The Pitt Panthers are looking to play spoiler for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish as the Irish are looking to continue their run towards the BCS Championship Game.
The only problem for the Panthers is that they haven’t won a big game in many years, but they have won two of their past three meetings in South Bend. That plus coming off a big win against Temple should give this Panthers team some confidence.
Pitt needs this to try and sneak their way into a bowl game, so this matchup between the No. 3 team (BCS) in the nation and a 4-4 team actually has more at stake than one may think.
Here’s a look at everything you need to know for Saturday’s matchup.
Where: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Indiana
When: Saturday, November 3, 3:30 p.m. EST
Betting Line: Notre Dame (-17.5)
For Pitt to Win:
1. Get an early lead- Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri is having a very good season and is surprisingly the eighth rated passer in the nation, but in his three seasons as a starter, Sunseri has never once brought Pitt from behind in the fourth quarter to win a football game. As good as a season as he has had, when the pressure is on, Sunseri has been at his worst (see Syracuse game). Playing with a lead accomplishes two things. First of all, it takes a lot of the pressure of Sunseri to have to win the game and secondly it may put some doubt in the Irish. An undefeated team may not be comfortable playing from behind. If Pitt falls behind early, Sunseri won’t be bringing them back against the nation’s second rated defense.
2. Avoid the mistakes- It’s quite simple. For Pitt to have a chance in this game they have to play a near perfect football. That means protecting Sunseri and no turnovers. In addition to not giving the football away, the Panthers must avoid the costly penalties that have plagued this team for most of the season.
3. Defense and Special Teams Make Big Plays- The Pitt defense is banged up with linebackers Dan Mason and Manny Williams this week joining the list of players out for the season. But someone has to step up and make big plays for this defense. A defensive touchdown would help as Irish quarterback Everett Golson will throw some picks if he is pressured. Who knows, maybe this is the game that Aaron Donald steps up and gets to the quarterback a few times. In addition to the defense, the return game has to be a factor and kicker Kevin Harper can’t miss any field goals.
For Notre Dame to Win:
1. Run the football- The Irish are averaging close to 200 yards per game on the ground and I would expect to see a lot of Theo Reddick and Cierre Wood in this one, especially with third string middle linebacker Joe Trebitz now starting in the middle for Pitt. I would expect Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly to look to attack him.
2. Stop the run- The Notre Dame defense is outstanding. They’ve allowed only 9.9 points per game and a big reason for that is because it is tough to run against them. Irish middle linebacker Manti Te’o is a beast and will make plays all over the field. The only way Pitt stays in this game is by pounding Ray Graham and Rushel Shell. If the Irish stops the run, this will be a blowout.
3. Force Sunseri to make plays down the field- If they stop the run, the other thing the Irish need to do is force Sunseri to beat them and by that I mean with the big play. Sunseri struggles throwing the deep ball and that also means the Pitt offensive line must give him the time to try and do so. The one thing Sunseri hasn’t done in three years under center is win a big game. Sometimes the quarterback just has to go out and win a game and the Notre Dame defense can make that a very difficult task.
Prediction: Sunseri has been very good this season, but I’m hesitant to put a lot of faith in him, given his track record in big games. This won’t be easy against a very good Notre Dame football team. I just don’t see the Panthers coming away with a win. Notre Dame 27, Pitt 13