21 starts
RG Arthur Doakes #56, 6-6, 340, RS sophomore, 14 games, 0 starts
RT Matt Rotheram #74, 6-6, 325, RS sophomore, 16 games, 10 starts
Quarterback Tino Sunseri #12 has experienced the proverbial light going off this year as far as his performance as the Pitt quarterback. The last six games he has averaged a 71 percent completion rate, 280 yards per game, and thrown for 11 touchdowns versus 1 interception and no interceptions in his last five games. No matter who Pitt has played that’s impressive if for no other reason than he’s in the first year, of his third offense, in the last three years at Pitt.
Sunseri’s reign as the Panther quarterback hasn’t been a smooth one. He’s been correctly maligned in past seasons for holding onto the ball too long, staring down receivers, bad decisions, poor footwork, unable to accurately throw over 10-15 yards, and failure to put enough air under his deep balls. All that’s been true, but it appears that he’s righted the ship both mentally and in his physical execution. What has sold me is watching how he makes throws he never made last year, like a corner fade against Louisville, deep balls to Shanahan and Street, as well as his increased accuracy, how he has run the offense, and especially how he stands there in knowing he’s going to get hit and gets off an accurate pass without bailing out.
Sunseri’s only bad game statistically, where he was less than 65 percent passing, was against Buffalo. It was played in bad weather that featured constant wind and intermittent rain. He was 9-17-0 for 128 yards, throwing only two screen passes in the first half, as conditions dictated conservative play calling by the Pitt staff.
Statistically Sunseri is 164-234-2 for 69% with a long of 77 yards and 13 touchdowns. He’s averaging 275 yards per game and is the eighth rated passer in the nation in passing efficiency which ranks him ahead of Matt Barkley of USC, Seth Doege of Texas Tech, and Tyler Wilson of Arkansas to name a few.
Tailback Ray Graham #1 is back to normal after being tentative much of the season due to off season knee surgery. He will be playing his third game in a row without a knee brace. Graham doesn’t seem to have the lightning speed he had before his injury, but he’s still plenty fast. He also is excellent in making the first man miss, bounces to the outside as well as any back in college football, and is an excellent receiver out of the backfield on screens, wheel routes, flares, and dump offs over the middle.
Graham has a 4.6 average per carry, a long of 78 yards, and seven touchdowns. As a receiver he has 22 receptions, a long of 33 yards, and two touchdowns. His 11.1 yard per catch average is high for a running back with that many receptions.
His backup is true freshman Rushel Shell #4. Shell is a bigger back than Graham and a more physical runner who lowers his pads and gets tough yards after contact. Shell can take a hit and deliver a hit too as he bounces off tackles quite often. He’s fast enough to go a long way when he breaks into the open. He’s also a good receiver running the same routes as Graham. Shell emerged with a 157 yard game against Virginia Tech where he averaged 6.8 yards per carry in the Panther upset. He has rushed for a 5.1 yard average, a long of 33 yards, and four touchdowns. As a receiver he has eight receptions, a long of 41 yards, and an average of 11.2 yards per reception.
Fullback Mark Giubilato #43 is primarily a blocker who blocks very well in space. He has one reception for five yards and no rushes on the season. He’s fast enough to run a wheel route like a tailback too.
Wide receiver Devin Street #15 is much improved over last year. He put on close to 20 pounds of muscle in the off season. Street goes up for the ball like Tyler Eifert, uses his body as a screen, has strong hands, and adjusts to the ball’s flight very well. He is the go to guy for Sunseri and has two games of double digit receptions. His receiving statistics are 50 receptions for a 13.9 yard average, a long of 58 yards, and four touchdowns. As a runner on reverses and end-arounds he is averaging 10.0 yards per carry.
Wide receiver Mike Shanahan #87 gets the “possession receiver” tag unfairly dumped on him, but he’s more than that evidenced by his average per reception. A Division I prospect in both basketball and football coming out of high school Shanahan has size, strength, catches the ball with his hands, catches in a crowd, and runs his routes well. He positions his body extremely well keeping it between the defender and the ball better than any Pitt receiver. Shanahan also blocks like a tight end. Between him and Street he’s the faster of the two. Shanahan has 37 receptions for a 17.1 yard average, a long of 77 yards, and three touchdowns.
