Notre Dame hits the road for the first time of the 2020 season on Saturday to take on the Pittsburgh Panthers, a long time rival that doesn’t usually get mentioned often as a rival despite playing the Irish over 70 times. Pitt limps into this one following three straight losses while the Irish are coming off a sluggish offensive performance that raised plenty of questions about their potential for the season.
As always, the Pitt defense has been stingy at times this year, but they’ve been vulnerable the last three weeks. Will the Irish continue that trend?
What Worries Me This Week
Notre Dame’s passing game. Maybe this is the week that the Irish passing game finally starts clicking, but the signs have not been there that this offense will be able to move the ball in the air as we have seen in the past. The wind did play a factor last week, and so too has the limited availability of the wide receiving corps this year. That said, Louisville’s defense has been a sieve this year, and the Irish couldn’t get their passing game going.
Pitt’s defense will give the Irish the opportunity to make plays down the field if Ian Book has time to pass, but can the Irish offense make those plays? They may, but if they do, it will be the first time this year we’ve seen it.
Pitt games are almost all a fight. Brian Kelly has only lost to Pitt once in six tries at Notre Dame, but of the five wins, all but one was a fight. In 2018 the Panthers almost ruined Notre Dame’s perfect season. Everyone knows the story of the 2012 game. The 2011 game was a slog that ended 15-12. Only the 2015 contest wasn’t that close, and even in that game, the Panthers scored late to make it less comfortable.
Weird things just seem to happen when Notre Dame plays Pitt during the Brian Kelly era. Pitt has also had a history of pulling upsets in recent years. From an intangibles factor, this game is problematic.
Turnovers. The Notre Dame defense hasn’t been creating turnovers this year. It’s one of the few areas that Clark Lea’s unit has not excelled in this year. They are producing a lot of tackles for loss and havoc plays, but they haven’t been generating turnovers so far this year. If the Pitt defense does create some turnovers and the Irish defense doesn’t, it’s one of the few ways that Pitt can pull the upset.
What Doesn’t Worry Me This Week
Notre Dame’s running game. This game is being billed a strength vs. strength matchup because Pitt’s rushing defense is leading the country, but they haven’t faced a rushing offense like Notre Dame’s. The Irish offensive line is getting legitimately hyped as one of the best in the country because they are damn good. The Irish also have a stable of running backs capable of taking advantage of the running lanes the line is providing.
Will Notre Dame run for over 200 yards again this weekend? Maybe not, but Notre Dame will have success running the football.
Pitt’s offense. Pitt hasn’t had a 100-yard rusher so far this year and has been relatively one dimensional through their first six games of the year. Clark Lea’s defense rebounded nicely last weekend after the Florida State offense moved the ball easier than most have against the Irish. The Cardinal offense was one of the most explosive in the country before running into the Irish defense last weekend.
Lea will have his defense locked in tomorrow and ready to shut down the Panther offense. They might hit a play here or there, but they are not going to sustain drives to put up many points.
First road game of the year. This is the first time Notre Dame is going on the road this year since the Wake Forest game was postponed following Notre Dame’s COVID-19 outbreak. This won’t be what the Irish are used to traveling compared to other years, obviously, but maybe getting away from campus is what this team needs to rebound from a lackluster performance like we saw last weekend.
Players I’m Watching This Week
- Tommy Tremble – I’m still waiting for Tremble to have his breakout game this season in the passing game. He’s been an absolute animal as a run blocker but hasn’t had a big game receiving yet.
- Kevin Austin – This will be his third game back, and he only has one reception so far. He nearly had a touchdown last week, but maybe this is the week he finally breaks free.
- Isaiah Foskey – Kelly said that Foskey is one of the players he needs to get on the field more. He was a pass-rushing nightmare the first couple of weeks but then silent last week.
- Kurt Hinish – Hinish has been very effective this year, albeit a bit unnoticed. He’s returning home this weekend, and players tend to have big games in their homecoming.
- Avery Davis/Lawrence Keys – Notre Dame’s been using Davis in various ways at times but hasn’t fully unleashed him. It will be interesting to see what kind of snap breakdown Davis and Keys have now that Keys has passed concussion protocol and is available.
- Joe Wilkins – Wilkins is another player that Kelly said needs more playing time. Wilkins had a few catches in the opener but has not been heard from since. The last time we saw him, he caught everything thrown his way.
- Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah – He’s good for a couple of highlight reel hits a week.
