Pitt-Notre Dame Preview

Even a few years ago, when Jimmy Clausen was a freshman, Pitt defensive line coach Greg Gattuso could see that the Notre Dame quarterback had a lot of ability and would have a bright future.

But it's up to Gattuso and the Pittsburgh defense to dim that a bit when the No. 8 Panthers (8-1) face Notre Dame tonight at 8 at Heinz Field.

"He knows their offense,'' Gattuso said. "You can see that the way he scans the field, and he won't focus on one receiver. So, he's a really talented young man who's been coached in his life and clearly is being coached now by people who know what they're doing. And he has some guys to make great catches.''

Pitt certainly will have its hands full going up against Jimmy Clausen and Notre Dame receivers like Golden Tate with 65 catches for 1,059 yards and 10 touchdowns and Michael Floyd with 23 catches for 499 yards and six scores. Floyd returned last week after an injury and has played in just four games.

The Panthers won't have to worry about No. 2 receiver, monstrous tight end Kyle Rudolph (33 catches, 3 TDs) due to an injury. But Clausen should still be tough to stop. He has completed 67.9 percent of his passes for 2,770 yards and 20 touchdowns with just three interceptions. And there's still Robby Parris and Duval Kamara with 22 and 21 catches, respectively, and one TD each.

"I think it's obvious by where people are picking him in the (NFL) draft, that he can make every throw,'' Pitt defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said. "And you can see just from last year to this year that he has a better command of the offense. Even when Floyd was out, what he did with Tate and Rudolph and the other tight ends, he's a very good player. Without question.''

"I think (ND coach) Charlie (Weis) probably prides himself on what he can teach a quarterback. And you can see that in Brady and now Clausen. ... When you see what they're doing, that makes us prepare even more for everything. They ran a no-huddle with an empty backfield, and that's stuff they were doing with Tom Brady when Charlie was in New England.''

If the Irish can't move the ball through the air against Pitt, they can always go to the ground with Armando Allen and Robert Hughes. Allen has run for 514 yards (4.9 average) and three touchdowns for pass-oriented Notre Dame, while Hughes has 331 yards (4.7 average) and five scores.

And to help the Irish offensive stars move the sticks is a massive O-line that averages about 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds and is loaded with seniors. Right tackle Sam Young is 6-8, 320, while left tackle Paul Duncan is 6-7, 315.

"Yeah, they're pretty big, and every single one of those guys are 4-5-star guys,'' Gattuso said. "They're fifth-year seniors. When we played them five years ago here, they were all fifth-year seniors, and they beat us up. So, it's going to be a big challenge for our guys, but we're a speed team.

"We recruit guys who are quick and fast, so we have no intention to try to run right through these guys. So, we're going to be fast and athletic, and hopefully we'll get some pressure. They're formidable. They're a big group, and they'll protect (Clausen). So, this is a big challenge, but we're excited about it.''

Pitt fifth-year defensive tackle Gus Mustakas believed that the Panthers' freshness and quickness would be the difference, however.

"They've got some big boys up front on the O-line,'' Mustakas said. "A couple of those guys, Sam Young and (RG) Dan Wenger, they're Fort Lauderdale guys, so I know them from down there. Sam and I trained at the same place, so I know him. But they've got some big boys on that O-line.

"Fortunately, we have some big guys on our D-line, and we're pretty quick. So, that should help, and we've also had more guys stepping up lately like Brandon Lindsey and Chas Alecxih. So, we've been able to stay fresh, and that will be crucial for us to use our quickness to pass-rush against them.''

And that way, Pitt can keep Clausen off-balance and have a chance to slow down the Notre Dame offense.

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