Notre Dame Football Primer: Irish battle Pittsburgh Panthers in first road matchup

After an underwhelming victory against Louisville, the Fighting Irish hit the road for the first time this season to take on long-time rival, the Pittsburgh Panthers. These two programs have a storied history, and Brian Kelly has had several close encounters with the Panthers during his tenure. In an unprecedented season, the Irish must find a way to win on the road before they can even fathom the looming Clemson matchup.

Essential Game Info:

  • Game Time: October 24th at 3:30 pm ET on ABC
  • Location: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Matchup History: The Irish are 48-21-1 all-time against the Pittsburgh Panthers (Last meeting 2018: Notre Dame won 19 to 14)
  • Current Odds: Notre Dame -9.5

Weather Forecast

The current forecast for GameDay shows a 50% chance of rain with a high of 60 degrees and a low of 45.

Pittsburgh Details:

  • Conference: Atlantic Coast Conference
  • Head Coach: Pat Narduzzi
  • 2020 Record: 3-3 (2-3)
  • 2019 Record: 8-5 (4-4)

Pittsburgh Storylines:

Pat Narduzzi’s 6th year as head coach of the Pittsburgh Panthers. Brian Kelly has been facing off against Pat Narduzzi since he took over in South Bend back in 2010, and Narduzzi was the defensive coordinator at Michigan State. The Pittsburgh Head Coach is known for his strong defenses that are centered around stopping the rushing attack.

The Panthers rush defense is suffocating. Pittsburgh is holding opponents to 62 rushing yards per game. Last weekend, the Miami Hurricanes had 42 rushing attempts for 109 yards (2.6 yards per carry) but were able to put up 222 yards through the air (7.2 yards per pass). It will be fascinating to see how the Pittsburgh Defense matchups up against the run-heavy Irish Offense this Saturday afternoon.

Key players for the Pittsburgh Panthers. The Pittsburgh Offense is led by starting quarterback Kenny Pickett who is expected to return after missing last week’s game with an ankle injury. Pickett is 108 for 180 (60%) with 1,389 passing yards, 8 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. He is second on the team with 119 rushing yards and has 5 rushing touchdowns.

The Pittsburgh defense is led by defensive lineman Patrick Jones II and linebacker SirVocea Dennis. Jones II has 25 tackles on the season with 7 sacks, while Dennis leads the team with 35 tackles and has produced 2 sacks.

Notre Dame Storylines:

Notre Dame passing attack only musters 106 passing yards. Ian Book went 11 for 19 with 0 touchdowns and 0 passing interceptions. Luckily, his running ability saved the day as the Irish Quarterback had 12 rushes for 47 yards and 1 touchdown. But when are the Notre Dame Receivers going to get open?

It is time to utilize the full receiving core. Kevin Austin Jr. almost caught his first touchdown of the season last week but was rarely on the field. Coach Kelly said he was 100%, so it is uncertain why he has not seen more action. Freshman Jordan Johnson has the highest ceiling of any receiver but has not received an opportunity. After only 108 passing yards last week, what could it hurt to put him on the field?

Irish must improve in the red zone efficiency. Even with the horrendous passing game, Tommy Rees was able to control the game with 232 yards and five red-zone appearances. If Notre Dame executed like in years prior, that could have been 35 points on the board.

Clark Lea’s defense thrives once again. After an unusual performance against Florida State, a program on the rise with quarterback Jordan Travis, Notre Dame’s Defense held Louisville to only 13 first downs and a single touchdown overall.

This defense will need to maintain the dominance against Pittsburgh because it is uncertain when or if the Notre Dame passing game will ever show up.

Head to Head Matchups:

Notre Dame Offense vs. Pittsburgh Defense: This weekend will be the epitome of strength versus strength. The Fighting Irish rushing attack against the vaunted Pittsburgh run-stopping defense. Ian Book and Tommy Rees must get issues figured out this weekend, or they will be upset on the road.

Ian Book has been able to find receivers during his career in South Bend, and that is why this season, it seems like the burden should be more on Tommy Rees and the receivers to get separation.

Advantage: Tie

Pittsburgh Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense: The Panthers Offense is averaging 30 points per game this year, while Clark Lea’s defense is holding opponents to only 11.5 points per game. Pittsburgh does have a 3-3 record this fall, but all the losses have been extremely close.

Even though the Irish are hitting the road, I give the Notre Dame Defense the advantage in this category.

Advantage: Notre Dame

Special Teams: The Pittsburgh Panthers kicking game is headlined by Alex Kessman, who is 11 for 16 (68.8%) this season with a long of 58 yards. For the Irish, Jonathan Doerer is 5 for 7 with a long of 48 yards.

I know hindsight is 20/20, but why Brian Kelly would elect to call a fake field-goal when Jay Bramblett needed to gain 9-yards is beyond comprehension. A field goal would have put the Irish up by two scores in a game that Kelly already knew would be a battle.

Advantage: Tie

My Prediction:

The Irish should be on upset alert. If Notre Dame plays as they did against Louisville on Saturday afternoon, they will lose to Pittsburgh. There must be an improvement in the passing attack this week and moving forward. Ian Book has the ability, and I believe there is too much talent in the receiving core for this to persist.

Red zone offense will determine this game. Notre Dame scored only 12 points on five red-zone appearances last weekend. Field goals alone will not win this week’s matchup. Pittsburgh is notorious for stopping the running game, and Tommy Rees must have the Irish Offense prepared.

Perhaps going on the road will motivate this squad, but unless Tommy Rees can start utilizing the weapons on offense, this #3 ranking will not last long. I have Notre Dame winning by a field goal in Pittsburgh, but if Kevin Austin Jr. and Braden Lenzy can be utilized, it could be more.

Prediction: Notre Dame 24 Pittsburgh 21

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5 Comments

  1. Maybe I think with my heart too much and not with my head but I think Notredame is going to get the passing game going this week and they win 35 to 14. I think Notredame is also going to play with more of a sense of urgency. Like a lot of you I’m just not sold on Book being anything close to elite. He seems to have regressed with his short and medium throws and doesn’t nearly push the ball down the field enough. I do think the injuries yo both Lenzy and Austin has hurt Notredame and I think some of the problem is with the routes, scheme etc Book just misses open receivers that you just dont see Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fiels,Mac Jones the Trask kid at Florida miss.

  2. So many questions:
    Will NDs O’ scheme counter the pressure D’ of Pitt who’ll likely blitz and pack the box?
    Will we see more of Austin, and any of Frosh WR Johnson or WR Wilkins?
    Will we see more involvement in the passing game of TEs Tremble? Mayer? Wright?
    How will the CoVid protocols concerning travel and preparation affect NDs first road game?
    Will Book throw more after scrambling from the pocket instead of tuck and run?
    Will the OL establish itself vs. Pitt’s early season outstanding run D’ numbers ?
    How healthy is Pitt’s QB re: his ankle injury that stopped him from playing last week?
    How much pressure will Lea’s D’ scheme put on a recovering QB?
    Will it again come down to making FGs instead of scoring TDs?
    Like last week’s game, will we even want to watch a ND replay?

      1. Thought – provoking queries, Ron
        Haiku Pitt
        The Irish arrive
        Austin & Kyren will thrive
        Five-0 the Irish survive

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