Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Notre Dame-Pittsburgh Preview

Notre Dame QB's: Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson had a great performance against Oklahoma after missing the BYU game to a concussion. On the season he has completed 57.5 percent of his passes for 1,145 yards with 4 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. In addition to his passing numbers, he has done a good job on the ground too as the teams 4th leading rusher. He has rushed for 145 yards and 3 touchdowns this season with the rushing numbers against Oklahoma being the best of the redshirt freshman's college career at Notre Dame. Backup quarterback Tommy Rees had a one-play appearance against Oklahoma where he converted a very important 3rd down. Rees has appeared in 7 of 8 games this season with the only missed game being due to a suspension. Rees has completed 59.5 percent of his passes for 346 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception this season. Andrew Hendrix has appeared in 2 games this season, and he has completed 5 of 6 passes for 55 yards, and rushed for 34 yards on 7 carries this season.

Notre Dame QB's vs. Pittsburgh Pass Defense: The Panthers are currently ranked 29th overall in pass defense this season and are allowing 198.9 passing yards a game this season. Opposing teams have completed 57.1 percent of their passes and have allowed 8 passing touchdowns, but have intercepted 6 passes on the season. Golson did a good job against the then 9th ranked pass defense of Oklahoma and faces a secondary that has experience in players like Jason Hendricks and Jarred Holley. Despite facing a top 30 pass defense, Golson should be able to build upon the turnover-free performance he had against Oklahoma.

Edge: Even

Pittsburgh QB's: Tino Sunseri is in his 3rd season in a row as starting quarterback for Pitt, the senior quarterback completed 69.2 percent of his passes for 2,199 yards. He also has thrown for 13 touchdown passes and just 2 interceptions. His numbers are a significant improvement over his 2011 numbers where he completed 64.2 percent of his passes for 2,616 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. This can also be seen as a surprise too considering he has had 3 different head coaches in his 3 years starting as Pittsburgh quarterback. Backup quarterback Trey Anderson has only appeared in 1 game this season with him completing 2 passes out of 2 passes for 53 yards.

Pittsburgh QB's vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense: The Irish have done a surprisingly great job in the pass defense and are ranked 26th in the nation in pass defense. They have allowed opponents to complete 57.5 percent of their passes and allow 197.8 passing yards a game. They also have only allowed 5 passing touchdowns this season and have intercepted 13 passes too this season. Notre Dame has also only allowed 2 of their 8 opponents to pass for more than 200 yards this season as well. Tino Sunseri has improved as a quarterback in his third and final season as a starter for Pittsburgh, it will be important to also shut down his top 2 targets who are 6'4'' and 6'5'' and give him the benefit of having two big targets in the passing game.

Edge: Even

Notre Dame RB's: The running game has been very good for Notre Dame this season as they have the 33rd ranked rush offense and are averaging 196.5 yards a game and have 17 rushing touchdowns total this season. Theo Riddick has had a majority of the carries this season, he is the leading rusher with 525 rushing yards on 114 carries and is averaging 4.6 yards a carry with 4 rushing touchdowns as well. Riddick has also been vital to the receiving game too with 21 receptions for 182 yards and is the only running back besides Cam McDaniel to appear in all 8 games this season so far. Cierre Wood has done a great job this season too and in 6 games this season he has ran for 467 yards on 72 carries and has a 6.5 yards a carry average with 3 rushing touchdowns. George Atkinson III missed the previous game to illness, but should be ready to go for Pittsburgh, he has ran for 301 yards on 37 carries for a 8.1 average and has 4 rushing touchdowns. Cam McDaniel has rushed for 114 yards on 20 carries and has averaging 5.7 yards a carry and 1 touchdown, but has accumulated these numbers in late game situations as well.

Notre Dame RB's vs. Pittsburgh Rush Defense: Pittsburgh is 43rd in run defense this season and has allowed opponents to average 4.1 yards a carry and is allowing 141 rushing yards a game and 10 rushing touchdowns this season. 5 of those 10 rushing touchdowns came in the loss to Louisville earlier this season, but the front seven is younger this season as they returned 2 starters from the 2011 season and don't have any seniors starting and only 2 overall in the two-deep as well. Establishing the run would be wise for the Irish as well and rotate Wood, Riddick, and Atkinson frequently.

