What to Watch: Will Notre Dame TE’s Break Out vs. Pitt?

The big shining light on this matchup is along the two lines for Notre Dame and Pittsburgh. Notre Dame is currently 5th nationally in yards per carry on the ground. Pittsburgh is currently 1st nationally in yards per carry allowed. Strength vs strength as people like to say. I’m not making that one of the bullet points in this piece because it’s pretty much the whole thing.

The best part of Notre Dame’s team is the offensive line. There will be some games when they play just good and that’s enough to win, because their level of good is above most other positions. This doesn’t appear to be one of those games. They need to play at or above the level they’ve shown so far this season. Such is the nature of being the best group, there are some occasions when you have to be at your best, better than the best in the nation. How good Notre Dame can be this season will be answered in part this weekend. Because Notre Dame can win without a tremendous performance from the line, Pittsburgh isn’t that type of opponent. But, they can’t be a playoff team or anything close to that if the line can’t win a matchup like this.

Beyond anything else this weekend, beyond the actual game and how it’s going, is the line performing against one of the best front sevens in football is the biggest long term takeaway from this game.

How Are The Backs Handling A Better Defensive Front?

We focus on the offensive line, but this a huge game for Notre Dame’s running backs as well. It’s been fun running through enormous holes against Florida State and USF, and the Louisville/Duke matchups provided tougher challenges, but this is a different level. Main backs Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree have been strong this season picking holes and getting an extra yard or two out of runs. That will be paramount against an opponent like this where the holes close faster and the correct or incorrect cut is the difference between a successful play and one that blows up.

A lot has been made about how some strong Notre Dame lines have fared in big games, and the results haven’t been fantastic. Obviously the line hasn’t played up to par in a lot of these matchups, but the backs have made their fair share of mistakes as well, and against strong run defending units, you cannot miss an opportunity for big plays. (Think of this being the run game version of missing an open player down the field in the passing game.)

Is This The Breakout For Tremble And Mayer?

Most of the conversation on the passing game this week is centered around the wide receivers and them dealing with the press coverage. To be clear it’s an important matchup to follow and watch, and Pitt has given up a bunch of big plays to receivers this season.

But, in previous matchups in this series Notre Dame hasn’t boasted a tight end room as talented as this one and if Pitt is going to bring pressure (they will) that will expose them to 1 on 1 matchups throughout the secondary, including at tight end.

Book has shown a willingness to take shots to the tight ends this season, he just hasn’t always connected. This is frustrating for everyone, but the important takeaway from it is the first part of the two you need to be successful is present: the tight ends are open and available. And if Book can complete the second of the two things, completing the passes, we know Pitt will stubbornly stay in the coverage they are showing because if they are willing to let Will Fuller tear them apart in 2015, they’ll be willing to let Tommy Tremble and Michael Mayer do the same thing.

What Roles Do Isaiah Foskey And Jack Kiser Play?

Brian Kelly mentioned this week these two players needed to see the field more, to the delight of many fans. But, each only played a handful of snaps against Louisville, so more could be in the 15-20 play range. So what does more really mean? Are we talking about a light uptick in snaps or the majority of snaps?

This really seems like a situation where Notre Dame is sitting on a pot of gold they just need to cash in. No one has looked as disruptive or explosive on the line than Foskey this season. He oozes athletic ability and is the type of player that makes fans dream big dreams at the position.

Kiser feels much the same way. I understand his “breakout” game came against USF and they aren’t good, but I can’t imagine a similar performance coming from other two linebackers. We haven’t seen anything similar to his instincts and athletic ability so far this season. His ascent was thwarted by COVID and having to go into quarantine, but he did see spot duty against the Cardinals.

Notre Dame already has a good defense, but pass rush and the play at Buck have been the question marks so far this season. Could Notre Dame find the answers against Pitt? Let’s watch and see.

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