#3 Notre Dame vs. Pitt – Key Matchups

Pittsburgh Panthers running back Ray Graham (1) carries the ball against Virginia Tech Hokies defensive end Corey Marshall (96) during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. The Pittsburgh Panthers won 35-17. (Photo: Charles LeClaire / US PRESSWIRE)

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.

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  1. There is one thing to remember as well to start this is that back in ’02 showed the same reasons to wonder. Is this team complete, is it able to handle such pressure with each game coming forward, where as other teams take there game as a bowl game playing us. Will our guys take this pressure and make sure to handle each situation given. Only when these guys know to play as a complete team leading forward, that nothing can stop them, onward to victory with the cheering of the crowd and the millions watching. Will only then prove they are a team that plays with heart, and glory. This team has a statement to be made to the world, a statement never to forget, a statement thats made by players who love the game and take each to make eachother better and nothing less. Its the positives that will lead this team with leadership, heart, and for the love to play the game the best they can. Once this team comes together completely, no one can stop them, they must know that, noone else. These boys are so close to what they are working for, with each man on this team, brings with them talent and the love to win. So with that said, time will tell leadership to heart, and the love for the game and not let these other teams fall in their way. Stay strong with each week and together you win it all. Passion. Pride. Glory. Love you guys.

  2. I’m nervous about the game too because Pitt is a team that always has good athletes. Anything can happen and now that the stakes are so high, we’re right to be nervous. However, the mindset of this ND team is so different. I just don’t see the leadership of this team allowing more sloppiness- i.e. penalties and turnovers, the two things that cause upsets. Also, Pitt’s linebacker corp has been DECIMATED from injury. That should provide ample opportunity for Wood and Co. Sunseri will have to pass to his pretty talented receivers. It’s basically the same gameplan as Oklahoma. Keep the receivers in front of you. let them get 7-10 yards- who cares? Just don’t let the big play happen.

    I see the Irish winning this one:

    ND 28
    Pitt 9

  3. All this attention is making me nervous. Alot of the natonal media & “experts” are already crowning the irish 11-0 & getting ready for their big showdown with the trojans…..pitts almost always plays us tough & will most definetly give us all we can handle

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