October 08, 2010

Week 6 Pick: Notre Dame vs. Pittsburgh

Is this the start of a run to the Top 25, or another stumbling block before Notre Dame hits the JV portion of their schedule. Irish fans, allow yourself to look ahead for a second and ask - shouldn't this team be 9-3 and heading to a decent New Year's Day Bowl? Will ND be favored in every remaining game? Ok, now back to the present - let's take care of business against a mediocre but still dangerous Pitt team. The predictions...

Dan: Notre Dame

Sometimes, it feels good to be wrong, as with my Notre Dame pick last week. We saw glimpses of what this team can be in the first quarter, as well as with that beautiful drive in the 3rd quarter, which actually included 6 rushing plays. For most of the game ND still looked inconsistent. In fact, I’d call the last 3 quarters some of the most boring football I’ve ever watched.

As for this week, Pitt has been terrible to date Wins against New Hampshire and FIU do not inspire confidence. But Pitt, as with many other teams, always seems to play ND tough regardless of recent performance. And Wannstache may need a win against ND to save his job, or at least jump start his team as they head into conference play.

On offense, it is a question of whether ND can be consistent and Crist can make good decisions with accurate passes. Is it ND of the 1st quarter against BC? Or is it ND of the other 3 quarters? It looks to me like opposing defense are trying to take away the middle of the field to force Crist to throw out routes, which he has struggled with. Pitt has a tough run defense, but Armando has been a machine. I’d like to see a greater commitment to the run (pipe dream) to set up some play action passes to Rudolph. Kyle needs to be more involved than he has been recently.

On defense, Dion Lewis still scares me. If he can get to the edge, our LBs will lack the speed to catch him. If they keep him in the middle of the field, we should have luck bringing him down. And if we can generate some pressure (even if it takes blitzes), we should be able to contain Sunseri.
At first I was convinced that taking the points would be a good bet. But Pitt has just been too inconsistent. I think Dion does break a big run for a TD, but that Crist is just consistent enough to get the ND victory by 7.

Notre Dame 31 Pitt 24

Jeremy: Notre Dame

Interesting game this weekend – two teams still searching for an identity. Both two weeks removed from embarrassing losses to clearly superior teams, and a week removed from “ugly” wins over lousy teams. The Irish have had trouble with Pitt the last two years – in 2008, ND blew a big 2nd half lead and lost a FG battle in OT. In 2009, Golden Tate singlehandedly kept the Irish in the game, with ND suffering a tough defeat on a dubious fumble call at the end of the game.

I keep saying that I expect the Irish to put together a complete game and really blow the door off someone. I have a sneaking suspicion that it could happen this weekend in South Bend. Dayne Crist has still got quite a ways to go to become an elite QB, but he’s facing another shaky secondary that could be ripe for the picking. Missing in action is Greg Romeus, Pitt’s stud DE, who’s recently undergone a procedure on his back that will keep him out for a few weeks at least. Romeus has been a holy terror off the edge, and probably still haunts Jimmy Clausen’s dreams. Jabaal Sheard, the other half of Pitt’s dynamic DE duo, is still around, and when he’s not throwing people through plate glass windows, he’s abusing slow-footed OT’s with his lethal pass rush. A gimpy Taylor Dever may have his hands full on the outside if Sheard chooses to stay over on that side of the line.

The Irish have yet to make a strong commitment to the running game, even though Armando Allen seems to improve every week. It was difficult to watch the Irish continue to throw the ball with a big lead on the road last week, but apparently Brian Kelly stillhas some serious reservations about his ground game. Look for ND to continue to rely upon the pass to move the ball, paying only occasional lip service to the rushing attack. With Theo Riddick emerging as a legitimate weapon from the slot, Michael Floyd may see his chances increase on the outside. Here’s hoping he gets on a roll beginning this week that lasts straight through the end of the year.

On defense, the Irish will have to continue to make a commitment to stop the run. Graham and Lewis torched the Irish last year on the ground, and both return to test the likes of Manti Te’o and Carlo Calabrese. Lewis has missed some time this year with injuries, but Graham has proved a very capable fill-in, going for more than 200 yards on the ground last week. Sunseri has been very shaky in the passing game, severely reducing the effectiveness of the frightening Jon Baldwin. I expect Wannstedt to try to take some shots down the field, but also expect that Darrin Walls and Gary Gray will bring their respective A-games after being torched on several occasions by the lanky Pitt wideout in last year’s contest.

In the end, I’m still not quite ready to call for an explosion by the offense, but I do see continuing improvement on the defensive side of the ball and a hard-fought Irish victory, giving the lads some good momentum as they head into the soft underbelly of the schedule.

