The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are back following the first of two bye weeks with a confusing opponent on tap for Saturday. That foe is the Pitt Panthers, who enter the contest with a 2-5 record, while the Irish return with a 6-2 mark. The confusion about the Pathers stems from trying to figure out which PItt team will show up.
On Saturday, the Panthers fell 21-17 at Wake Forest, just one week after they jolted the Louisville Cardinals in a 38-21 upset. Louisville was clearly suffering from a hangover of sorts in that contest after springing their own upset of Notre Dame on October 7. The hope is that the Irish have moved on from their invigorating win over the USC Trojans, especially with a trip to Clemson on the horizon on November 4.
Below are some of the key matchups to watch on Saturday:
QB Sam Hartman vs. Pitt Defense
Thanks to the standout Notre Dame defense, Hartman’s quiet night against Southern Cal largely flew under the radar. The veteran threw for two touchdowns and just 126 yards but was able to erase the memory of his rough performance from the week before. The Panthers have done well against the run this year, which may put the onus on Hartman to air it out with his available receiving options.
Pitt’s pass defense struggled in a home loss to North Carolina and then had even more issues in falling to Virginia Tech the following week. Louisville actually had 350 passing yards against them, but that came on 52 pass attempts. Trying to defend against Hartman and his potential targets as well as the Irish running game could make for a long afternoon.
Notre Dame Defense vs. QB Christian Veilleux
It would be hard to top the defensive performance that the Irish delivered against Southern Cal, an effort that likely wrecked the chances of Caleb Williams capturing a second consecutive Heisman. Pitt doesn’t have the firepower that the Trojans possessed, so in theory, this should make for an easier afternoon. The only risk is in the team looking ahead to their Clemson battle.
Veilleux has started the last two games for the Panthers, beginning with the Louisville upset. He replaced former Notre Dame signal caller Phil Jurkovec, who’s struggled in his first season at Pitt. Veilleux originally began at Penn State before heading east for more opportunities. He did make a rookie mistake late in the loss at Wake, something Irish defenders hope will occur more frequently on Saturday.
RB Audric Estime vs. MLB Shayne Simon
Estime remains the central component of the Notre Dame rushing attack, though he has been getting breathers from players such as Jeremiyah Price. Estime hasn’t broken the 100-yard threshold since the Central Michigan win and will be challenged against a Pitt team that’s allowing just 3.1 yards per carry, including just 71 yards total in the Louisville victory.
Simon spent the first four years of his collegiate career with the Irish from 2018 to 2021 before transferring last year. He put up modest numbers at Notre Dame but has been able to make more of a dent since joining the Panthers squad. He knows how to get into opposing backfields, with a trio of sacks and five tackles-for-loss to his credit this season.
CB Cam Hart vs. WR Konata Mumpfield
Mumpfield has one of the better names in college football, but it’s his production that the Panthers like most about him. He leads the team this season with 30 receptions as a slot receiver. He had eight touchdowns in his one year at Akron and is more of a possession wideout who will frequently targeted by Veilleux.
Hart is a veteran in the Irish secondary and was part of the strong defensive effort against USC. He’s another Notre Dame defender who’s contributions may not have been prominent when it comes to statistics. However, his veteran leadership is invaluable to this unit and will help in trying to shut down the Panthers’ passing attack.
TE Mitchell Evans vs. SS Donovan McMillon
Given Hartman’s lower numbers against Southern Cal, it was inevitable that Evans’ own numbers of just two receptions for 13 yards would suffer in the process. Still, his 17 receptions in the three previous contests helped vault him into the reception lead for the Irish, with a number of his grabs coming in clutch situations.
McMillon is the Panthers’ leading tackler with 57 stops on the year. However, it’s usually not a good sign for a team’s defense when a player in the secondary tops the tackles list. Yet, he can deliver hard hits and will usually bring down someone in his sights, though he can be beaten. That could mean another big day for Evans.