Tim O'Malley – Managing EditorAt 3-0, this could have been a trap for the Irish, especially considering Pittsburgh's giveaway last week at Iowa. But with a 1-2 record and the season's first taste of momentum still fresh, expect Brian Kelly's Irish to enter Heinz Field focused offensively, and frothing at the mouth on the other side of scrimmage, ready to attack one of the most sack-susceptible passing attacks of the college season to date.
I'll have a full game preview column Friday afternoon, and I believe folks have jumped the gun on bit predicting an easy victory, but I don't see the Irish losing tomorrow, or next Week in West Lafayette:
Notre Dame 30 Pittsburgh 16
Brian Dohn – IrishEyes.com/NE Recruiting ReporterNotre Dame's mental toughness was a huge issue in the first two games of the season, and it cost them in losing a pair of games it should have cruised to victory in. The mental hurdle was turned last week with a big effort, and a big win against Michigan State, so the question is now whether the mental make-up of the Irish is strong enough to deal with success and then play well and win on the road?
Ironically, Pittsburgh enters the game much in the same way Notre Dame went into the Michigan State game. The Panthers are coming off a stunning collapse at a Big Ten school (Iowa), and are wondering where their season could be heading.
But last week the Irish figured out who they were, how to win and how to be mentally tough. They also have much more talent than Pittsburgh, and it will show.
Notre Dame 33 Pittsburgh 24
Dave Berk – Irisheyes.com Recruiting AnalystSaturday will be a chance for Brian Kelly to return the favor to Todd Graham in his first season as head coach at Pittsburgh. Graham was one of the sore spots in Kelly's first season in South Bend, and now the Irish will go into Heinz Field and give Graham his second loss in his first season as head coach.
The Irish have the weapons to dominate against the Panthers as Pitt is still in the middle of learning what is expected out of them. Irish continue to improve and leave the Ketchup City with a 38-14 win against the Panthers.
Christian Zavisca – Staff WriterTodd Graham, Pittsburgh's head football coach, mentioned two things first and foremost when describing Notre Dame this week: 1. Michael Floyd. 2. Notre Dame's success running the football.
Graham (you may remember him from last year's Tulsa debacle) hits the nail on the head. If the Irish continue to get the ball to Floyd consistently, and continue to run the ball well, they will position themselves for a win.
Of course, if the defense plays the way it did last week, Notre Dame can survive even a mediocre offensive performance in this road contest.
What was potentially a trap game on the road at the start of the season has a bit of a different flavor. Pittsburgh is coming off a disastrous loss to Iowa. The Panthers may be reeling a bit. They also may be a bit distracted with all of the joining-the-ACC talk swirling about.
Notre Dame won't rest on its collective laurels after last week's disembowlment of Michigan State. The 1-2 Irish still have plenty to prove, and should still be in must-win mode. Getting to .500 would be a nice start.
Notre Dame 31 Pittsburgh 21
SeattleNDfan (Moderator/Play-clock Maven)Pittsburgh is a team in transition, from Dave Wannstedt's pro style attack to Todd Graham's spread offense and they have the predictable issues with personnel not ideal for the new offense, and that starts with QB Tino Sunseri, who has neither the accuracy of Kirk Cousins nor the escapability of Denard Robinson.
On offense, Graham (Todd, head coach) relies on Graham (Ray, RB) and Graham (Hubie, 3-back) as well as WR Devin Street, who should put up big numbers playing the same role for Tulsa, err, Pittsburgh, that B.J. Cunningham did for MSU last week, namely exploiting our difficulties covering mid and short zone crossing routes. I do not see any way Pittsburgh effectively runs the ball, Ray Graham is shifty and has good acceleration, but as the faster and shiftier Edwin Baker found out, that won't help if your offensive line can't move the pile.
On defense there is a team with more issues covering the mid and short zones than us, and it is Pittsburgh. The weakness of their defense plays right into Tommy Rees' strengths, so look for Floyd, Theo Riddick and Tyler Eifert to have enormous days turning short passes into big gains. Against the run, Pitt is decent up the middle but their outside linebackers (they also transitioned from the 4-3 to the 3-4 this year) do not set the edge well, so there should be room for Wood and Jonas Gray to bounce to the outside all day.
This matchup seems to me to be tailor made for ND to do well, but turnovers and special teams will have something to say about that.
Notre Dame 38 Pittsburgh 16
Morrissey79 (Moderator/Certified Clausenite)Notre Dame finally got a key victory last weekend over a Michigan St team that had beaten the Irish 6 out of the last 7 times they visited.
Not only was it important to get win #1, but the way it was accomplished was even more impressive - for the first time in many years, the Irish dominated the line of scrimmage and physically outplayed a tough Spartan squad. That can only mean good things going forward.