Wide receiver Cameron Saddler #5 is an athletic receiver who came to Pitt as a running back. Although small he’s a physical receiver and he is the fastest receiver among the Pitt regulars. Saddler has 13 receptions, a 14.3 yard average, a long of 23 yards, and a touchdown. He’s also run reverse and end-arounds and has a 9.0 yard average doing so.
Wide receiver Ronald Jones #14 is not only a receiving threat and a reverse threat, but he’s also a passing threat. He has six receptions, a 10.3 yard average, and a long of 22 yards. He had rushed for an average of 4.7 yards, and while he hasn’t passed this season he was 3-3 last year for two touchdowns.
Tight ends Hubie Graham #83, Drew Carswell #6, and J. P. Holtz #86 possess marginal blocking ability and they struggle to finish off opponents. All three are better receivers than blockers and can get down field for passes and are tough to cover on crossing routes, particularly Carswell. Graham has 6 receptions for an 8.7 yard average and a long of 16 yards. Carswell has five receptions, an average of 11.6 yards, a long of 23 yards, and 1 touchdown. Holtz has 3 receptions for a 17.7 yard average, a long of 20 yards, and a touchdown.
The Pittsburgh offensive linemen are good sized averaging 6-5 and 319 pounds. They have contributed to a team average of 3.6 yards per rush and 13.4 yards per reception. They have also allowed 20 sacks and 16 of those sacks have come from the better teams on their schedule, Cincinnati, Syracuse, and Louisville. Only two offensive linemen return that started against the Irish last year, left guard and center, and it’s easy to see why they are the better linemen. Both do a better job of sustaining their blocks than the other three linemen.
The Pitt offensive line is led by left guard Chris Jacobson. Jacobson is quick, has good technique, and is athletic. A bit undersized at 295 compared to other Pitt linemen, but he’s strong enough to seal off or drive off the average college defensive lineman when run blocking. Jacobson does well on combo blocks moving off them to another defender. He pulls well, is the best Pitt blocker in space, and is a big part of Pitt’s successful screen package. Jacobson is one of the better pass blockers for the Panthers.
Center Ryan Turnley #75 blocks the run well, passes or picks up off combo blocks well, and does a good job getting out on screens or pulling. The problem with his pulls and screen is he runs along without blocking anyone much of the time. I know he’s supposed to lead down field, but sometimes you need to redirect or peel back and I haven’t seen him do so. He’s more than adequate as a pass blocker.
The Panther tackles are the biggest pair of tackles the Irish will have faced this season. Both are 6-6 and weigh in at 325 and 335 pounds. Both often have difficulty moving with the defender after the initial contact in pass blocking. The bulk of Pitt’s sacks have come from the two of them getting beat.
Left tackle Cory King #78 does an adequate job run blocking as he comes off the ball well for his size, seals the edge, and moves people. His weakness is pass blocking and while he often looks good coming out of the blocks he gets beat more than any Pitt offensive lineman, particularly with speed off the edge as he doesn’t have that classic footwork and agility required of a left tackle. Opponents tend to get under his pad level and go around him.
Right tackle Matt Rotheram #74 is the right tackle. He also has trouble with the speed rush and the spin move. He too is better blocking for the run versus the pass. Like King, opponents get under his pads all too often.
Right guard Arthur Doakes #56 makes his first start for Pitt this week. He replaced injured starter Ryan Schlieper #76 the second half at Temple and showed strength, and decent pass blocking ability on the initial fit against Temple, but this week will be his first real test as a college lineman.
Pittsburgh has returned to a base 4-3 defense after a year of Todd Graham’s 3-4 scheme so the Panthers have had to re-learn some things. The six offenses they have faced in the FBS division are currently ranked 24th, 32nd, 54th, 64th, 73rd, and 118th. They have held four of those teams below their season average in total yards including the 24th ranked team, Syracuse 156 yards under that average. More importantly they have held four of their six FBS opponents below their season average by an average of 10 points per game, one foe equal to their average output, and one allowing 12 points more than that team’s average.
Pitt’s front seven doesn’t have a lot of stars, but they play hard, and they play disciplined under the tutelage of Dave Huxtable who came from Wisconsin with Coach Chryst, has three decades of coaching experience at the college level, and is entering his tenth year as a defensive coordinator. Huxtable moves his people around, especially on the defensive line, and blitzes his linebackers, often using a zone blitz package.