Edge: Notre Dame

Pittsburgh RB's: Ray Graham has bounced back from getting an ACL injury in the latter part of the 2011 season. The senior is a smaller back at 5'9'' and leads the team with 622 rushing yards on 134 carries with a 4.6 yard average and 7 touchdowns. However, Graham's rushing numbers are down from the previous season, as in 8 games last season he ran for 958 rushing yards on 164 carries with a 5.8 yard average and 9 touchdowns before tearing his ACL in Pittsburgh's 8th game of the season. He also has been vital in the catching game as the 3rd leading receiver too with 22 catches for 244 yards and 2 touchdowns. Rushel Shell has rushed for 441 yards on 87 carries with a 5.1 yard average with 4 touchdowns. Shell is a true freshman and is a bigger running back at 6'0'' and 215 lbs. Issac Bennett has ran for 126 yards on 27 carries with a 4.7 average and 3 rushing touchdowns this season.

Pittsburgh RB's vs. Notre Dame Rush Defense: Notre Dame has done an amazing job in the run defense category as they are ranked 9th overall in run defense and allow opponents to average just 3.1 yards a carry and allow 95.3 rushing yards a game this season. Prior to the game against Oklahoma, they hadn't allowed a rushing touchdown since the Boston College game back in 2011, or for 9 games in a row. Oklahoma rushed for the only rushing touchdown that the Notre Dame defense has allowed all season and have still allowed only 1 rushing touchdown all season. Notre Dame has done a terrific job in shutting down running games this season and should be able to keep Ray Graham and Rushel Shell in check.

Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame WR's and TE's: Tyler Eifert leads the Irish with 341 receiving yards on 22 receptions and 3 touchdowns. Eifert has managed to be more involved in the receiving game in the last 3 games and gives the Irish an important target in the passing game. TJ Jones is having his best season yet as a Notre Dame Football player and has a team-leading 26 receptions for 330 yards and 2 touchdowns. Davaris Daniels is doing a good job as a redshirt freshman and has 16 catches for 267 yards this season. Robby Toma has 14 receptions for 131 yards this season as well. Chris Brown had his first career reception last weekend against Oklahoma on a 50-yard catch and should continue to be more involved in the receiving game after finally getting his first reception this season. Troy Niklas has 4 receptions for 68 yards and John Goodman has 3 receptions for 59 yards and 1 touchdown this season.

Notre Dame WR's vs. Pittsburgh DB's: Pittsburgh's most veteran area on the team is in the secondary with Jason Hendricks, K'Waun Williams, and Jarred Holley being upperclassmen starters. The other starter in the secondary, Lafayette Pitts is a redshirt freshman. The secondary of Pittsburgh ought to be in for a test against a young, but talented receiving unit of Notre Dame. Golson should get the ball to Eifert, Daniels, and Jones often. However, it would also be wise to target other receivers as well like Chris Brown too.

Edge: Even

Pittsburgh WR's and TE's: Devin Street and Mike Shanahan have been very important targets in the passing game, both are big targets and have more than half of the teams receptions, yards and touchdowns overall. Devin Street leads with 50 catches for 695 yards and 4 touchdowns, while Mike Shanahan has 37 receptions for 631 yards and 3 touchdowns. Cameron Sadler is a smaller receiver at 5'7'' and 170 lbs. And has 13 catches for 186 yards and 1 touchdown. Ronald Jones has 6 receptions for 62 yards, and tight end Hubie Graham has 6 catches for 52 yards.

Pittsburgh WR's vs. Notre Dame DB's: Considering the size of Devin Street and Mike Shanahan and the fact that they have a good majority of the numbers in the receiving game, it is extremely important to shut those two down. If they are kept in check, it will drastically reduce the effectiveness of the passing game. Bennett Jackson and KeiVarae Russell have done a great job so far this season as they both are converted over from the offense and in their first year starting at cornerback too. Notre Dame has done a great job in preventing the big play as well since the longest passes caught by Street and Shanahan are 58 and 77 yards, respectively.

