Much has been written about Panther quarterback Rod Rutherford and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Both players deserve the high praise they've been given this year. Both have tremendous talent and their numbers have been impressive. We already knew that.
Impressive Pitt Numbers: The Panthers have an impressive .842 red zone percentage. They have scored 16 times out of 19 opportunities—13 of which went for touchdowns. This was the problem for the Panthers last year against the Irish—they couldn't convert red zone opportunities into touchdowns.
Special Teams Play: Pitt returns both their kicker and punter. Kicker David Abdul is 4-of-6 on field goals (misses were from 50 & 49 yards). He is also 19-of-20 on PAT attempts. Punter Andy Lee is averaging 46.5 yards a punt. Freshman kicker Adam Graessle has had 17-of-28 kickoffs result in touchbacks.
More Impressive Pitt Numbers: The Panthers have only lost one fumble on the season. Rutherford has thrown just three interceptions on the year. The Panthers haven't shown the propensity to beat themselves with turnovers.
Third Down Defense: The Panther defense is holding their opponents to an impressive 31.2 percent on third down conversions.
Rush Defense: The Panthers have allowed a respectable 120 yards rushing per game. They haven't been as strong as they were last year but are allowing just 3.42 yards per rush.
The Pitt Negatives: We can't find many but the Panthers have been allowing 265 passing yards a game and have surrendered eight touchdowns through the air. They also allow an average of a little more than 21 points a game.
Irish Offense VS Pitt Defense
The Irish might have a slight advantage over Pittsburgh here. The one positive for Notre Dame is they appear to be developing a passing game and had success in their last game against Purdue. Still, they only scored 10 points on the Boilermaker defense. They will need a much better performance to beat the Panthers.
A solid running game will help their chances by controlling the clock and keeping the potent Pitt passing attack off the field. If the Irish can rush for over four yards per carry, they will have a good chance to beat Pitt. They will have to be able to throw the football and convert some third downs in the passing game.
Pitt Defense VS Irish Offense
We fully expect the Panther defense to try to shut down the run and then pin their ears back and come after freshman quarterback Brady Quinn. It's the same formula every team has used against Notre Dame and many have had success lately so we can't imagine they would try anything different.
If the Panthers can control the Irish at the line of scrimmage against the run, the Irish have little chance to win this game. They will try to put the Irish in third and long situations all day. If they can do that, expect the Irish to lose and it could be ugly.
Pitt Offense VS Notre Dame Defense
Pitt has other weapons besides Fitzgerald and Rutherford and we expect the Panthers to use them. Tight end Kris Wilson is averaging 16.3 yards a catch and has three touchdowns. Running back Brandon Miree is averaging 4.4 yard per rush. Wide receiver Princell Brockenbrough is averaging 22.4 yards per catch and has three touchdowns on the season.
Notre Dame Defense VS Pitt Offense
This is a big challenge for defensive coordinator Kent Baer and his defense. We haven't seen anyone remotely close in talent to Fitzgerald. It appears it doesn't matter how many men you put on him, he's going to catch the ball.
We expect the Irish to use the same formula as last year but to give Rutherford some different looks. They will keep Fitzgerald in front of the Irish defense and force Pitt to score touchdowns in the red zone. The Irish will need big games out of the front four in pass rushing and against the run to have a chance. Darrell Campbell and Justin Tuck played their best games against Purdue so they might have a chance.
The first step will be to shut down the run. The Irish have had some good success stopping the run. The health of Cedric Hilliard and Darrell Campbell will be important in this game and against the run. A healthy Hilliard and Campbell will undoubtedly increase Notre Dame's chances of shutting down the run.
There are three areas of football—offense, defense and special teams. We don't see the Irish having an advantage over Pittsburgh in any area right now and we see the Panthers having the advantage in offense and special teams.
The Panthers seemed to have solved their problems on offense in the red zone. The Irish have taken a step backwards in this department. The Irish defense isn't a strong as it was a year ago and the Pittsburgh offense appears stronger.
Pitt doesn't turn the ball over much. They appear to have strong special teams while the Irish have been struggling in special teams.
The Irish can win this game with a sound running game and holding onto the football while forcing turnovers—three things the Irish haven't been doing well this year.
Pittsburgh 31 Notre Dame 21