The Panthers are ranked 29th in total defense allowing 340 yards per game, 42nd in rushing defense at 141 yards per game, and 29th in passing defense at 199 yards per game. Pittsburgh is ranked 33rd in scoring defense allowing 22 points per game.
Pittsburgh is ranked 102nd in third down defense allowing opponents to convert 54 of 116 third downs for a 47 percent conversion rate. They are 86th in forcing turnovers with 11, six interceptions and five fumbles. The Panther defense is ranked 51st in tackles for losses with 40 solos and 14 assisted tackles. They are 56th in dropping the quarterback with 16 sacks.
In Red Zone Pitt defense is ranked 51st allowing 17 scores on 21 penetrations inside their 20. Those scores came via eight rushing touchdowns, four passing touchdowns, and five field goals.
Pittsburgh Projected Defensive Starters
DE T. J. Clemmings #90, 6-6, 290, RS sophomore, 14 games, 6 starts
DT Aaron Donald #97, 6-0, 275, junior, 34 games, 13 starts
NG Tyrone Ezell #50, 6-4, 300, RS sophomore, 20 games, 7 starts
DE Bryan Murphy #93, 6-3, 225, RS sophomore, 14 games, 7 starts
SLB Eric Williams #49, 6-3, 215, RS sophomore, 11 games, 7 starts
MLB Shane Gordon #44, 6-1, 220, RS junior, 50 games, 9 starts
WLB Todd Thomas #8, 6-2, 225, RS sophomore, 14 games, 8 starts
FC Lafayette Pitts #23, RS freshman, 5-11, 195, 8 games, 8 starts
BC K’Waun Williams #2, 5-10, 190, junior, 30 games, 20 starts
SS Jarred Holley #18, 5-10, 190, fifth year, 47 games, 41 starts
FS Jason Hendricks #25, 6-0, 180, RS junior, 28 games, 19 starts
Pitt’s defensive line strength is heavily weighted to the inside linemen. While the Panther defensive line has been competent against the run the unit only has 7.5 sacks and six of those came from the starting tackle and nose guard.
The best defensive lineman for Pittsburgh is defensive tackle Aaron Donald #97. He is moved around by the Pitt Defense, as are all Pitt defensive linemen, most likely to get him where he can do the most damage and make it hard for the opposing offenses to game plan for him. He’s so athletic that dropping off into the middle of a zone blitz he was able to pursue and drop the rolling out Louisville quarterback in the open field. Donald has a real explosive first step, uses his hands well on pass rushing, has a great swat move, and has great backside pursuit. He might log too many minutes as he seems to take plays off, but when he wants to go all out he’s a force.
Last year Donald had 11 sacks as opposed to his current pace for 5.5 sacks on the season. Last year Donald had more experienced line mates and didn’t get as many double teams as he does this year. He enters this game with 31 tackles, 20 solos, 8.5 for losses, 3.5 sacks, 10 quarterback hurries, and a forced fumble.
The rest of the defensive line just doesn’t measure up to Donald, but they are disciplined, do a lot of things to confuse offenses like zone drop offs, stemming, and often stunting. Pitt also has a rotation going to keep the defensive linemen fresh that includes a true freshman and a red shirt freshman.
Nose tackle Tyrone Ezell #50 is the partner of Donald and helps him create push in the interior. Ezell gets a good push, gets off blockers to make the tackle. He’s what I’d call a right handed player, playing better to his right than his left. He has 21 tackles, 10 solos, 3.5 tackles for losses, 2.5 sacks, and a quarterback hurry.
Defensive end T. J. Clemmings #90 has size and strength, but plays too high and doesn’t have the speed one would like in a defensive end. He has 18 tackles, 11 solos, one tackle for loss, no sacks, and two quarterback hurries.
The other defensive end Brian Murphy #93 is a smaller defensive end and often drops off into coverage. He doesn’t have any outstanding moves in his pass rush, but gives good effort. He has 17 tackles, eight solos, two for losses, .5 sack, and four quarterback hurries.
This unit is beat up, and has lost two starters, and is inconsistent as a group, but has some intriguing players from a human interest level. I begin with a player who won’t even play Saturday due to a lacerated kidney.