Edge: Even

Notre Dame OL: The offensive line had an amazing game against Oklahoma by limiting false starts, opening up things up in the running game, and keeping opponents out of the backfield. The offensive line has allowed 14 sacks this season, 27 quarterback hurries, and 37 tackles for loss this season. Run blocking has been great with the Irish averaging 196.5 yards a game and 4.9 yards a rush as well. Consistency is important and continuing to keep penalties reduced is important too.

Notre Dame OL vs. Pittsburgh DL: Pittsburgh has done a pretty good job in getting into the opponents backfield and putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Panthers defense has 47 tackles for loss, 16 sacks, and 26 quarterback hurries. Notre Dame will need to build upon the performance by their offensive line and keep false starts to a minimum, protect Golson, open lanes in the running game, and prevent opponents from being in the backfield on a constant basis.

Edge: Even

Pittsburgh OL: The Pittsburgh offensive line has done a decent job in the run blocking area with average per game being 150.4 yards and the average per rush being 3.9 as well. The same might not be said for other areas, as they have allowed 42 tackles for loss, 20 sacks, and 27 quarterback hurries. These numbers are rather high considering the fact that they have not played a difficult schedule that has 2 division 1-AA opponents and a MAC school.

Pittsburgh OL vs. Notre Dame DL: Pittsburgh will face a huge test in the Notre Dame defensive line and the defense in general. The Irish have 40 tackles for loss, 21 sacks, and 34 quarterback hurries this season. This can be seen in the defensive line with Stephon Tuitt and his 8.5 sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss and 8 quarterback hurries. He isn't the only defensive lineman that has had an outstanding season as Louis Nix III anchors the line at the nose tackle position. Pittsburgh will have a real handful with the great defensive front of Notre Dame and if the Irish win this battle in the trenches, Pittsburgh will have difficulty in putting drives together on offense.
Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame DL: The defensive line has done a great job this season and is one of the most talented defensive lines in all of college football. Stephon Tuitt has been a big reason for that and has 29 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, 1 pass breakup, 8 quarterback hurries, 1 fumble recovery for a touchdown, 1 forced fumble, and a blocked kick. He has more or loss, done it all this season. Louis Nix III leads all defensive lineman in tackles with 30, but also has 4 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 3 pass breakups, 3 quarterback hurries, and 1 forced fumble this season. Kapron Lewis-Moore has 26 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 pass breakup and 6 quarterback hurries. Sheldon Day, Tony Springmann, and Kona Schwenke all have seen extensive playing time with all 3 playing in every single game this season.

Notre Dame DL vs. Pittsburgh OL: Pittsburgh's offensive line has allowed opponents to be able to get into the backfield and also put pressure on opposing quarterbacks by allowing 42 tackles for loss, 20 sacks, and 27 quarterback hurries. If Tuitt and the defensive line are able to get pressure constantly at the Pittsburgh offensive line, it will over quick for the Pittsburgh offense and lead to many 3 and outs. Tuitt has the opportunity to potentially hit the double digit mark in sacks and tackles for loss in this game as well. Look for a strong performance from Notre Dame's defensive line.

Edge: Notre Dame

Pittsburgh DL: The defensive line of Pittsburgh is young as they returned 1 starter this season. However, that one starter has been important in Aaron Donald, who has a defensive lineman leading 31 tackles (4th overall on the team), 8.5 tackles for loss (leads team), 3.5 sacks (leads team), 10 quarterback hurries (leads team) and 1 forced fumble. Tyrone Ezell has 21 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and 1 quarterback hurry. TJ Clemmings has 18 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 2 quarterback hurries. Bryan Murphy has 17 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks, and 4 quarterback hurries. Shayne Hale is the lone senior amongst the entire defensive line and has 10 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, and 1 fumble recovery. Devin Cook has 10 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 quarterback hurries, and 2 forced fumbles.

