It was trick or treat for most youngsters this past Tuesday on Halloween and for No. 3 Notre Dame (8-0) it could be a treat this Saturday to finally welcome finally an unranked team, The University of Pittsburgh Panthers (4-4), to South Bend. The game is slated for 3:30 pm ET and will be broadcast on NBC.
Last week Notre Dame played spoiler triumphing over a heavily favored No.8 Oklahoma on the road 30-13. Pittsburgh won convincingly over Big East rival Temple 47-17. The Fighting Irish and the Panthers last met in 2011 in a very close game in which Notre Dame edged out Pittsburgh 15-12. Tommy Rees threw for 216 yards and hooked up with All-American TE that day for a touchdown.
Behind Navy, Purdue, Army, and Michigan State, Pittsburgh has played Notre Dame more than any other school. The Fighting Irish lead the overall series 46-21-6 in a rivalry dating back to 1909. In that inaugural matchup Notre Dame travelled outside the Midwest for the first time in order to play against the University of Pittsburgh Panthers (formerly the Western University of Pennsylvania Owls ias of 1908). The Fighting Irish were coached that day by Frank “Shorty” Longman and won on a touchdown pass from QB Don Hamilton to Lee Matthews.
Here is how Notre Dame and Pitt stack up against each other this week:
Notre Dame Offense
In last week’s upset of Oklahoma 30-13, the Notre Dame offense clicked on all levels. The running game set the scoring in motion with a 64-yard Cierre Wood run for a score in the first quarter. Wood and Theo Riddick each finished the game with 74 yards rushing and one touchdown in a 210-yard Fighting Irish ground attack. Notre Dame is averaging 196.5 yards rushing per contest.
Starting blue and gold QB Everett Golson returned triumphantly to the field after a missing a game due to sustained injury and passed for 177 yards and rushed for 74 yards including a late game scamper for the team’s deciding touchdown. Golson’s steadily improving ability to read defenses and throw accurately has resulted in an impressive three game streak of throwing no interceptions.
Notre Dame Defense
11 tackles (one for a loss), 1 sack, 1 interception is just another day at the office for the heart and soul of the Fighting Irish, otherwise known as linebacker extraordinaire Manti T’eo. His incredible leaping interception against Oklahoma to seal the win for his unbeaten team, known around here simply as “the catch”, has put him in the national lead for interceptions with five (as well as tied with the Notre Dame record) with five and in a very close second for the Heisman behind the Kansas State QB Collin Klein.
The Fighting Irish defense ranks high in numerous defensive categories. It gives up 9.9 points (2nd in the nation behind Alabama), 92.25 rushing yards (9th), and 293 total yards per game (11th). The squad is also very familiar with the number zero as in zero touchdowns allowed to any team in the first quarter this season and zero rushers allowed into the blue and gold end zone bar one last week against Oklahoma..
Stellar Fighting Irish LB Stephon Tuitt is among the country’s top ten rushers with 8.5 sacks and leads a Notre Dame defense recognized as 33rd for sacks in the nation.
Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly respects Pittsburgh, especially their recent strong offensive output, and will not take the team lightly.
“(They’re) a team that is starting to find themselves,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “Coach (Paul) Chryst has done a very good job of a consistent message. (Quarterback Tino) Sunseri is playing the best football of his career at the quarterback position. They have arguably two of the better running backs that we’ll see. (Tight end Hubie) Graham is an established player.”
The Panthers are on the offensive prowl. Last week the soon-to-be-ACC school notched its highest points total in 13 years over a FBS opponent last week with 47 in a win over Temple. They average 29 points per game, two more than the Fighting Irish .
The Pitt offense runs through QB Tino Sunseri. The senior play caller has passed for 2,199 yards and 13 touchdowns for a lofty 164.8 efficieny rating (8th in the country). Since his last interception early this season against Virgina Tech he has thrown 143 passes without a pick.
Sunseri has a reliable set of receivers in WR Devin Street (50 receptions, 695 yards, 4 TDs) and WR Mike Shanahan (631 yards, 3 TDs). They are the most productive and feared receiver duo in the Big East.
The Panthers have a formidable rusher by the name of Ray Graham. The running back has gained 622 yards for 7 scores this far this season. Last week against Temple he racked up 2 touchdowns on 109 yards. Freshman RB Rushel Shell has 441 yards and 4 TDs on the ground and averages 150.3 yards a game together with Graham.
The Panthers Defense is a decent one having allowed only 339.9 yards and 21.8 points per game.
Senior CB Jared Holley could be considered the captain of the squad. He is a 2012 All-Big East first teamer responsible for 50 tackles, 3 pass break ups and 1 interception. The team’s best pass defender may match up against Tyler Eiffert on Saturday.
The 275-pound Defensive lineman Aaron Donald will take on the duty of containing the elusive Fighting Irish QB Everett Golson. The Second Team All Big-East junior lineman is a force to be reckoned with. On the year he has 31 tackles (8 for a loss), 3.5 sacks, and 10 quarterback hurries.
Prediction: Notre Dame 28 Pittsburgh 17