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Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Pittsburgh Panthers Preview and Prediction

Author:
DeShone Kizer

DeShone Kizer

It has been a very, very good week for Notre Dame. First, they knocked off Temple, a ranked team, on the road. Then, the College Footbll Playoff selection committee placed Notre Dame fifth in its rankings. Most experts predicted ND to be anywhere from No. 8 to No. 12, but the Irish now find themselves knocking on the door of a Playoff spot.

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It hasn’t been as good of a week for the Pittsburgh Panthers. Pitt had a couple extra days to think about their loss at home to North Carolina last Thursday night. With the loss, they were knocked out of both polls and from the ranks of the ACC unbeatens. They also now lose the tie-breaker to the rival Tar Heels.

Notre Dame and Pittsburgh have played many memorable games throughout the years with Notre Dame holding a 45-21 series lead.

Notre Dame at Pittsburgh

Kickoff: 12 p.m ET (Saturday)

TV: ABC

Spread: Notre Dame -7.5

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Three Things to Watch

1. Cranking C.J. Prosise Back Up

The Notre Dame back had just 50 yards rushing in the loss to Clemson earlier in the year. Prosise — with help from the rest of the offense — responded with consecutive 100-yard games against Navy and USC. Last week Temple held the senior to 25 yards on the ground. The Irish would like to return to a more balanced attack with Prosise leading the way. Pittsburgh has a decent run defense and if it sells out to stop the run, quarterback DeShone Kizer will have to make plays throwing the ball. But assuming the Notre Dame offensive line does its part, there should be more opportunities for Prosise this weekend.

2. The Duo of Qadree Ollison and Tyler Boyd

The Panthers don’t possess a potent, high-scoring offense. What they do have, though, are two very productive players that Notre Dame will have to contain. When star running back James Conner went down with a season-ending knee injury, most expected the Panthers' ground game to be dead and buried. But Ollison has 716 yards rushing to go along with eight touchdowns on the ground. It’s a different story at wide receiver. Boyd was the leading returning receiver in the ACC and he has had a nice season so far. Interestingly, though, after averaging over 16 yards a catch in 2014, Boyd is only averaging nine yards a reception with a long of 36 yards this fall. Much of the reason is the result of the skill set of new quarterback Nathan Peterman, who is accurate on short passes but is not as adept at throwing the deep ball.

3. The Pittsburgh Offensive Line vs. the Notre Dame Defensive Line

The Pittsburgh offensive line is one that has a lot of experience on the left side with guard Dorian Johnson and tackle Adam Bisnowaty. Also, though right tackle Alex Officer is just a redshirt sophomore, he is a returning starter. With a senior at center, it’s a pretty experienced group, despite playing redshirt freshman Brian O’Neill at right tackle. All that experience will come in handy against a Notre Dame defensive line that took it to Temple on Saturday night. Isaac Rochelle was dominant from the start and Sheldon Day had has usual outstanding performance. The play of Daniel Cage was very evident and Romeo Okwara may have had the best game of his career with three tackles for lost yardage. The Notre Dame linemen would like to apply more pressure to Peterman and slow down Ollison and the running game. This will be a big battle to watch on Saturday.

Final Analysis

This is not the easiest spot for Notre Dame. They were in Philly last Saturday night, came home, and now head to Pittsburgh for a noon start, a time at which they don’t play very often. Pittsburgh has been waiting in the Steel City since last Thursday night. From that perspective, advantage Panthers. This is also a series that has been hotly contested in recent years. Pitt upset the Irish during their last meeting in Pittsburgh and the Irish were fortunate to escape with a victory during their run to the championship game in 2012. For those reasons, this could be a close game. But if you were picking teams for a backyard game, a lot of Notre Dame players would be selected before those from Pitt. It’s a Notre Dame – Pitt game, so there will be some ups and downs for both teams. But Notre Dame will win and move to 8-1.

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Prediction: Notre Dame 31, Pittsburgh 20

— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.