The Irish hold a 25-10-1 edge over the Panthers in Pittsburgh, last winning 42-21 in Charlie Weis' first game as head man in 2005.
Below is a closer look at the Notre Dame/Pittsburgh series…by the numbers.
0 – Interceptions thrown by the Irish vs. the Panthers last season – one of just four games during the Brian Kelly era (Purdue, Pittsburgh, Utah, and Miami 2010) in which a Notre Dame quarterback has not suffered an interception.
1 – Contest during the 15-game Brian Kelly era in which the Irish rushed for fewer than 100 yards and prevailed. In last year's 23-17 Week Six win against Pittsburgh, the Panthers rush defense limited Notre Dame to 87 yards on 31 carries. Decisive among the runs however was a 10-yard scramble and score by quarterback Dayne Crist.
2.5 – Yards-per-carry average of the last seven opponents vs. the Irish. Notre Dame has allowed just 90.9 rushing yards per game over that stretch dating back to the Week 11 upset of Utah that followed the team's Week 10 Bye. Only two of the foes managed a rushing score during that stretch: USC on a four-play, one-yard drive; and Michigan on a fumble recovery score by quarterback Denard Robinson.
3 – Consecutive matchups between the teams decided on the game's final possession. In 2008, Pittsburgh rallied from a 14-point deficit and needed four overtimes to defeat Charlie Weis' Irish in South Bend, 36-33. One year later, the #8 Panthers defeated Weis' Irish, 27-22, ending Notre Dame's final drive hope with a sack/fumble recovery from quarterback Jimmy Clausen. Last season, Brian Kelly's Irish defeated Pittsburgh in South Bend, 23-17 – Irish cornerback Gary Gray knocking down a 4th and 4 Tino Sunseri pass deep in Panthers territory on Pittsburgh's final down.
Three of the team's four meeting prior to the span above were decided by one score as well.
4 – Irish wide receiver Michael Floyd's national rank in both receptions (10.33) and receiving yards (132.33) per game. Floyd's career average of 89.0 yards-per-game ranks as the highest in program history.
5 – National rank for Panthers running back Ray Graham among the nation's rushers. The junior has averaged just over 139 yards per game while piling up six rushing scores (third nationally) through three contests. Graham has one career rushing touchdown vs. the Irish, a two-yard plunge in 2009. It was his breathtaking 53-yard run through, around, and past the Notre Dame defense that set-up the score one play previous.
6.5 – Points by which the Irish are currently favored in Saturday's contest according to the most recent Vegas line. The number is the highest spread between the teams since 2004, a game won by the Panthers in South Bend, 41-38 in overtime. The Irish were favored by a robust 11 points entering that contest.
7 – The minimum number of receptions secured by Irish wide receiver Michael Floyd vs. the Panthers in three career matchups. Floyd hauled in a then career-best 10 grabs for 100 yards and two scores in a 4OT, 2008 defeat. He added seven receptions for 107 yards (plus a fumble) in the '09 defeat in Heinz Field; then caught seven more passes for 59 yards and a score in last season's South Bend victory over the Panthers. Floyd also had a 44-yard catch-and-run called back by penalty in last year's Irish victory.
8 – Consecutive wins by the Irish over the Panthers from 1988-1997. Seven of the victories came within ex-head coach Lou Holtz's final 10 seasons in South Bend. From 1988-1993, and again in 1996, Holtz's Irish routinely pummeled underdog Pittsburgh, winning by 10, 38, 9, 35, 31, 44, and 54 points. The 38-point victory occurred in 1989 when the #1 Irish defeated the #7-ranked Panthers, 45-7 in an ESPN prime time contest. Further, the 35-point victory took place in 1991 when Holtz's 7th-ranked Irish squad buried #12 Pitt, 42-7. The Irish were ranked in each of the eight victories.
Prior to Holtz's seven-game streak, Pittsburgh defeated the Irish coaching legend in back-to-back efforts: 10-9 in 1986 and 30-22 in '87, an upset of the then 4th-ranked Irish.
Bob Davie continued the streak, winning 45-21 in his first season before the Panthers ended the run with a 37-27 victory in 1999, the last game played at Pitt Stadium.
9 – Games since an Irish quarterback has rushed for a touchdown – the last occurring in Week Seven of the 2010 season vs. Western Michigan. Dayne Crist's 9-yard scoring foray that afternoon marked the third consecutive contest in which the Irish signal-caller ran for a score. Crist led the Irish last fall with four rushing touchdowns; a number matched through three games this season by junior running back Cierre Wood.
10 – Notre Dame's national ranking in third down defensive efficiency, allowing 10 conversions in 40 attempts. Of those 10, only one occurred in a down-and-distance of greater than 10 yards (a 3rd and 13 pass reception of 13 yards by Michigan State's B.J. Cunningham).
11 – Equivalent season's past since Notre Dame Stadium enjoyed a kick return touchdown by an Irish player. In Week Two, 2000, running back Julius Jones returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score vs. #1 Nebraska. In Week Three 2011, freshman George Atkinson brought back a Michigan State kickoff 89 yards for a score, ending the 70 (home) game drought.
12 – Interceptions thrown by Irish quarterback Tommy Rees in 15 competitive halves of football since he first took control under center vs. Tulsa in late-October 2010. Rees has also lost three fumbles during this span while tossing 18 touchdown passes with 1,806 yards passing and completing 64.6 percent of his passes en route to a 5-1 record as a starter; 5-2 (Tulsa) as the primary quarterback for Kelly's Irish.
On the HorizonA look at Irish players who could reasonably accomplish statistical milestones Saturday vs. the Panthers
Michael Floyd: Floyd has set program or personal records in four consecutive contests, beginning with the December 2010 Sun Bowl conquest of Miami through the first three games of this season. The senior star owns the program record for receiving touchdowns (30), yards (2,936), receptions (202), and is tied with former teammate Golden Tate for games with at least 100 receiving yards (15). His 12 receptions in Game One vs. USF set a personal best; one he eclipsed last week with his 13th catch at Michigan.
Floyd is the only player in program history to record 200 receptions, accomplishing the feat last Saturday vs. Michigan State.
Ethan Johnson and Darius Fleming: With his next (full) sack, the senior defensive end Johnson will move into 10th place ahead of the late Wally Kleine (13 sacks from 1983-86) on the program's career sack list. Justin Tuck (2002-04) holds the program record with 24.5 sacks in 36 career games. Johnson enters Saturday's contest vs. Michigan State with 12.5 sacks in 40 career outings.
A shade behind Johnson is classmate Darius Fleming with 12 sacks including a half-sack shared with Kapron Lewis-Moore in the season-opener.
Harrison Smith: With 23 career pass breakups, Smith's next will pair will tie him with former first-team All-America cornerback Shane Walton (25) for third place on the program's all-time list. Smith has an outside shot at setting the program record, currently owned by star cornerback Clarence Ellis, who broke up 32 passes from 1969-71, earning consensus All-America honors in his final season.
Last Saturday vs. the Spartans, Smith recorded a career-best four passes defended and in the process passed program legend Todd Lyght (1987-1990). Lyght posted 20.5 en route to two first-team All-America seasons.