6 Key Matchups for Notre Dame to Stay Unbeaten vs. Pitt

Continuing their methodical move upward, the fifth-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish enter this week’s home clash against the Pittsburgh Panthers with a still-spotless 6-0 mark. The Irish began the season ranked 12th in the AP poll and have been inching their way up while vanquishing their opponents.

One of the chief issues this week will be to avoid a letdown after two emotional wins. Notre Dame enters this game as three-touchdown favorites in front of a friendly home crowd against a Pittsburgh team that’s split their six contests and is coming off a wild overtime victory. That could be a recipe for complacency, something the Irish can’t afford if they want to compete in the college football playoffs.

Some of the pivotal matchups to watch in Saturday’s game include:

QB Ian Book vs. Pittsburgh Defense

In what will mark his fourth start of the season, Book is looking to continue his prolific output that’s seen him throw for 874 yards and eight touchdowns over the past three games. He did hit a brief rocky patch against Virginia Tech, throwing his first pick of the year, but could have a big day against a shaky Pitt defense.

That’s because the Panthers have had trouble keeping opponents out of the end zone, allowing an average of 40 points per game in their last three matchups. Pitt’s rushing snd passing defense have been equally porous in 2018, with the passing side allowing 224 yards per game and only collecting five interceptions for the season.

Notre Dame Defense vs. QB Kenny Pickett

One of the major reasons why the Irish still have a spotless mark is because of the continued strong effort delivered by the defensive unit. While they’ve given up plenty of yardage, this side of the ball has delivered when crunch time arrives. Against Virginia Tech, they allowed just a single score in the second half, allowing the Irish to blow the game open.

Pickett is a sophomore who’s thrown for 880 yards to a host of different teammates. His six touchdown passes are countered by the five interceptions he’s tossed, with the majority of his throws in the intermediate range. While Pitt will likely rely on their running game, getting any level of pressure on Pickett should neutralize him.

RB Dexter Williams vs. LB Quintin Wirginis

Since emerging from the shadows after a four-game suspension, Williams has put up huge numbers in his first two games. After scoring on a 45-yard run the first time he touched the ball against Stanford, he followed that up with a dramatic 97-yard scoring dash against Virginia Tech. A game-breaking back is just what the Irish will need down the stretch and Williams definitely fits that category.

Wirginis is the Panthers’ leading tackler and has also found his way into enemy backfield seven times this year. While he’s aggressive when it comes to getting to the quarterback, Williams needs to be aware that Wirginis has also forced a pair of fumbles this season, which means that the Irish line needs to keep a close watch on him.

LB Te’von Coney vs. RB Qadree Ollison

Coney has been a model of consistency all season long and leads the Irish in tackles with 48 on the year. Last week, he collected nine in that category, including a couple behind the line of scrimmage. He’ll likely work in tandem with Drue Tranquill, who is playing with a broken hand, to keep the main component of the Pitt offense in check.

Ollison has gained 596 yards and reached the end zone five times this year, gaining 192 of those yards last week against Syracuse. The senior has slowly progressed during his Pitt career, but appears to be getting better reads and combining that with more speed. Shutting him down would effectively silence a good portion of the Panther offense.

T Robert Hainsey vs. DE Rashad Weaver

Hainsey has grown more comfortable in his slot, which has helped open up holes for the running game and, more recently, give Book enough time to find his receivers. In just his second year, his continued development helps solidify an integral portion of the Irish line.

One thing that Weaver has been able to accomplish this season for the Panthers is getting into opposing backfields at least once during the game. Even though Pitt was routed by Penn State, Weaver found a way to contribute by forcing one fumble and recovering two.

DE Khalid Kareem vs. T Stefano Millin

Having been a constant pass rushing threat during the six wins so far, Kareem showed last Saturday that relentless pursuit pays dividends. That came when a missed sack eventually resulted in a forced fumble that Julian Love returned for a touchdown. This week, frequent harassment, especially against Pitt’s young signal caller, would shut down their passing attack.

Millin is a graduate transfer from Kent State who has the size at 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds to offer the requisite protection. While the Pitt line has allowed 13 sacks so far, it’s doubtful that Millin’s been matched up against someone of Kareem’s caliber.

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  1. While it’s always interesting to discuss matchups, I typically get uncomfortable with man on man matchups. One hopes the ND coaching staff will have enough info to create game plans on both defense and offense that negate the one on ones except as obviously necessary.

    This will be an interesting test for Book and the team as a whole. More so because of all the attention he and the team are getting. In today’s nasty world, positive “put ups” are short lived and not to be trusted. We are ND! We are a Catholic school. And for that they hate us and always will. Let no one forget that.

    Book’s test will be to see if he can adjust now that teams are seeing his tendencies. Luckily his greatest tendency is to improvise when the script breaks down. Also luckily is that there isn’t a team that will exploit the slightly depleted O-Line. (Maybe the O-line is in top form anyway even with injuries). But now that Book can be scouted, watching how he adjusts is worth focus.

    As for the team, well that will show up on Saturday. If anyone’s heard anything regarding the team’s energy this week, that’s the X-factor. Remember is was around now that fatigue started setting in. Shouldn’t happen this year, but it has to be proven given the track record of years past.

    Still, I’d expect a big win.

  2. I know one game at a time but as fans it is easy to get caught up in the playoff talk and would notredame stand a chance against Alabama. It’s hard to say for sure right now because how much of the season is still left and the uncertainty of if Notredame can win out. I do feel that Notredame is a very good team that will improve from week to week as the season moves on.I just wish Notredame had Will Fuller on this on this team or someone on the outside as fast as him. They just might be unstoppable.

  3. The Irish just need to stay business like in their approach. Don’t let outside noise distract them. They are very capable of blowing out Pitt in this game as long as they take care of the ball and do their thing. Don’t have a let down game.

    And don’t worry Pitt fans. Even if the Irish win big on Saturday, Flutie will tell you all about why Pitt really had the better players and was a few plays away from winning. It’s what he does.

  4. Last time against Pitt in 2015, DeShone Kizer played catch with Will Fuller for 46 and 47-yard TDs. I predict this week will start the same way. Books goes deep to Boykin on the first Irish offensive play from scrimmage. Wait and see. You can bet on it.

  5. Every day for the past week and a half I’ve thought the weather just has to break for the better, but it is still miserable in North Central Indiana. Since I am just getting over the flu (yes folks, CDC has whiffed again – an injection of my 90 year old mother’s chicken soup would have done me as much good as the stupid flu shot I got last month) I really need the weather to clear by gameday! Cold is OK…rain is not OK…and I really want to go to this game.

    BGC ’77 ’82

      1. Thanks NDCRAZYMIKE! I’m already “on” the soup…Gatorade is a new one for me, but I’ll get some…good tip. Strangely, my seat for this game is very close to the student section…there definitely will be no sitting down for the tired old “fac brat” at this one!

        BGC ’77 ’82

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