Predictions: Notre Dame at Pittsburgh


The Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team travels back to Pennsylvania this Saturday to face the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field. Playing at noon, the 7-1 Irish enter the game ranked 5th in the College Football Playoff rankings and looking to put another quality win on their resume. The Panthers, meanwhile, come into the match-up with a 6-2 record, hoping to pull off the upset and stay in the ACC Championship hunt.

Fresh off of a come-from-behind win at Temple on Halloween, Notre Dame brings its high-powered offense into another tough test. Although not as stingy as the Owls defense, the Pittsburgh defense is 37th in the country in total scoring (22.1 points allowed per game) and 26th in total defense (325 yards per game). Especially stout against the pass (186.5 yards per game, ranked 27th) but also very good against the run (138.8 yards per game, ranked 37th), the Panthers will look to follow the lead of teams like Clemson and Temple, who were able to sell out to stop the run and slow down ND RB C.J. Prosise, forcing QB DeShone Kizer to make plays with his arm and his feet and producing scenarios where the defense could force a few big turnovers. Thus, it will be up to the Notre Dame offensive line to impose their will and open lanes for Prosise against the Panthers defensive front seven, which includes the likes of LBs Matt Galambos (46 tackles, 8 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 INT) and Nicholas Grigsby (36 tackles, 5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 4 QB hurries) and DL Ejuan Price (8.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 6 QB hurries), Shakir Soto (2 sacks), and Tyrique Jarrett (5.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks).

Kizer passing the ball efficiently could end up being the key if the Panthers run defense can indeed slow down Prosise, and so WRs Will Fuller, Chris Brown, and Torii Hunter Jr. will need to make some plays downfield against Pitt’s secondary, which features freshman S Jordan Whitehead (team-leading 62 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 pass break-ups, 2 pass deflections, 1 forced fumble) and CB Avonte Maddox (44 tackles, 2 INT, 6 pass break-ups, 8 pass deflections). Like almost every ND opponent, the Panthers secondary hasn’t seen a group of receivers this talented and fast this season, so look for Kizer to definitely have his chances to carve up the defense and alleviate the pressure on Prosise and the running game by hitting Fuller over the top and getting the ball to Brown and Hunter in space.

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The Pittsburgh offense, unlike their defense, is statistically less-than-mediocre. Ranked 90th in scoring and 91st in total offense, the Panthers get the majority of their production from RB Qadree Ollison and WR Tyler Boyd. Ollison has 716 yards and 8 TD on the year, and has shown to be a big-play threat considering he has a long rush of 71 yards this season and is averaging 5.6 yards per carry. Boyd is one of the most talented receivers in the country, and has 63 catches for 578 yards and 4 TD so far this year. QB Nathan Peterman has okay numbers (1373 yards, 67.4% completion rate, 10 TD and just 3 INT), but shouldn’t be able to torch the Irish unless they experience various major mental lapses (which as we all know, is totally not possible).

The front seven will need to shut down Ollison, and so senior captain Sheldon Day, junior Isaac Rochell, sophomore Daniel Cage, junior captain Jaylon Smith, and senior captain Joe Schmidt will all be instrumental in getting penetration, filling gaps, and bringing him down before he can break loose into the second level. Meanwhile, CBs KeiVarae Russell and Cole Luke will need to work on shutting down Boyd and fellow WR Dontez Ford, who has 16 catches for 328 yards this season. The play of senior captain Matthias Farley could be very important, because typical-starter Elijah Shumate is suspended for the first half due to his targeting penalty against Temple. Farley needs to keep everything in front of him so as not to allow any big plays, and to help out in run support, something Shumate has been great at all season. Pittsburgh’s two tight ends (J.P. Holtz and Scott Orndoff) are also talented and involved enough in the offense to cause trouble, so the linebackers and safeties will need to make sure they keep an eye on them on passing downs, especially in goal line situations.

Editor Andrew HallNotre Dame 31, Pittsburgh 21
Editor Joshua VowlesNotre Dame 33, Pittsburgh 17
Staff Writer Walt KosinNotre Dame 27, Pittsburgh 17
Staff Writer Manny De JesusNotre Dame 34, Pittsburgh 24
Staff Writer Chase EyrichNotre Dame 28, Pittsburgh 20
Staff Writer Pat SullivanNotre Dame 37, Pittsburgh 24

Pittsburgh is certainly no pushover, considering they have a few big playmakers on offense and a very good defense thanks to head coach Pat Narduzzi. However, their defense is not quite as strong as Temple’s, and their offense can only go as far as Boyd and Ollison take it. I expect this to be close until late in the 3rd or early in the 4th quarter (because that’s how Pitt-ND games seem to go), at which point the ND defense finally clamps down and the Kizer-led offense steps on the Panthers’ collective throats, putting the game away for good.