Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Previewing the Pitt Panthers

By Nick Shepkowski, Domer Sports Report

Notre Dame Football
Game Preview

As Notre Dame welcomes the Pitt Panthers and Dave Wannstedt to South Bend, the Irish will be playing with a chance to become bowl eligible with a victory. Both teams enter the game with 5-2 records, but are coming off polar opposite outcomes. A week ago Notre Dame defeated Washington 33-7 in what turned out to be Tyrone Willingham's final game before being let go by the Huskies (It should be mentioned, however, that Willingham will coach the rest of the season). On the other hand Pitt lost its second game of the season at Heinz Field, a 54-34 contest against what is now a 3-5 Rutgers team.

Something was exposed last week in Pittsburgh - something that should have Panthers fans nervous entering this weekend. Mike Teel of Rutgers completed only 14 passes on the afternoon, but for an electric total of 361 yards and six touchdowns. Average it out and thats over 25 yards per completion. Needless to say, expect to see the likes of Michael Floyd, Golden Tate, and Kyle Rudolph amongst others used fairly often. Jimmy Clausen is coming off of a very mediocre showing as he went 14/26 for 201 yards and a score while throwing one interception as well against Washington a week ago. A weak secondary like Pitt's is just what the doctor ordered for the sophomore quarterback.

A question mark leading into Saturday will be whether or not Pittsburgh's junior quarterback Bill Stull, who received a concussion last Saturday against Rutgers and remained motionless for nearly ten minutes before being carted off of the field and spending the night in the hospital, will play. If Stull is unable to go, it will be up to Pat Bostick for the Panthers who went 5/10 as Stull's replacement, throwing for 69 yards and one pick.

Pittsburgh will enter 37th in the nation, overall, in total yardage on offense, going for 395 yards a game while scoring over 28 points per contest. They are led by LeSean McCoy who has rushed for 835 yards and 14 touchdowns so far in 2008. Notre Dame will have to keep McCoy from getting the wheels going on first and second down and make Stull or Bostick throw the ball. La-Rod Stephens-Holwing will also see touches as he has carried the ball 55 times for 247 yards and four more touchdowns this season.

It is extremely important the Irish contain the running game of Pitt on Saturday, because I have doubt either of the two quarterbacks of the Panthers will be able to beat Notre Dame, especially because of the lack of playmakers Pitt brings to the table. The favorite targets this year for Pitt have been Jonathan Baldwin and Derek Kinder who have pulled in a combined 34 receptions for just under 500 yards and three touchdowns.

On defense the Pitt Panthers will come after Clausen as they have gotten to the quarterback 21 separate times this year and walked away with a sack. Notre Dame will have to have a good game from the offensive line this Saturday in order to rack up the point total that many Irish fans expect them to be able to do. Jabaal Sheard and Scott McKillop lead the Panthers with 8/5 sacks between the two. McKillop leads the Big East in total tackles with 67, so the Irish must be wary of him. Teams attempt roughly 25 passes a game against Pitt who enters with six interceptions defensively. However I truly feel that this set of DB's was exposed last week against Rutgers and that Jimmy Clausen will come out firing on Saturday.

Expect to see Notre Dame use the short pass to set up the deep ball in this contest. What does that mean exactly? A lot of throws to Armando Allen on swing passes out of the backfield, Golden Tate on slant routes, and Kyle Rudolph on quick outs for yardage. Expect to see that early on, how many teams try and use the run to set up the pass. Instead, I feel Notre Dame will use the short pass to set up the deep ball and would be shocked if Clausen throws for less than three touchdowns on Saturday.

What scares me this week is how Notre Dame has been against the run so far this season. Sure, last week, steps were taken in the right direction against Washington, but at the end of the day they are a bad football team. Pitt, although not great, is still plenty competent on the field. They will try to run the ball and make it a much shorter game than Notre Dame wants to. If the Irish can stop the run it will get ugly. If not, the Irish will be sitting at 5-3 that evening. I have all the confidence in the world that Notre Dame will put points on the scoreboard but as for stopping Pitt, I have my concerns.

Prediction Time:
Nick (6-1): Notre Dame 45 Pitt 35
Mark (7-0): Notre Dame 35 Pitt 20
Michael (1-0): Notre Dame 28 Pitt 14

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