Threat(s):Running back LeSean McCoy leads the nation in scoring. Freshman receiver Jonathan Baldwin is beginning to emerge in the offense. Tight ends Nate Byham and Dorin Dickerson are playmakers in the passing game, and fullback Conredge Collins is a devastating lead blocker for McCoy that is also a threat to catch passes out of the backfield
Pittsburgh came into the season with high expectations of winning the Big East conference title and playing in a BCS bowl game. That looked impossible after a season-opening home loss to underdog Bowling Green.
But head coach Dave Wannstedt was able to rally the troops. The Panthers ripped off five wins in a row including a 26-21 victory on the road at No. 10 South Florida, to take over the drivers seat in the conference standings.
Then the Rutgers game came. The Scarlet Knights hammered No. 20 Pitt, 54-34 at Heinz Field, stunning the Panthers for a second time this season.
Now Wannstedt has to try and get his team back on track in a non-conference game against Notre Dame, if they still hope to achieve their preseason goals.
If the Panthers are going to do just that, the Irish defense will likely see a steady dose of McCoy. The 5-foot-11, 210-pound sophomore is perhaps the best running back in the country. He ranks 11th nationally in yards rushing per game at 119.29, with 14 touchdowns. Twice this season, McCoy has scored three times in a game, and he had four touchdowns in the loss to Rutgers.
McCoy has already totaled over 1,000 yards this season. He has 835 yards rushing, and 17 receptions for another 206 yards. McCoy's 28 career touchdowns is four more than former Pitt standout Tony Dorsett had at the same point in his career.
After not catching a ball in the Panthers first three games, Baldwin is really beginning to become a huge part of the offense. Baldwin is the playmaker in the passing game, and the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Aliquippa, Pa., product is starting to make the most of his touches. He followed up a three catch for 101 yards and a TD performance against Navy, with five receptions for 81 yards against Rutgers. He has 11 catches for 249 yards and two touchdowns in the last four games.
Two other guys the Panthers like to go to in the passing game are the tight ends Byham and Dickerson. The two have combined for 18 catches, for 219 yards and a touchdown.
The fullback Collins is one of the main reasons McCoy has been able to rack up such ridiculous numbers, and if you're not paying attention, he'll slip out of the backfield and catch a pass.
Achilles Heal(s): Health along the offensive line and at the quarterback position.
Starting quarterback Bill Stull took a violent hit and left the game against Rutgers over the weekend. It's doubtful that the 6-foot-3, 200-pound junior is back for the contest against the Irish. Stull was having a solid season, completing 60 percent of his passes for 1,562 yards and four touchdowns. He did have five interceptions.
If Stull can't go against Notre Dame, Wannstedt will go with Pat Bostick, who started last season. Bostick can certainly do the job, but when he came in against Rutgers, the offensive play calling got real conservative. Every pass was thrown underneath with the exception of one incomplete deep ball to Baldwin. That won't work against the Irish.
Starting center Robb Houser was also lost against Rutgers with an injury, forcing the Pittsburgh coaching staff to move four-year starting guard C.J. Davis to that role. Davis hadn't done much snapping since spring ball. In Davis' spot at guard, Pitt will go with either fifth-year senior Dominic Williams or red-shirt freshman Chris Jacobson.
Pitt will have to gel quickly in the trenches against Notre Dame's heavy blitz package.
Miscellaneous: Pittsburgh is 45-of-102 (44 percent) on third down this season. They're winning the time-of-possession battle, 32:41 to 27:19. The Panthers have been good in the red zone, scoring on 23-of-25 opportunities, including 18 touchdowns. Pitt ranks 87th nationally in sacks allowed at 2.29 per game. Kicker Conner Lee is dependable, making 11-of-13 field goal attempts with both misses coming from over 40 yards. Derek Kinder leads the Panthers in receiving with 23 catches for 247 yards and a TD.
Threat(s):Led by defensive ends Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard, the Panthers put pressure on the quarterback without blitzing much. Middle linebacker Scott McKillop is one of the best defensive players in the country.
Notre Dame's offensive line is going to have its hands full with the defensive line of Pittsburgh. The Panthers come into the game ranking 12th nationally in sacks per game, and first in the Big East, with three per contest. Sheard has 4.5 sacks and Romeus has 3.5. Ten different players have gotten to the quarterback this fall, totaling 21 sacks.
McKillop has also wreaked havoc on the opposition's quarterbacks. He has four sacks among his team-high 10.5 tackles for loss. He ranks 14th nationally in that category. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound space eater has 67 tackles, ranking 19th nationally in that department.
Achilles Heal(s):The secondary is small and the safeties have struggled. The Panthers hardly turnover their opponent.
None of Pittsburgh's top four cornerbacks are taller than 5-foot-11, and the safeties have struggled to help them over the top. Notre Dame playmakers Michael Floyd, Golden Tate and Duval Kamara could really hurt the Panthers secondary if Jimmy Clausen is given time to throw against that good front seven. Pitt struggled to put pressure on Rutgers quarterback Mike Teel, and he answered with 361 yards passing and six touchdowns.
Pittsburgh has only forced nine turnovers all season, three fumble recoveries and six interceptions.
Miscellaneous: Teams are only 34-of-89 (38 percent) on third down against the Panthers. Opponents are 18-of-19 (95 percent) in the red zone against Pittsburgh, including 15 touchdowns. Austin Ransom ranks second on the team with 42 tackles. Romeus has blocked three kicks. Punter Dave Brytus has been inconsistent at times, but averages 41.7 yards per boot.
Game Notes: This is the 64th-ever meeting between Notre Dame and Pittsburgh. The Irish lead the series with a 44-18-1 record, including a 19-9 mark at home. The Vegas line has Notre Dame opening as 7-point favorites. Charlie Weis' record against Pittsburgh is 1-0. Dave Wannstedt's record against Notre Dame is 0-1.
Prediction: Notre Dame 28, Pittsburgh 17: A late touchdown pass from Clausen to freshman tight end Kyle Rudolph seals the game. McCoy gets his yards, but the Irish defense does a nice job of making Pitt one dimensional. Clausen gets pressured much of the afternoon, but has enough openings to throw for over 200 yards and a pair of scores.
Game Forecast: Pittsburgh Week
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