Pittsburgh DL vs. Notre Dame OL: The Panthers face a Notre Dame offensive line that has at times allowed opponents to get into the backfield and also pressure the quarterbacks as well. However, they did well against Oklahoma and need to build upon that consistency as well. If the Irish keep the young Pittsburgh defensive line at bay and allow the running backs to get through while also protecting Golson, it will be quite important.

Edge: Even

Notre Dame LB's: Manti Te'o, the heart of the defense and the entire Notre Dame Football team, has been having a sensational senior year and is a major Heisman Trophy candidate as well. He has a team-leading 80 tackles along with 4.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 5 interceptions (leads team), 3 pass breakups, 4 quarterback hurries, and 2 fumble recoveries as well. The linebacker unit has been great and gives the Irish one of the best front sevens in all of college football. Dan Fox has 38 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 pass breakups, and 2 quarterback hurries. Carlo Calabrese has 32 tackles and 1 tackle for loss, while Prince Shembo has 30 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, and 9 quarterback hurries (leads team). Danny Spond has 27 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception, and 2 pass breakups. Ishaq Williams has 14 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and 1 forced fumble as well. The unit is a deep one that has seen many others play such as Jarrett Grace, Kendall Moore, and Ben Councell.

Notre Dame LB's vs. Pittsburgh: The linebackers will needed to help put pressure on the offensive line, contain Ray Graham and Rushel Shell, and get to Tino Sunseri as well. Te'o will have a great opportunity to keep building upon his amazing season that could help when it comes to the Heisman Trophy. Considering all of this, it would also be important to frequently rotate players and make use of the depth that the irish have here.

Edge: Notre Dame

Pittsburgh LB's: Shane Gordon leads all linebackers in tackles with 33 and is 3rd overall on the team in that area. He also has 5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 5 pass breakups and 1 quarterback hurry. Eric Williams has 29 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 pass breakups, 5 quarterback hurries, and 2 fumble recoveries. Dan Mason has 27 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 pass breakup, and 1 quarterback hurry, while Nicholas Grigsby has 27 tackles as well. Todd Thomas has 21 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack, and 1 blocked kick.

Pittsburgh LB's: The big thing for the linebackers is handling the Notre Dame running backs as they can use Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood, and George Atkinson III. Tyler Eifert will also attract attention as the tight end can be used in various spots on the offense while also attracting double and triple teams as well. The Panthers could also use the linebackers in pressuring Golson as well and could lead to an interesting matchup here.

Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame DB's: The secondary of Notre Dame has continued to greatly exceed expectations this season. When 2 players went down before the season started, it made a young unit to begin with even younger and lacking in depth. However, even with another season-ending injury in Jamoris Slaugther against Michigan St. earlier this season, the unit has done quite well and has allowed only 2 opponents to pass for more than 200 yards all season long. Zeke Motta has provided a veteran presence in the secondary and has 42 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 2 pass breakups. KeiVarae Russell has done a great job as a true freshman who was converted over from offense and has done particularly well with tackling and in coverage. He has 38 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks, 1 interception, and 1 pass breakup. Bennett Jackson has been really good as well and has 30 tackles, 4 interceptions, 1 pass breakup and 1 fumble recovery. Matthias Farley has done well in stepping into a starting role and has 26 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and 1 interception this season. Others who have seen playing time are true freshman Elijah Shumate who has 6 tackles and 3 pass breakups and Nicky Baratti who has 4 tackles and 1 interception.

Notre Dame DB's vs. Pittsburgh WR's: The big task for the Notre Dame defensive backs is to stop wide receivers Devin Street and Mike Shanahan as they are the big targets at 6'4'' and 6'5'' and have 87 of the teams 164 receptions (53 percent), 1326 of the teams 2252 receiving yards (59 percent), and 7 of the teams 13 touchdowns (54 percent). If they can shut down the two big targets, it will greatly limit the options that Pittsburgh quarterback Tino Sunseri has.

