We are more than half way through the month of October and the Fighting Irish football team is playing its first road game of this 2020 season against a fitting opponent, the Pittsburgh Panthers. Why is Pitt a fitting opponent for this first road game? Notre Dame vs. Pitt games always seem to produce some weird outcomes and sequences of events – similar to the peculiarity of this entire year. Saturday’s matchup will feature the 4-0 and third ranked Irish traveling to Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers, to face the 3-3 Pitt Panthers. The game will feature a battle of strength on strength – Notre Dame’s offensive line and Pitt’s defensive line. Let’s take a look into what we can (maybe) expect this weekend.
After Notre Dame’s shaky offensive output against Louisville and their heavy reliance on the run game, they will be faced with their toughest task this season – Pitt’s defensive line. This D line is responsible for nearly 5 sacks per game this year and has already racked up almost 70 tackles for loss. Without a doubt this is the strength of their football team. Notre Dame’s offensive line will have to bring their A game in order to keep the Panthers in check. Pitt’s focus on stopping the run will definitely be tested this week as that has been the go to form of production for the Irish offense. I still expect Notre Dame’s ground game to be able to put up some numbers, but if Notre Dame’s receivers remain M.I.A., we are going to be in for a long afternoon. I am very interested to see the game plan that Tommy Rees decides to call and how much he will want to rely on each part of the Irish offense. If Notre Dame’s passing game is going to step up, I think it will be the tight ends leading the way in receptions. The combination of Tommy Tremble, Michael Mayer, and Brock Wright have been some of the more consistent producers in the passing attack and if Book can use them to get into a rhythm early, I will have a lot more confidence in the Irish offense throughout the game.
When the Irish don’t have the ball, let’s see who we should keep an eye on on Pitt’s side of the ball. The Panthers offense has been led by senior quarterback Kenny Pickett who began the year as their starter but has since been knocked out with an ankle injury. His status is still in question for Saturday’s game so the Irish might face redshirt Freshman, Joey Yellen, at quarterback if Pickett can’t go. Yellen is an Arizona State transfer who made his first start last week. I am obviously not rooting for anyone to get or be hurt, but I think I would much rather face a redshirt freshman QB as compared to a senior. When taking to the air, Pitt has a very talented freshman receiver, Jordan Addison. The Pitt running game has been headed by sophomore running back, Vincent Davis, who has been responsible for 83 carries on the year adding up to 235 yards. Behind a rather veteran offensive line, a lot of these skill position players are young but very talented. The Panthers’ losses this year have all been close, a few different bounces and their record would look a lot better than 3-3. It’s because of that that I don’t know how to feel about Saturday’s game. Could it be close? Absolutely. Could it be a blow out? Probably.
The Irish are currently sitting at 10.5 point favorites; this is the fifth game in a row that Notre Dame comes in as double digit favorites. That isn’t saying too much though because we all saw last week’s game. Offensively, the Irish will need to establish the line of scrimmage, keep the ground game moving against a very good defensive line, and hopefully establish rhythm in the passing game. I don’t care which Notre Dame receiver steps up, but someone is going to have to. Defensively, it will be about containment. Depending on who starts at quarterback for the Panthers, there’s an opportunity for the Irish defense to face a much younger starting line up. If that’s the case, forcing mistakes early could cause a snowball effect and allow the Irish to create some separation on the scoreboard. With the history that Notre Dame and Pitt share, the majority of the recent matchups having some sort of strange plays headline the games, we’re going to be in for an interesting ride on Saturday. Personally, I think both teams are going to put up some points – nothing too crazy but it might be closer than any of us would like. Granted that the Irish can find some production in the passing game, I am going to predict a 31-24 Irish victory. I would obviously like to see the margin of victory greater than that, but we need to see which version of this Irish team will show up. I still refuse to believe that Notre Dame is as bad as they played last week; the talent the Irish have at so many positions tells a different story. The Irish need to come together and play a complete game. If they can do that, a 5-0 start will be achieved on Saturday. It’s time to take care of business. Go Irish. Beat Panthers.