Notre Dame returns home for their second last home game of the season on Saturday to host the unranked Pitt Panthers hoping to keep their undefeated season and playoff dreams in tact. It wasn’t so long ago the Irish were in a similar situation against the Panthers and needed a thriller to keep an undefeated season alive. Will the Irish keep a goose egg in the loss column or will the Irish get all they can handle again from a Pitt team looking to ruin Notre Dame’s season? Let’s dig in.
What Worries Me this Week
A let down in a classic trap game
Notre Dame is coming off of two emotional games in back to back wins with their rivalry game beat down of Stanford and then the trip last week to Lane Stadium and the overmatched Hokies. That is a lot to get up for in back to back weeks and this game has classic trap game written all over it with a bye week on tap for next week.
Brian Kelly and his staff have no doubt preached this to their team this week, but it is still something to look out for this week as Notre Dame looks to stay undefeated. Remember, in 2012 undefeated Notre Dame hosted Pitt fresh off a 31-13 win over Oklahoma and needed triple overtime and a healthy does of luck to stay unbeaten.
Notre Dame is in the midst of midterms this week as well and at a University where academics are taken seriously, that is always a worry. Historically, Notre Dame has had some less than inspiring performances during midterms week. Kelly embraced the challenge of midterms earlier this week when he addressed the media, but after getting home late last weekend, then going through midterms this week, and preparing for Pitt this week, it would be easy to see a scenario in which the Irish looked a bit sluggish at least early.
What Doesn’t Worry Me this Week
Pitt’s running game
Pitt is going to want to run the football – it’s their identity. Notre Dame is pretty good at stopping the run though and while the Irish defense did let up a long run up the middle of their defense in back to back weekends, I am not worried about Notre Dame’s ability to stop the run this weekend.
Dexter Williams continuing his hot streak
Dexter Williams has been a man on a mission the last two weeks after serving his four game suspension. That will continue this weekend as Williams will once again run for over 150 yards as Notre Dame waits for the rest of its backfield to get healthy. Williams is averaging just under 170 yards a game and he’s done that against Stanford and Virginia Tech. He is about to face some much easier defenses to run on and the only thing that might prevent him from topping 1,000 yards even with missing four games is Jafar Armstrong cutting into his carries too much when he returns from injury following the bye.
Ian Book doing the same
For a brief second most Notre Dame fans had to think that we were about to see Ian Book come back down to earth last week after his second quarter interception. Book bounced back in a huge way though and ended up throwing for another 271 and two touchdowns. He had the chance for an 5 or 6 touchdown actually but he misfired on a number of deep throws.
Book will continue his hot streak on Saturday and could top 300 yards with another 3 TDs before giving way to Phil Jurkovec again just as he did three weeks ago in his first start of the season.
Players to Watch this Week
- Daelin Hayes – Coming off the stinger it will be interesting to see how much he plays, if at all. Kelly said he is cleared to play but didn’t explicitly say he will play.
- Khalid Kareem – He’s been a bit banged up all year and is playing on a bit of a balky ankle. The bye week will do him good, but until then watch how that ankle holds up this weekend.
- Michael Young – One of these weeks Young is going to explode. He had the big screen against Wake Forest and has been quiet since. I think he makes some noise again this week.
- Donte Vaughn – With Troy Pride Jr banged up with an ankle injury as well, Vaughn figures to play more. Look for Pitt to target him since he will be filling in from time to time for Pride.
- Ian Book – If he starts connecting on some of those deep balls, this offense will become deadly. Expect to see Chip Long dial up a few early.
- Julian Okwara – He is back after missing the 2nd half last week because of a targeting call. Look for him to come back with avengence this weekend.
- Alohi Gilman – It’s been a few weeks since Gilman has been involved in a big time negative play. He’s due for one this weekend.
How’d I do Last Week?
Not too bad. I had Notre Dame winning and covering the spread (-6.5) and that is exactly what happen. I just didn’t give the Irish enough credit as the Irish ended up winning by 22 points (45-23) and I had them only winning by 10 (31-21).
In case you haven’t figured out by now, there isn’t a whole lot that worries me this week and I expect the Irish to have another strong performance as they head into the bye week. With midterms this week and coming off the big road win, they might start just a bit slow, but this one should a comfortable win and give Kelly and staff an opportunity to get some youngsters some playing time. Ian Book throws for another 3 touchdowns, Dexter Williams runs for 2, and the Irish score on defense again this week.
Notre Dame 45, Pitt 10