Middle linebacker Dan Mason #40 is one courageous individual. He blew out a knee tearing three of the four major ligaments that one has in the knee. It took two years and five surgeries to get him on the field as he returned five weeks ago. Watching him play one could see the nerve damage that was an outcome of the injury and surgeries. Mason had problems controlling his foot and it showed in his ability to change direction in pursuit. He was playing on heart, smarts, and will. From all reports he’s never been one to bemoan his circumstances and has exhibited a positive attitude through adversity that others could learn a great deal from. Despite his lacerated his kidney I’d bet that Mason, a red shirt junior, is already gearing up for next season.
One individual who has learned from Mason is weakside linebacker Todd Thomas #8. Thomas has had two surgeries on an ACL and credits Mason’s example as an inspiration for his working his way through the recovery process. As a player Thomas has good speed, is athletic, tough, and competes. He came to Pitt after a year at Milford academy following a stellar high school career at Beaver Falls, Pa., where he won All State honors at three different positions. He has played four games since his return and has been moved from the strongside linebacker to weakside linebacker due to injuries. In his four games back Thomas has 21 tackles, 12 solos, a tackle for loss, a sack, and has a special teams block.
Middle linebacker Shane Gordon #44 has good speed, is athletic, and practices hard. He’s a game time decision due to a leg injury, but with the loss of Mason I think he’ll play. If he doesn’t go then Pitt may have to make major changes shuffling people around or go with a third stringer. He has 33 tackles, 17 solos, five tackles for losses, 1.5 sacks, five passes defensed, and a quarterback hurry.
Strongside linebacker Eric Williams #49 came to Pitt as a receiver and is still pretty raw, but has the physical ability to be good. He blitzes well when he commits, but is sometimes hesitant which is probably due to the defensive responsibility required of a given call or possibly experience. (I mention that hesitancy because of the running ability of Everett Golson) Williams needs more weight coming in at 215 pounds. He has 29 tackles, 16 solos, three tackles for losses, a sack, five quarterback hurries, and two recovered fumbles.
The Panther secondary is the best unit of the Pitt defense, particularly at the safeties. There are 88 starts among their starting four. All starters are better than average tacklers and they have six interceptions among the starting four defensive backs, the entire team total.
Pittsburgh’s leader in the secondary is free safety Jared Holley #18. A 2011 Big East selection at safety and a Big East All Academic honoree he has progressed every year, increasing his tackle total and hauling in nine career interceptions. Not known for his all-out speed he’s a heady and an instinctive player who has a history of big plays. Holley has 51 tackles, a total that exceeds each of his first two year totals. He has 28 solos, a tackle for a loss, an interception, and three passes broken up.
Free safety Jason Hendricks #25 is athletic and tough. Hendricks is physical for his size, a good tackler. He plays the run well, is good as a pass defender, and is the leading tackler for Pitt. Last year he picked off Tommy Rees near the goal line. He has 54 tackles, 35 solos, .5 tackle for loss, four interceptions, and two passes broken up.
Boundary corner K’Wuan Williams #2 is a fast and physical cover corner in his second year as a starter. Williams is more apt to play press coverage than Pitt’s other corner, closes quickly on the ball, has a good low backpedal, and is a good open field tackler. Williams has 29 tackles, 20 solos, 1.5 tackles for losses, an interception, and a pass broken up.
Field corner Lafayette Pitts #23 is a first year starter. He is fast, very athletic, has control of his body, changes direction well, drives hard on the ball, uses his hands well as the ball arrives, and can get up in the air when required. He also has the right temperament for a corner being cocky and having a short memory. In short he’s going to be a star in the Pitt secondary with more experience. Unlike Williams, Pitts gives a huge cushion most of the time he’s on the field but he is effective. Pitts has 23 tackles, 13 solos, five passes broken up, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.
Of note is backup strong safety Andrew Taglianetti #41. Not only does he take rotations at safety he also replaces the strongside linebacker in some passing situations. Taglianetti is athletic, often jumps a route, and drives hard trying to get underneath a route. Last year he had a sack on Tommy Rees. He has 26 tackles, 17 solos, and a pass broken up.
Pittsburgh Special Teams
The place kicker for Pitt is Kevin Harper #39 who is 10 of 15 in field goals and 28 of 28 in PATs. Harper’s longest field goal this season is 45 yards, but he does have a career 52 yarder. His five misses this season have come from 35, 33, 43, 42, and 50 yards. It should be noted that against Buffalo, in lousy weather, he was 2-2 from 42 and 22 yards.
