Tim O'Malley -- PublisherSix straight? Can Notre Dame and Pittsburgh really play six straight games down to the wire? Las Vegas seems to think so, staking the Irish as favorites of just four points, a number doubtless impacted by Notre Dame's rash of defensive injuries up front.
A win by the 4-4 Panthers puts them in poll position to earn a bowl bid for the sixth straight season -- no small feat considering the program has employed four head coaches during that span.
A victory by the Irish offers merely respite: one week to heal before preparations for what would then be a two-game season in search of a BCS Bowl berth.
In the summer, I pegged this upcoming two-game set involving the Panthers and Brigham Young as Notre Dame's upset loss for 2013. And though a Pittsburgh victory would surprise me little, it's relevant to note that Notre Dame rarely loses when facing a stationary quarterback such as Panthers 5th-year senior and former Rutgers starter Tom Savage.
Not since mid-season 2011 and a loss to USC's Matt Barkley has defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's unit struggled vs. a classic drop-back passer. (You could toss Alabama's A.J. McCarron into the mix, but I tend to think it was the Crimson Tide's humbling superiority more than McCarron's pocket play that felled the Irish last January.)
In fact, in Notre Dame's 13 losses with Diaco as the defensive coordinator, only three passers without the threat of mobility have defeated the Irish: MSU's Kirk Cousins in 2010, Barkley as noted in '11, and McCarron for all the marbles last year.
Look for the Irish pass rush to make its reappearance at Heinz Field Saturday night, registering four sacks, twice that many hurries, and providing an inconsistent secondary with ample aid vs. Savage and his pair of standout wideouts, Devin Street and Tyler Boyd.
But after producing 83 points in its last two outings vs. undersized Service Academy foes, Notre Dame's offense is in for a bit of a rude awakening in the Steel City. Pittsburgh's average defense will hold the Irish in check in an ugly upset.
Pittsburgh 19 Notre Dame 17
Anna Hickey -- Recruiting ReporterNotre Dame's defense may be banged up, but Kelly is optimistic his starting front three will see time together on Saturday night. That, coupled with the fact that Notre Dame doesn't have to defend the option, and the Irish should be fine on defense against Pitt's offense.
Notre Dame's offense has been rolling these last few games, and I foresee Tommy, Tarean and TJ rising to the occasion in this prime time contest. No doubt the Irish will get Pitt's best self, though that won't be enough to slide a Notre Dame five-game win streak. Still getting used to hearing this as an "ACC match-up."
Notre Dame wins 28-23
Morrissey79 -- ModeratorIt's not always pretty, heck it's probably at this point rarely pretty, but during Brian Kelly's tenure his football teams find some way to win.
The defense was decimated, lacked a sound scheme at times, and couldn't execute. But when they needed it most, they come up big.
If history shows us anything, this ND-Pittsburgh game will likely come down to the 4th quarter (or overtimes), and it will be a hard fought and intense game. ND fans will have things to complain about, we will feel tortured at times by a play call or an inexplicable mistake by a player. But I have a feeling, just like ND has the last 10 times a game has been decided by a single score, that ND fans will be happy come late Saturday night.
Kelly has built something here that even the players can't quite describe -- for whatever reason, when it gets late in the game and they need a play, somehow someway the team has been making them. The Irish are going through a 19-3 stretch in their last 22 games (with those 3 losses against the best team in the country, at Michigan in a rivalry game, and against a top 15 Oklahoma team). They are 27-6 over their last 33, with the other 3 losses against a strong FSU team in the bowl game, at an Andrew Luck-led Stanford team, and a top 15 USC team.
This Saturday, even with all the injuries this team has experienced, the Irish will somehow fight and claw their way to a victory, because that's what Coach Kelly's team has done for the last 2 years. ND 31 Pittsburgh 24
SeattleNDFan -- ModeratorFormer four star QB prospect Tom Savage can throw the ball, but the Pitt offensive line may not give him a lot of time to do so, because form a mobility standpoint, Savage is more statue that scatback. This game looks like a prime opportunity for Louis Nix, Prince Shembo and Stephon Tuitt to rack up some sack statistics.
As far as Pitt's ground game, they finished their game with Georgia Tech last weekend with minus 5 net rushing yards, another indictment of their offensive line play, and Pitt on the season is averaging 3.9 yards per rush, as compared to the Irish running game, generally considered less than dominating, averaging 4.5 yards per rush (college stats, of course, count sack yardage as rushing attempts, but these averages are running backs only).