I don’t think Pitt will score enough points for this game to be uncomfortable, but I am also not expecting this to be an easy game by any means. Maybe Pat Narduzzi does something like single cover Braden Lenzy without any safety help, and the Irish sore a few long touchdowns and make it easy, but I think we’re in for a tough contest. Look for the Irish to score late to pull away.
Notre Dame 24, Pitt 10
Austin and Lenzy are now done
Move Armstrong back to WR. He’s not doing anything at RB. Get the young guys Johnson and Watts ready to step up. Their time has come sooner rather than later! Scheme ways to use all the TEs, including flexing them out wide a la Tyler Eifert.
Clemson will simply dominate the line and push the OL back all night. nD will not run the ball all night on the Clemson D. They will also clamp down on the WRs and force Book to make contested throws. He hasn’t proven he can, however, and the ND WRs haven’t proven they can come down with tough catches.
The only chance ND has to keep it close and not be embarrassed at home on national TV is if the D can make a few stops and get a few TOs and keep Clemson to 40. Perhaps the O can score 20. Is Clemson 40-ND 20 respectable? It’s certainly not if you think you’re actually a top 5 team.
The most popular player on the team is now in the game. Now ND can get serious.
Mayer is a special player.
Seems Like now would be the time for Kelly to insert the backup QB and get him some meaningful reps. Doubt that will happen
Agreed. Get Jurkovec in there.
I was thinking Montgomery Vangorder.
We will hear from our hopeless romantics that this was a great win. It was certainly easier than it would’ve been had Pitt played with any urgency and had a pulse.
What we need to analyze and not lose sight of the forest for the trees is the problems the O line had opening holes and protecting Book. Do you think the Clemson D will make it easier on these over-rated bums? We also can’t overlook underwhelming WR play with the exception of Skworonek. ND’s DBs are also a liability. It’s an indictment that a LB can play the ball in the air better than our DBs! Finally, who knows about our STs. Sure, the had a blocked punt but haven’t done much in the return game all season to help set up the O with a short field. Doerer is a question mark beyond 40 this season.
I couldn’t care less about feasting on the sisters of the poor. BK has done that regularly of late. What he doesn’t have is a signature win against a top team. Let’s talk after the Clemson game if ND wins!
Only a miracle intercession from Our Lady will suffice to beat Clemson!
Let’s be serious for a minute. Does anyone really think Notre Dame is a legit playoff team. I sure dont. Book hasn’t improved at all. Maybe regressed if anything. Pitt is horrible.
Agreed, Jeff. Only the pie-in-the-sky types on here think this O can compete with a Clemson, Bama, Ohio St. team.
Book is horrendous. Thank goodness for Skworonek, The other WRs are just MIA. The O line can’t get a push consistently. Clemson’s D line will have these bums on skates all night.
Who knows about the D. Like others they’ve played, Pitt is horrible on O. Had they had their starting QB it might be a different game. ND’s DBs still can’t play the ball in the air.
Bramblett is a bum! When you need a big punt more often than not he shanks it. When you need him to pooch it he kicks it in the endzone.
Right now this team is no where near Clemson. Clemson had a bad game and still won big.
That goal to goal series perfectly illustrates the mediocrity of Book, Reese, the O line, the WRs, you name it.
This is the most over-rated team in the FBS. Plain and simple.
Keep on feasting on these garbage teams, ND. Let’s see what happens against Clemson. Play like they’ve been playing on O and it won’t be close.
Plus Lawrence is not going to miss wide open WRs for TDs!
Bramblett sucks ass!
It appears Kevin Austin has suffered a broken foot and is most likely done for the season.
Gotta give the kid Johnson a look now I think.
But this is BK we’re talking about. Stubborn as a jackass!
Can McKinley make a catch?
Can the O line open some holes for the RBs?
Can the DBs make a play?
Can the D get off the field on 3rd down?
The answer to these questions will determine whether or not ND wins and by how much. Right now it looks like no, no, no, and no.
A real number one was sluggish and still won by a blow out!
Nothing about the Johnson kid. What’s up with his status. Got to be an issue if a 5 star isn’t playing when his position is not getting results expected.
Notre Dame is ranked #3 in the nation. If ND is a legit #3 team they should stomp on Pitt. 45-10 would be acceptable. What would Alabama, Clemson, or Ohio St do to Pitt. All three would most likely hang 60 points on Pitt. ND will barely squeak by 23-14 and will move backwards in the polls.
Now do Bama vs Ole Miss
You got it. Bama will hang 60 plus on Ole Miss. The Rebels will hang tough but eventually wear down. 65-42 Bama. Always have a solid Plan B.