Pitt's game plan is not going to change, from a defensive standpoint. Any pressure the front four can provide will be welcome, given the weapons that Notre Dame has in its passing game that the linebackers and secondary will have to worry about.
Getting to the quarterback--against a Brian Kelly-led offense, hasn't always been easy for Pitt‘s defensive line. From what the Pitt coaches and players have seen so far, Notre Dame looks to be every bit as dangerous as Cincinnati was in 2008 and 2009.
"It's just the same thing," defensive end Jabaal Sheard said. "Last year, we lost to a Brian Kelly; two Big East Championships. That hurt a lot for me personally. I know it hurt Coach (Dave Wannstedt). (Kelly) is a guy that he's been going against for the last two years, and he lost to him."
As Sheard said, both the 2008 and 2009 games decided the Big East title. Pitt entered both of those games averaging six sacks a game. Even though they held a 31-10 lead against Cincinnati at one point of last year's contest, the defensive line produced two sacks in 44 passing attempts. In the 2008 contest, the defensive line produced two sacks in 32 passing attempts.
Kelly has brought that elusive approach to the quarterback position at Notre Dame, as its quarterbacks have been sacked a total of nine times in 215 passing attempts this season. That's a sack allowed for every 24 passing attempts.
"They got a great quarterback, they got a great offensive line and they got great coaches," Sheard said of Notre Dame. "It's just scheme against scheme. We have to go out and make plays."
Notre Dame returns receiver Michael Floyd, tight end Kyle Rudolph, running back Armando Allen, converted receiver Theo Riddick and offensive linemen Trevor Robinson and Chris Stewart. Since this marks the third year in a row these two teams have played, the players are familiar with each other as if this is a conference foe.
Comparing back to what he's seen with Cincinnati, and now with the improvement he's seen with Notre Dame's offense through five games, Dave Wannstedt said one thing is easily noticeable about Notre Dame's offense on film.
"They're a faster team than what we've been in the last couple of years," Wannstedt said. "They look like they're leaner, probably in better shape. The tempo of their offense makes you run a lot of plays in practice. We've been stressing those things, and making sure we're ready for the tempo game."
As Wannstedt mentioned, everyone looks ‘leaner.' He also attributes that to their fast-pace, up tempo style of playcalling.
Which ever side of the line controls the line of scrimmage better, will probably win the game. If Notre Dame runs a lot of plays, as they have in their two wins, and is able to keep the tempo up--which helps avoid sacks and other plays for lost yardage--they will win. If Pitt can keep its defensive line fresh, and be physical the way Stanford was in a 37-14 win two weeks ago, they have a chance to come out with a win.
As Pitt has seen in two previous losses to this system, whatever they're averaging sack-wise, can be thrown out the window. If Pitt can successfully use eight or ten defensive linemen, as they have the last two weeks, it just might be their best chance.
"We're in pretty good shape health-wise, particularly up front," Wannstedt said. "I would anticipate playing eight guys like we always do. We've been practicing that way. We've been doing enough up-tempo work against ourselves in practice to emphasize the hurry-up."