As has been talked about all week, Brian Kelly has brought his version of the spread to South Bend. From what Pitt has seen, it's a look they're familiar with, because they saw the exact same thing in Cincinnati, Kelly's previous stop as a head coach.
"Not four-wides a lot, the tight end is always on the field," Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt said of Notre Dame's passing formations. "They will flex him out. On TV, it's always going to look like four wide receivers, but the tight end is always going to be on the field."
The result is Rudolph with 23 catches for 290 yards and three touchdowns. Last year, his 29 receptions by a tight end were ninth in school history. His career receiving yards (994) is fourth in school history. This isn't, however, your typical blocking tight end. As Wannstedt said, he has the build of a tight end, and he may look like a fourth receiver out there.
"It's a good challenge for our guys," Wannstedt said. "Our guys have played him over the years. Every time you line up against the best, it should bring out the best in you."
One thing that should help Pitt, in this matchup, is Dom DeCicco in his new role. With his experience at safety, now playing in a linebacker/safety hybrid role, he gives Pitt the best chance to defend a target like Rudolph.
"I just play to the passing strengths, and it gives us a little more help in the passing game," DeCicco said. "They have Michael Floyd, who we'll play all year, and the best tight end in Kyle Rudolph, and a quarterback that's getting better every game in Crist."
Floyd and Rudolph constantly take the pressure off each other. With Rudolph going attacking the middle of the field, and popping in on a few underneath routes, it leaves a lot of space for Floyd to be in one-on-one coverage. Because of the havoc caused by Rudolph, Floyd--at 6-3, 227--presents a difficult size advantage for corners, but also has the speed to go with it. In just two career games versus Pitt, Floyd has 17 receptions for 207 yards and two touchdowns.
While the topic of Jon Baldwin needing to get more involved in Pitt's offense has been a big topic surrounding the Panthers, the same has been true about Floyd to an extent. He has 28 receptions for 408 yards and two touchdowns, not bad numbers for five games into the season. Floyd, however, feels he can bring more.
"It's just somebody in the flat, and then somebody over the top--just cover two--making sure I don't get a free release off the ball," Floyd said. "But, when you're talking about frustration, a lot of people would (get frustrated). I think when you have things that are going right, there's no reason to get frustrated. Whenever the ball comes to you, you've got to make a play on it."