Edge: Even

Pittsburgh DB's: Jason Hendricks is having a good season for the Panthers as he leads the team in tackles with 54 and has 0.5 tackles for loss, 4 team-leading interceptions, and 2 pass breakups. Jarred Holley has 51 tackles (2nd overall) and has 1 tackle for loss, 1 interception, and 3 pass breakups. K'Waun Williams has 29 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception, and 1 pass breakup. Andrew Taglianetti has 26 tackles and 1 pass breakup, while Lafayette Pitts has 21 tackles, 5 pass breakups, 1 fumble recovery, and forced fumble. Cullen Christian has 12 tackles and 1 pass breakup, and Ray Vinopal has 9 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.

Pittsburgh DB's vs. Notre Dame WR's: Pittsburgh has a young and talented group of receivers to account for. In addition to TJ Jones, Davaris Daniels, and Robby Toma, they must account for tight end Tyler Eifert who is one of the best tight ends in all of college football and attracts considerable amounts of coverage as well. Pittsburgh would be wise to not move their coverage primarily on Eifert, since it could open things up in the passing game and see another deep completion to Chris Brown as seen in the Oklahoma game.

Edge: Even

Notre Dame Kicking Game: Kyle Brindza is 14 of 19 on the season and has had good moments (game winning kick over Purdue, 2 made field goals over 40+ yards against Oklahoma) and bad moments (missing 2 field goals against BYU). Ben Turk is averaging 40.9 yards a punt on 33 punts and there has been a long of 53 yards. His punts also have led to 1 touchback, 13 fair caught, 9 inside the 20, and 7 of 50 or more yards. Kyle Brindza is also the kickoff specialist and is averaging 62.7 yards a kickoff on 46 kickoffs and 21 have been touchbacks.

Pittsburgh Kicking Game: Kevin Harper is 10 of 15 on the season in field goals with the longest going for 45 yards. Matt Yokilic is the punter and has a 42.1 yard average on 30 punts and has a long of 54. He also has 4 touchbacks, 4 have been fair caught, 11 inside the 20, but has had one punt blocked this season. Kevin Harper also is the kickoff specialist and has a 59.7 yard average and 9 of his 45 kickoffs are touchbacks, but 2 kickoffs have gone out-of-bounds.

Stronger Unit: Even

Notre Dame Return Game: George Atkinson III has returned 8 kickoffs for 155 yards and Cam McDaniel has returned 5 punts for 102 yards this season. Davonte Neal has returned 12 punts for 34 yards this season.

Pittsburgh Return Game: Lafayette Pitts has returned 17 kickoffs for 472 yards and has a long of 64 yards, Cameron Saddler has 5 kickoffs returned for 102 yards, and Brendon Felder has 3 kickoffs returned for 70 yards. Cameron Saddler has 11 punts returned for 72 yards, and Todd Thomas returned one punt for 41 yards and a touchdown.

Stronger Unit: Pittsburgh

Everything Else: Pittsburgh is with it's third different head coach in the last three seasons, and is 4-4 on a weak schedule that features 2 division 1-AA teams (Pittsburgh defeated Gardner-Webb, but lost to Youngstown St.), a MAC team in Buffalo, a former MAC team back in the Big East in Temple. They beat a Virginia Tech team that is set to have its first season without 10 or more wins since 2003 and is also currently 4-4. In fact, the same 4-4 Virginia Tech team is the best win Pitt has had all season since Temple is 3-4, Buffalo is 1-7, and Gardner-Webb is a Division 1-AA team that is 2-6. In 3 of Pittsburgh's 4 losses they scored 17 or less points in each of those games, but scored 35 points in a 35-45 loss at home to Louisville. Pittsburgh is 1-2 on the road with the win being over Buffalo. The Irish are coming off a 30-13 win at Oklahoma, and should continue to do great this season. What they need to do on offense is establish the run early and mix it up with Wood, Riddick, and Atkinson. Balance will still be important on offense and this could be the first game this season that Golson throws for more than 1 touchdown pass in a game this season. The defense of Notre Dame has been outstanding this season and should put pressure on Pittsburgh's offensive line and get a few sacks and potentially the first safety in a very long time, and containing the two big wide receivers as well. In addition, if the Irish are able to do all of this, it can lead to Pittsburgh being unable to sustain drives on offense and lead to many three and outs.

Prediction: Notre Dame 37, Pittsburgh 6

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