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