Notre Dame is 8-0 and ranked third in the BCS standings following its win in primetime over Oklahoma in the most watched college football game this season. There hasn’t been this much hype around the Irish in this millennium, but the Irish can’t overlook their next opponent, a dangerous Pitt squad. The following are this week’s key matchups the Irish must win in order to defeat the Panthers and remain undefeated:
Manti Te’o versus Ray Graham
The Irish’s Heisman candidate will face another talented running back this week in South Bend, this time its Pitt’s senior Ray Graham. Graham is a superb talent whose season has cut short last year due to injury. Graham has showed no signs of the injury lingering this season though as he has totaled 622 yards and seven touchdowns rushing, to go along with 22 receptions for 244 yards and two touchdowns. Graham is a back that can contribute by catching the ball out of the backfield; as a result Te’o’s improved pass coverage will be needed to go along with his prowess against the run.
Devin Street versus Bennett Jackson
Notre Dame cornerback Bennett Jackson has more than surpassed expectations thus far this season. Jackson has successfully contained opposing team’s top receivers and has added four interceptions as well as being third on the team in tackles. This week’s challenge is Panthers receiver Devin Street. Street has totalled 50 receptions for 695 yards and four touchdowns this season. He is a tall receiver at 6’4’’ so Jackson will need to play his best to slow him down as he is a much different challenge than Oklahoma’s Kenny Stiles.
Braxston Cave versus Aaron Donald
Notre Dame’s fifth-year senior center is a three year starter and has started all eight games for the Irish this season following a season ending foot injury last campaign. Cave will be charged with slowing down Pitt’s talented defensive tackle Aaron Donald this week. Last season Donald recorded 11 sacks and was a second-team all-American for the Panthers. This season Donald has totalled 31 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 10 quarterback hurries. Donald is not a big defensive tackle at 275 pounds; however, he is very mobile so Cave will need to be on his toes to stop him from getting to the quarterback.
Jarred Holley versus Tyler Eifert
Notre Dame’s all-American tight-end Tyler Eifert constantly demands double and even triple teams in coverage to slow him down. Leading the charge to slow him down this week will be safety Jarred Holley. Holley was on the preseason watch-list for the Jim Thorpe award, presented to the nation’s top defensive back, and was first-team all-Big East last season. Holley has 51 tackles, three pass breakups and one interception this season. His effort to stop Eifert will be even more important as Pitt lost linebacker Dan Mason to a season ending injury last week versus Temple.