On defense Pitt has a genuine star in DT Aaron Donald but the Pitt defense in general has given up some very crooked numbers this season including 55 points to Duke, 41 to Florida State and 24 to Old Dominion, while on the other hand holding Georgia Tech to 21, Virginia to 3 and Virginia Tech to 19.
The ND offensive line has done a great job with pass protection this season and I see that continuing Saturday despite the presence of Aaron Donald. If ND can parlay time for Rees to throw and the emergence of budding star Tarean Folston into putting some points on the board early, Pitt is not well built to play catch up. Barring a turnover fest like the Oklahoma game, I like the Irish to pull this one out on the road going into the second bye week to heal up for the home stretch.
Notre Dame 28 Pitt 13
Amruther24 -- Moderatorrom an injury standpoint, the last three weeks could not have gone worse for Notre Dame's already depth deprived defense. The only stalwart left who isn't hobbled is Stephon Tuitt. This should be a fun game for all the recruitniks out there as they'll finally get to see a lot of action from guys who should have been a year or two away from playing significant roles. A lot of questions face Bob Diaco and his front 7.
How much can Notre Dame expect out of guys like Louis Nix and Sheldon Day this week? How will Jarron Jones, Isaac Rochell, and Romeo Okwara handle increased roles? Who is Anthony Rabasa? We'll should have some answers come Saturday night and they will be the foundation for how people project this team over the last three weeks of the season.
On the other side of the ball, it finally looks like Notre Dame's offense is clicking. I understand that Air Force and Navy don't present enormous threats, but the efficiency of the offense against a couple of teams that were over matched was still impressive. The offense had a total of 22 drives the last two games. Three of those drives were end of half clock killers and 2 of them were in garbage time with the second unit offense on the field.
So out of 17 drives where the main objective was to move the ball and score, Notre Dame's offense was in position to score 14 times. They ended 11 of them with a touchdown. That's a level of efficiency that we simply haven't seen from this team on a consistent basis.
To add to that, Notre Dame was in scoring position against USC on 3 of 5 first half possessions and scored TDs on 2 of them. In other words, Tommy Rees and the Irish offense are trending up. The only question is if they'll be able to handle Aaron Donald's disruptiveness with an inexperienced interior line. They may not run as much as we'd like this week, but I expect a huge day out of Rees and his perimeter weapons. Notre Dame 35 PITT 28
GaviND -- ModeratorWith a four game winning streak in hand, the Notre Dame football team hits the road this weekend to play a pesky Pitt Panther team under the lights at Heinz field. The Panthers enter Saturday night's battle with a 4-4 record -- a disappointing record given their 3-1 start.
Pitt's up and down season coupled with their propensity for giving the Irish all they can handle makes this a tough game to call.
The Panther defensive line represents a formidable challenge for the Irish. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald is a phenomenal talent in the middle and should make the sledding tough if the Irish try to run the ball between the tackles.
Beyond the Donald-led defensive line, however, there is not an area on the defense that the Irish cannot find a way to exploit assuming they execute as they have in recent weeks. This matchup should be a good opportunity to George Atkinson III and Tarean Folston to be very productive off the edge and for Rees to pick apart a Pitt secondary that has not been tested much since facing Jameis Winston in week one.
The Pitt offense, statistically speaking, is one of the worst in the country. Senior quarterback Tom Savage is playing for his third program this season and while the results have been modest at best, the kid is capable of making some big plays with his arm. On the receiving end of those big plays has been receivers Devin Street and Tyler Boyd who have combined for 1300 yards receiving and ten touchdowns.
The key for the Irish, defensively, will be to generate constant pressure against a Pitt offensive line that has forced Savage to spend more time on his back than Kurz's girlfriend when he's out of town.
In a game that will be way too close comfort, the Irish will run their win streak to five.
ND 27 Pitt 20
KurzND -- ModeratorND looks to keep their winning ways despite a depleted front 7. Pittsburgh always plays the Irish tough.
ND needs to keep a balanced offensive attack and must account for Aaron McDonald at all times. ND needs to play physical on the O-Line and match the intensity that McDonald and the fired up Panthers will bring. On defense ND needs to watch out for Savage and his veteran WR Street and the youngster Tyler Boyd.
I predict I will be angry and frustrated during the game and ND will play PItt in a close game. Notre Dame 33 Pitt 30
BNolan -- ModeratorSeattleND always does a fine job of breaking down the details, so I seldom attempt to belabor his adept observations.
While this year's version of Pitt doesn't appear to be formidable, ND is also suffering from inconsistency and injury woes. As always, mistakes are painful and game-changing. If ND can play a relatively fundamentally sound game, not give the ball away, and utilize a depleted D to make tackles, they should pull off the win. I'm thinking something like: ND 27 Pitt 20