ND 27 Pitt 21

Jimmy: Notre Dame

Last week showed the difference between Charlie Weis and Brian Kelly. Weis would have figured out a way to keep an overmatched BC team close and its "home crowd advantage" involved much longer than they deserved. The Eagles only threat, Montel Harris, would have somehow enjoyed a nice game, even though he was studied all week by Tenuta and Brown. As it was, Brian Kelly made sure there would be no history repeated and no unnecessary hand wringing. Montel Harris never sniffed daylight and the offense sprinted to a 21-0 1st quarter cushion and never looked back.

Pitt is much the same team, albeit a tad more skilled. Wannstache is enduring some bumps this season (what else is new) as injuries plague the Panthers. Accordingly, Crist will prey (love the ring and double entendre of this sentiment) on their vulnerability. Crist's AA meetings with the coaching staff (Above-average Accuracy meetings...what'd you think AA meant?) should start reaping benefits tomorrow and the next three winnable games.

Like last week, Manti and the D will key on the running game to stuff Dion Lewis or Ray Graham (who rumbled for 277 yards last week and 141 total yards vs. Miami). Tino Sunseri is a homeless man's Tyler Palko or Bill Stull, which is to say he's not very good. Avoid the big play and keep Lewis and Graham (reminiscent of Eager and Jones) in check and this will be a three score game.

Notre Dame 34 Pitt 14

Matt: Notre Dame

Make no mistake about it – this is not a good Pitt team, regardless of what they go on to do in the dreadful Big East. They lost at Utah in OT, and I foolishly still believed in Wannstedt and the Panthers at home against Miami. And of course, predictably, they were destroyed and looked totally hapless against the Canes D. Nobody is going to be confusing the Notre Dame defense with the Miami defense anytime soon, but still, this is a game Notre Dame should control. The game plan really should look similar to BC, in that the emphasis must be on shutting down the Pitt running game and forcing young QB Tino Sunseri to make plays through the air.

There are two new faces prominent on the Pitt offense. The aforementioned Sunseri, who is 57th in the country in passing efficiency, two spots ahead of Dayne Crist. And the surprise of the Pitt team, running back Ray Graham, who has taken over for an injured and ineffective Dion Lewis and is 3rd in the country in rushing behind only Shoelace and LaMike James. Graham is averaging an eye-opening 9.5 YPC, and will offer a strong test to the ND front seven. ND fans remember receiver Jonathan Baldwin as the big play threat, but so far he has only 14 catches and is averaging a pedestrian 14 yards per catch with only two TD’s. Despite the less than impressive stats, I still expect Pitt to take some shots downfield to Baldwin, considering the Irish’ ineffectiveness covering him in the past.

On paper, this matchup looks pretty even, maybe even in Pitt’s favor. Pitt has the country’s 15th ranked rush defense, so expect the running game to be slowed. Nevertheless, I think it’s important that Kelly keep pounding the ball even if the running game is stymied in the early going. Wear down Pitt. Stay committed to Armando Allen. Pitt also has the 92nd pass defense, so look for big games from Riddick and maybe Rudolph or Floyd. It would be nice if Mike Floyd could break out in a big way, but with the double teams he’s been drawing, he is opening up a lot of the underneath stuff for the other receivers. And finally, with Pitt, you can’t do a preview without talking about the HUGE coaching advantage for the opposition. WANNY! I thought a year or two he had turned the corner, but he’s just never going to be a good coach.

One more thing, a bold prediction: Bennett Jackson will have a kickoff return TD. I’m smitten. After seemingly years of tentative, slow and mediocre kickoff returns, I think the Irish have found an answer in the freshman receiver.

Notre Dame 27 Pitt 17

Mike: Notre Dame

Perhaps the most encouraging part of last week’s win was the rushing defense against Montel Harris. This week, however, the Irish will face a more stern test against Pittsburgh’s Ray Graham, who is currently ranked 3rd in the nation in rushing. In addition, last year’s star tailback, Dion Lewis, should be back in the lineup and eager to kick start his sophomore campaign, which has been quite disappointing thus far. Fortunately for ND, Pittsburgh has not shown that it can throw the ball with any real success, despite having one of the top receivers in college football in Jon Baldwin, so the Irish should be able to stack the box defensively.

On offense, Notre Dame was characteristically inconsistent against BC last week, as dropped passes, missed assignments and other errors have become commonplace in Brian Kelly’s pass-heavy attack. Pittsburgh has a few playmakers on defense, namely Jabaal Sheard, and a decent veteran coordinator in Phil Bennett, but the Panthers are banged up and not particularly talented on the whole. Accordingly, the Notre Dame offense should be able to move the ball with relative ease if they can eliminate their mistakes. Notwithstanding Pitt’s vulnerability, I expect more of the same on offense, which will allow the Panthers to remain close throughout this game.

Ultimately, Notre Dame will have another solid effort on defense against an underwhelming offense and the Irish will make just enough plays to emerge victorious in a game that will leave Notre Dame patrons relieved, but unsatisfied.

Notre Dame 24 Pittsburgh 20

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