With the Irish having a lot on the line on Saturday, and the fact that many Irish players will be playing their final home game, one has to feel pretty confident about Notre Dame's chances on Saturday.
The Panthers have beaten just one team with a winning record—Boston College in overtime.
First and foremost, Pittsburgh likes to throw the football and that could be a real problem for the Irish. What also worries me is Pitt doesn't run the football well and I wonder if they'll even try against Notre Dame's stout rush defense.
Not many teams have had much success running against Notre Dame, and Pitt likely won't be able to as well.
Considering most teams have had success throwing the football against Notre Dame, I'm not sure why Pitt would bother trying to run, especially if they don't have a particularly strong running game. I expect Pitt to attempt enough runs to keep the Irish honest, but try to hurt the Irish through the air.
The Panthers have some weapons that can hurt the Irish. Wide receiver Greg Lee is having an outstanding year, averaging over 20 yards per catch and five touchdowns. Former Walk-on Joe DelSardo has also made a name for himself despite being just 5-8 with 32 catches on the season.
Two things that concern me is that Pitt throws to both their tight end and backs out of the backfield often. Reserve tailback Marcus Furman has more receptions (17) on the season than all of Notre Dame's tailbacks combined (13). Their tight end, Erik Gill, has more receptions (16) than Matt Shelton (14) this season just for some comparison.
Teams have hurt the Irish with their tight end and backs in the passing game, and the Irish will have to be able to be able to limit their success to get a win on Saturday.
The good news is a number of teams have had success running the football on Pitt. The Panthers allow 125 yards per game on the ground, and like we mentioned, they haven't exactly played the best competition. Syracuse amassed 239 yards on the ground last week in their overtime win.
The Panthers have also allowed 265 yards per game through the air including 14 touchdowns. With just 17 sacks in 8 games, the Panthers don't appear to put a lot of pressure on the quarterback.
We expect to see Pitt and first-year quarterback back in the pocket throwing the ball quite a bit on Saturday. Palko likes to scramble and get outside the pocket, like Boston College quarterback Paul Peterson, but will the Pitt line be able to give him enough time to throw? 22 sacks in 8 games might suggest they might struggle up front in pass protection.
Pitt has enough weapons to challenge the Irish defense, but we don't think they score enough to win the game.
Normally I'd be worried about this game, but Notre Dame's strength is on defense.
Greg Pauly, Kyle Budinscak, Mike Goolsby, Derek Curry, Dwight Ellick, Preston Jackson, Carlos Campbell and Quentin Burrell will be playing their final Irish home game—Justin Tuck could be as well.
When you take that into consideration, I think you'll see the Irish play a whale of a game on defense. I can't see the Panthers scoring more than 14-17 points. The question becomes how many points can the Irish offense score against the Panther defense?
Irish put together a solid game on offense and win fairly handily.
Notre Dame: 31 Pittsburgh: 17