BY: Jeff Schneberk
Pittsburgh is another one of those teams that will play the Fighting Irish very, very hard.
They would do it with high schoolers if they had to. They don’t need any big name players at Pitt to take the Irish on a ride they probably won’t forget (remember last year?).
Pittsburgh is considered a sub-par team based on their record. That usually means they will give the Irish one hell of a wild ride.
The 23rd-ranked Fighting Irish have won the past three meetings against the Panthers by a total of 12 points, and could be headed for another tight finish Saturday at Heinz Field against a desperate Pitt team.
Since the start of the 2012 season, the Fighting Irish (7-2) have won 10 straight games decided by a touchdown or less, tying coach Brian Kelly with Knute Rockne for the second-longest such streak in school history.
“Winning in college football is hard to do each and every week,” he said. “Teams play us so hard. Guys from Navy in tears, grown men crying after a game they put so much effort and their soul into the game. It’s hard to win.”
But not all teams are having as much difficulty as Notre Dame has experienced with some of its lesser opponents. The Irish were favored by 20 1/2 points at Purdue on Sept. 14, and then scored 21 points early in the fourth quarter to win 31-24.
Next up for the Irish is Pittsburgh (4-4). The Panthers have lost two in a row, most recently falling 21-10 at Georgia Tech last Saturday.
But Pitt has also done a good job putting up points at times this season. On Sept. 21 they beat 6-2 Duke, 58-55 and they kept #24 Virginia Tech to under 20 points
Pitt also has a knack for keeping things very close with ND. Nobody forgot ND’s 29-26 triple OT win last November that kept the Irish title hopes alive. Could you see another 3OT performance this weekend?
Count Pitt tight end J.P. Holtz (interesting last name eh?) as one of the Panther players who isn ‘t going to be looking into respect too much.
Pitt tight end J.P. Holtz, on the other hand, didn’t seem to take any pride from his team going toe-to-toe with the Irish in South Bend last season — especially considering his team blew a 14-point fourth-quarter lead.
“Personally, I don’t like Notre Dame at all,” Holtz said Monday. “It’s going to make me play harder.”
Pressed on where that animosity comes from considering Holtz was recruited by the Irish and claims he had an “awesome” visit to South Bend, the sophomore shrugged his shoulders.
“I just think they’re really cocky and their coaches are really cocky,” Holtz said. “So, I just don’t like that.”
Pitt didn’t not have the greatest outing last week when they were downed by the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Pitt was held to minus five yards rushing by Georgia Tech, who sacked Pitt QB Tom Savage five times and shut down Pitt on three-straight second-half possessions.
Pitt’s offense ranks 103rd in the nation in total yards (345.9 per game) and a victory over ND on Saturday could propel them towards a sixth-straight bowl berth.
In terms of individual head-to-head competitions, ND clearly has the edge at QB with Tommy Rees producing 2186 yards and 22 touchdown throws. Pitt’s Tom Savage is at 1779 yards with only 14 touchdowns.
Notre Dame struggled mightily last week but survived against Navy and kept their BCS hopes alive. The Irish are done with facing the option offense which is good for the defense as they can get back to normal assignments. The offense will have more difficulty putting up points as they’ll be facing division one athletes again. Notre Dame will go into its primetime showdown with Pitt shorthanded due to injuries, so the following players must step up and dominate their matchups for the Irish to have success.
-TJ Jones vs Lafayette Pitts
Number one receiver T.J. Jones continues to put up numbers week after week for the Irish and will look to do so again against Pitt. Jones is leading the Irish in virtually every receiving category and is by far Rees’ favorite target. Lafayette Pitts will be charged with shutting down Jones. Pitts played well against Notre Dame last season and will look to do it again on his home field in primetime. Pitts is a physical corner and will look to knock Jones off his routes and make Rees throw into tight coverage and make mistakes when looking for Jones in key situations.
Kelly is hopeful that the Irish will get Louis Nix back in the mix this weekend as well as getting Sheldon Day more involved after the sophomore returned to the field last week. Nix has been committed to staying in shape while he has missed time on the filed by putting in time in the weight room.
For whatever reason though, the injury bug has hit Notre Dame hard this year. The Irish lost Jarrett Grace and Daniel Smith for the season against a non option team.Nix has been out of the line since before the Irish faced either Air Force and Navy. Sheldon Day’s been limited since earlier this season.
Yes, Notre Dame did lose Kona Schwenke, Ishaq Williams, and Ben Councell the last couple of weeks, but I don’t think the injuries occurred just because of cut blocks. Pitt played Georgia Tech and Navy back to backs and didn’t experience the rash of injuries Notre Dame has had.
Saturday’s game gets going at 8pm ET at Heinz Field, where the Pittsburgh Steelers play.