The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are undefeated and just had their signature win of the year beating the Oklahoma Sooners in Norman. So am I concerned about the lowly Pittsburgh Panthers coming into Notre Dame Stadium this Saturday? Why yes I am.
Anyone who has been reading my columns all year knows I’ve been super high on this Notre Dame team since week 2. They have a phenomenal defense that is just one notch below the best in the land. Their running attack has three good backs that all complement each other and finally they are getting some play from their quarterback Everett Golson. Everyone is pumping up the Irish and that’s why I’m concerned.
It’s human nature to let your guard down after you’ve passed your biggest test. Everyone wants a little stress relief. With Notre Dame playing at home they are hearing all the praise from the student body and local media. Playing in South Bend is like playing nowhere else outside the south. It is THE TOWN of college football. On the other side, Pitt has some talent to deal with.
Three of Pitt’s key players are facing issues with the law after they were charged with assault following an incident that resulted in a fight. It doesn’t look like running back Ray Graham, receiver Devin Street or starting corner Lafayette Pitts will be suspended though. They’ve got a big chip on their shoulder that they’ll want to shed on national TV.
This Panthers team is has disappointed so far this season but they can put up points. They destroyed a Virginia Tech Hokies defense early on that was expected to be pretty good and more recently they shredded a Louisville Cardinals defense that has quite a few good athletes, although they are young. Quarterback Tino Sunsari has really improved from last season. He’s looked more poised, has improved his footwork and isn’t afraid to make a mistake. Graham is an athletic running back with 4.4 speed that can break a big run in no time. This isn’t the grinding, physical Pitt team we saw under Dave Wannstedt. I think new coach Paul Chryst eventually will get there given his Wisconsin Badgers backround but he’s playing with what he has right now. The only way you can seriously challenge the Irish D is to be non traditional. Spread the ball around, use motion and get creative. Pitt struggled last year in true spread looks but you’ve got to look for match ups to exploit. Oklahoma had the right idea but failed to execute.
Defensively, Pittsburgh has some issues against the run to say they least. They aren’t very physical upfront and are now undersized now to graduation and a change in scheme from a 3-4 last season. Aaron Donald is a potential star at the next level. More than likely we’ll see him chasing Golson tomorrow although even when Oklahoma got pressure he was able to either throw it away or run for yardage.
Notre Dame hasn’t really blown anyone out besides a super young Miami Hurricanes team in very cold weather at Soldier Field. Besides that, the rest of their games have been decided in the 4th quarter. If they can get past Pitt it should be smooth sailing until the USC Trojans game at the end of the season. I expect them to do so but it will be close for three quarters.