Notre Dame vs. Pitt Preview, Keys to Victory and Prediction


Pitt looks to improve to 7-2 on the season by defeating the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame in front of Hall of Fame alumni and high-profile recruits this Saturday at Heinz Field.

It’s here! The one week of the season that I believe we all have been eagerly anticipating since the schedule was released several months ago; this is Notre Dame week!

What we know is easy, it is slated to be the largest crowd of the season and Pitt has the opportunity to wreck another skewer of dream. The Panthers will have the chance to derail the championship aspirations for Notre Dame for the second time in three seasons.

It will be as difficult as it was to find Waldo when the series first broke into book stores.

Slowly but surely, this match-up is turning into a rivalry, and not just between fan bases. As of now, Notre Dame leads the all-time series with a record of 47-21-1. This is a game that could easily put that number to 48 or slowly and vigorously arrive at 22.

Neither team is able to use injuries as an excuse. Pitt, as we are brutally reminded each week, is without the reigning ACC Player of the Year in James Conner. Notre Dame on the other hand is short a Heisman-contending quarterback in Malik Zaire, who was taking the college world by storm before shredding his ankle. Tough losses for both teams, but in typical fashion of each, there was a rebound and reloading at the given positions. For the Panthers, it was running back Qadree Ollison and for the Irish, quarterback DeShone Kizer.

Big plays, or if you’re Mike Tomlin, splash plays, have been a linchpin for both teams, but on opposing spectrums. Notre Dame has shown the capability to stretch the field with a rock solid duo in wide receiver Will Fuller and running back C.J. Prosise. Prosise and Fuller rank in the Top 20 at their respective positions for total production. The aspect that makes their effectiveness even greater is the overall ability for Kizer to stretch the field with his legs which can make each play a wild card for the defense.

Pitt on the other hand has been notorious in the last three games for allowing a breaking play on the opponents first two possessions. It sets the tone for the game early. And if it wasn’t for an early second half demolition of Syracuse quarterback, Eric Dungey, Pitt could easily be 5-3 heading into this game, after allowing gashing plays to the Orange on their initial possessions. A slight interruption in flow has helped guide the Panthers to a 6-2 record and will serve as a major key to success against Notre Dame.

Game-Day Information:

When: Saturday, November 7

Kickoff: 12:00 p.m. ET

Site: Heinz Field

Playing Surface: Natural Grass

Television: ABC

Radio Coverage:  93.7 FM – The Fan

Last Match-Up: Pitt 28 — ND 21

Odds: Pitt +9 According to the Bovada Online Sportsbook with the Over/Under at 54. The Blue and Gold is 1-5 against the spread in its last 6 games at home.

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Keys to Victory:

As I mentioned, limiting the early game blunders on defense could play a large part in determining the outcome for Pitt. Sustaining its own, while containing Notre Dame’s momentum will be crucial and can only be monitored on the defensive side of the ball.

My key player to watch for Pitt on defense is Ejuan Price.

Price has been relatively quiet since bursting onto thescene earlier in the season. I like his ability to set the tone for the defense in generating early pressure that translates to consistent pressure through the remainder of the contest. Being a noisy leader in the most polarizing game of the season will go a long way in clinching a victory for the Panthers.

Heading to the offensive side of the ball, I chose wide receiver Dontez Ford to be my key player to watch.

Why Ford? It’s because Tyler Boyd and J.P. Holtz will attract a substantial amount of the attention by the backers for Notre Dame, thus allowing Ford to be able to exploit his match-up against a relatively undersized second tier cornerback unit. Ford has been able to get additional looks in recent weeks and I think that speaks to his having a football growth spurt through the first half of the season. The key alone for Ford: sharpen routes and focus on the ball eliminating the noise around him.

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Pitt narrowly edges the Irish by a score 24-23. Look for a defensive score out of the Panthers that can set the tone from the get-go.