Pitt has a tremendous RB in Graham, but after that they are a bit limited on offense. T Sunseri has a tendency to turn the ball over, and they lost Baldwin who was their best player last year. Their OL is suspect, having given up 9 sacks in their first two games against Buffalo and Maine. Expect the Irish to try and shut down the run and force Sunseri to beat them.
Defensively, Pitt has been atrocious against the pass, ranked #119 in the country while playing the 107th toughest schedule. If Maine and Buffalo can throw on the secondary, I expect Rees, Floyd, Eifert, and the rest of the WR to have a great game.
The noon start time is always a bit scary, but expect the Irish to come prepared. The DL will dominate like last week, and Lynch, Johnson, and Lewis-Moore will be in the backfield a lot, forcing Sunseri into a couple TOs.
Irish win this one handily, 35-14
KurzND (Moderator/Scout Boards Hopper)It's almost game time yet most of the talk again surrounds conference realignment, with Pitt's move to the ACC dominating their message boards. As for the game, Pitt is 2-1 with wins over Buffalo and Maine (by 6) and a collapse in Iowa City. The story to date is that everyone has been able to pass at will on the Pitt secondary QB Tino Sunseri has thrown more INTs then TDs this season.
Look for ND to continue its balanced attack and shut down Pitt's only true threat on offense, RB Ray Graham. Pitt doesn't have the horses to keep up with ND; let's hope ND turns the ball over only one time or preferably not at all. IF they do that, the Irish will coast to win number two. Notre Dame 34 Pitt 9
BNolan (Moderator/Seeker of Greener Pastures)'Should'... what a frustrating word. We 'should' be 3-0.
Likewise we 'should' dismantle Pitt with relative ease.
In the MSU game there were bright spots in addition to the scoreboard. Even in the previous losses, as utterly painful as they were, there were some good things.
Will turnoverpallooza end? Will fundamental football return with some modicum of consistency? I suspect we will once again have some reasons to spew profanity, but I do expect a win. ND 30 Pitt 13
Weisass (Moderator/Texas Forever)Finally, Notre Dame played a complete game. Of the first three games of the 2011 season, the game against Michigan State was the one I was most worried about. Notre Dame was dominant, handled the Spartans, and looked like the team I was expecting and hoping for three weeks ago.
Now we move on to Pitt. I look for the Notre Dame team to start to click and finally get on track. I predicted ND to beat USF and we lost. I predicted ND to beat Michigan and we lost. I predicted Michigan State to beat ND and we won. My predictions have been way off (0-3) but my hope is to break the funk and join the winning predictions.
Notre Dame 35 Pitt 14
GaviND (Moderator/Rabbit's Foot Practitioner)Prediction, eh? You want a prediction?
Well, here's a prediction for you; whoever I choose to win the game will lose. It was the story for most of last year and has been for the first three this season as well.
ND holds advantages across the board this week, and having tests by three consecutive top 25 opponents has them well-prepared as they travel to Pittsburgh to face the Panthers.
A suddenly pass-happy Panther offense does not instill much fear given the early exit of perennial thorn Jon Baldwin, but with Ray Graham in the backfield, they should be able to keep the Irish defense honest.
As has been the case for three straight weeks, Notre Dame needs to place great focus on taking care of the football. They should be able to move the ball well against this Pittsburgh defense...but can they hold onto the rock?
I feel very good heading into Saturday's matchup but hey, I'm a baseball guy, and as such, I am superstitious. For the good of the fan base, I have no choice but to go with a loss (even if that's not how I feel, I gotta stick with what works). Pitt 31 ND 10
DMarti (Guest Selector Extraordinaire)The Irish and Panthers come into Saturday's game with reversed mindsets after last week's contests. The Irish finally put together a full game and for the most part, made it very apparent who the better team was against #15 Michigan State. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, lost a heart breaker in Iowa after blowing a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter. Notre Dame's confidence boost and Pitt's demoralization could be key elements in this game outside of the X's and O's. Kelly knows how to handle players and will have them built up based on last week's big win.
Notre Dame completely shut down the Spartan rushing attack, and Saturday will be more of the same against the Panthers. An ineffective Pittsburgh rushing attack will allow Irish defensive linemen to pin their ears back yet again and give QB Tino Sunseri fits. The stymied ground game gives the Irish safeties free reign to roll over the top in coverage and contain another talented quarterback. Things will also be slow going for the Irish rushing attack, but far less talented teams than the Irish (i.e. Maine) have had success throwing the ball against Pitt. Look for Michael Floyd to find the end zone again this Saturday after two weeks without a visit.
Notre Dame will turn the ball over again, that's still a work in progress, but it won't be enough to determine the outcome. Notre Dame showed last week what they can do when the turnovers are somewhat contained, so expect even better results against a team far less battle-tested than the Irish. The defensive line has a big day; Michael Floyd adds two touchdowns to his career stats, and the Irish roll 38-10.