Fighting Irish return home looking to stay undefeated against the upset-minded Panthers
There have been several memorable upsets over the years in the series between Pittsburgh and Notre Dame. In 1975, Pitt upset No. 9 Notre Dame behind Tony Dorsett’s 303 rushing yards. In 1982, Notre Dame went to Pittsburgh and got the best of the Dan Marino-led, top-ranked Panthers. Five years later, Pitt gave No. 4 Notre Dame their first loss of the season on an October Saturday. Most recently, the 2013 Notre Dame team that still had major bowl dreams fell to a Pittsburgh group that ended the year 7-6.
Those past results give Pittsburgh hope heading into this weekend’s game in South Bend. The Irish sit at No. 5 after consecutive emotional wins, first against Stanford at home then last week at Virginia Tech. The Panthers pulled off an upset last week, beating then 4-1 Syracuse, but Pittsburgh is just 3-3 and have been soundly beaten by their two other top 10 opponents.
Pittsburgh at Notre Dame
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 13 at 2:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Notre Dame -21
Three Things to Watch
1. Pittsburgh defensive backfield vs. Notre Dame receivers
Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi loves to mix up coverages, but in his heart he is a press coverage, bring heat kind of guy. The problem comes when their opponents are good in protection and the receivers have time to get open. The Pitt front has had problems creating chaos this year — especially against quality teams — meaning Dane Jackson and the other corners will probably have to have a big day against the Irish. Notre Dame features a couple of big, athletic targets in Miles Boykin and Chase Claypool along with a nice possession receiver in Chris Finke. With an accurate quarterback in Ian Book, the Irish passing game will be difficult to contain.
2. Panthers' running game
Pitt has had an interesting year in terms of running the ball. They had 245 rushing yards against a stiff Penn State defense and 265 vs. Syracuse. But the Panthers had limited success against Georgia Tech and UCF. They will now face a very good Notre Dame defensive front seven with safeties that will come up in run support. Kenny Pickett is still finding his way as the Panthers' quarterback, so running backs Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall will have to make something happen on Saturday if Pitt has any hope.
3. Notre Dame’s aggressive defense
If Pittsburgh doesn’t establish a competent running game, Notre Dame will line up and go full bore at Pickett. The Irish have a deep group of talented defensive linemen that they will send at the Pitt offense in waves. Last Saturday night, the defense was without injured end Daelin Hayes — who will probably be out this week as well — and lost Julian Okwara in the second quarter to a targeting call. No problem. Khalid Kareem was a monster once again and younger players like Ade Ogundeji and Justin Ademilola came in and kept the train rolling. Pitt has had issues protecting Pickett and giving up tackles for lost yardage so the Panthers' offensive line needs to be on point this weekend.
Pitt got Syracuse at the perfect time and the same is true with Notre Dame this weekend. The Orange left all they had on the Memorial Stadium field the week before going to Pittsburgh, almost knocking off No. 4 Clemson. The Panthers now face Notre Dame fresh off consecutive wins against ranked teams. Plus, Notre Dame is going through midterm exams right now and that is always a stressful time for the Irish players. The Panthers will get a little something out of the running game and make things interesting for much of the game. But the Irish, who have been very strong in the second half of games this year, will wake up and put the Panthers down early in the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Notre Dame 37, Pittsburgh 21
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.