Harper also kicks off for Pitt and his 45 kickoffs average 59.7 yards. He has nine touchbacks and two out of bounds. His coverage team is ranked 34th allowing 19.4 yards per return, but they’ve given up a 64-yard return.
The punter is Matt Yoklic #92. In his second year as the Pitt punter he has punted 30 times this season for an average of 42.1 yards per punt with a long of 54 yards. He has had 10 of those punts returned, four fair caught, four touchbacks, a blocked, and 11 inside the 20. Yoklic’s coverage team is ranked 116th allowing 15.6 yards per return. That’s primarily because they have given up a 94-yard return for a touchdown to Virginia Tech.
The primary punt returner is Cameron Saddler #5 who averages 6.5 yards per return with a long of 18 yards. Saddler is quick and a threat.
Kickoffs are returned by Lafayette Pitts #23 and Cameron Saddler #5. Pitts, ranked 19th in the FBS, has 23 returns for a 27.8 yard average and a long of 64 yards. Saddler has 5 returns for a 20.4 yard average and a long of 28 yards.
Big win followed by the flat performance syndrome. It scares all coaches everywhere especially if you have a history of it that has scarred the fan base. Kelly and his staff have a task to perform to avoid such a letdown. I’m looking at this aspect of Coach Kelly’s reign real carefully.
What plans does the Pittsburgh offensive staff formulate to stop the Irish pressure? The Pittsburgh tackles cannot hold up against the Irish pass rush. Add to that a guard making his first start.
Pitt has won two of the last three games it has played at Notre Dame Stadium.
Pitt is an ascending team that has nothing to lose.
Rain favors Pitt in my estimation, slowing things down to their level.
No turnovers. Don’t help Pitt improve on their 86th place ranking on turnovers.
Run the football. Notre Dame has run the ball against better defenses than Pitt. They have run against 10th-ranked BYU, seventh-ranked MSU, and second-ranked Stanford. The Irish have doubled the average allowed by Stanford, and nearly double the average that MSU allows, and nearly tripled what BYU allows. This week should not be any different.
Continued improvement by Everett Golson or that he’s at least as good as last week. I expect he shows growth.
The offensive line coping with the many variations that Pitt will throw at them through personnel movement, stunts, and blitzes.
Will Panther corners press the Irish receivers? Will Irish receivers overcome any press?
If the Pitt corners play off will Kelly and Golson exercise patience?
Start fast in the scoring department. Discourage Pitt and make them one dimensional.
Keeping a contained rush on Sunseri. Sunseri throws on the run far better than Oklahoma’s Jones and can run the ball well enough to keep a drive going.
Defend Pittsburgh’s excellent screen and draw packages.
Stuff the Pitt running game and gang tackle. Pittsburgh’s top two backs are good backs, maybe the best tandem so far this season. Plus, watch them coming out of the backfield on pass routes, especially wheel routes.
Don’t underestimate the speed of Shanahan. He’s faster than he looks.
Be aware of wide receiver Ronald Jones #14 when he’s in the game. He was 3 for 3 last year with two touchdowns on flanker reverse passes.
Special Teams Keys
No turnovers. Is this too redundant every week? No, special team turnovers can change the course of any game.
Could the Irish possibly break a long one on special teams this week? Can George Atkinson III get another kickoff return for six? Can Davonte’ Neal lift his average above 2.83 yards per return? Pittsburgh’s gunners can be blocked. It could happen, but if not, I’ll settle for no turnovers.
Good game by Ben Turk especially if the weather turns lousy.
Don’t leave points on the field in the kicking game.
This is a “we should win” type of game. Problem is Pitt doesn’t know that. They too give out scholarships, they appear to be on the rise as a program, and how many times have the Irish won a big game only to come out flat the following week and scare us or break our hearts over the years?
Hey, I can’t help myself. I’m a “the glass could have a hole in it” type of guy when it comes to worrying about my team’s play, the opponent, the weather, the timing, exams, off weeks, and a host of other fan anxieties that manifest themselves every Saturday in the fall.
This week has the potential to bring the Kelly holdouts on board the bandwagon if the Irish come out and beat up the Panthers. I’m thinking they will.
Notre Dame 34 Pittsburgh 10