I think only the most ridiculously overconfident and/or foolish fan would think Pitt will have no trouble with Notre Dame. As Coach Wannstedt pointed out in his presser, they are still a damn talented team.
But, the focus this week with Notre Dame will be to clean up some of the details from last week’s game, and then get ready to play a very, very, talented Notre Dame football team. Looking at them on tape, offensively to start off with, they are a veteran group with size and experience on the offensive line. I think that Jimmy Clausen is playing as good as any quarterback around. He’s much improved. I’ve had a chance from playing him to follow his career. From when he first came in, he’s much improved in all aspects of the game. They have a talented group of skill players. (Halfback) Armando Allen, I remember visiting with him when he came out of high school down in Miami. We know what kind of talent they have at running back. Theo Riddick, a freshman, we talked to him last year about potentially coming to Pitt. Now with (wide receiver) Michael Floyd back, and with Golden Tate, they’ve got as dynamic a one-two punch and as explosive as anybody in the country. As you watch the tape of all of our opponents I would say without a doubt Golden (Tate) is the best player that we have faced. He does it all. This guy is exceptional at catching the ball, exceptional at making guys miss, he’s a tough guy. Wherever they line him up, whatever responsibility they give him, this guy is special. He is very impressive. Defensively, they do a lot. They’re a pressure team. They will force us to make sure that we cover all of our bases, from an offensive standpoint, run and pass-wise. They try to create bad plays, negative plays. They force turnovers. Again, with the skill that they have on defense, particularly in their secondary with some of the speed and experience they have back there, they can latch on to receivers and give you a lot of bad plays. So this will be a big, big challenge for us without a doubt.
Defensively their schemes are the complete opposite of Pitt’s. Their DC, John Tenuta (Tahh-noo-taa Blitz!) is absolutely in love with blitzing. He is always trying to bring pressure up front.
I would say this is the biggest challenge for the O-line and QB Bill Stull. It will be a lot like the Rutgers game from that standpoint, where Stull got hit a lot. It is arguably in Notre Dame’s interest to blitz early and often from a standpoint of trying to keep Dorin Dickerson off the field. If the Irish get some success, then Pitt will have to do much more blocking with the TE spot. Of course, the counter would be to let Dickerson be out there in two-TE sets and give up a WR. A trade I think OC Cignetti would be willing to make. And make no mistake, Dickerson is a major concern for ND.
Dickerson’s big season is part of Pitt’s successful equation, too, with the position switch working out well.
“They had to find a positing for me where I could use all my intangibles in one, which is the tight end/H-back,” he said.
Dickerson moves around in the Pitt offense, so he is not spending his whole day blocking defensive ends. He’s definitely found a home at tight end/H-back.
“I fell in love with the position,” he said. “I feel like I can use my abilities a lot more.”
Notre Dame is a little banged up as their starting TE Kyle Rudolph is not on the depth chart this week after suffering a shoulder injury in the Navy game. Of course, that could just be Weis channeling his inner-Belichek. [UPDATE: Rudolph is out until at least December.] But ND also gets back leading rusher Armando Allen and guard Trevor Washington — both starters who missed the Navy game.
The ND offense though, is all passing. Especially in the past month, as the run seemed to have been abandoned more often. Getting away from a balanced attack.
Rudolph is the 3d leading receiver, so if he’s out it could be a factor. Well, maybe were it not for Michael Floyd being back and the extremely dangerous Golden Tate.
Notre Dame junior receiver Golden Tate is one of the nation’s leading receivers with 65 passes for 1,059 yards and 10 touchdowns. And the Panthers know if they take their eyes off him, it is likely they will not win the game.
Tate averages 16.3 yards per catch and he is the kind of star-caliber player who is capable of changing games with big plays in clutch situations.
“Without a doubt, he’s the best athlete we’ve faced all year and he’s the best athlete in football right now,” said Pitt linebacker Adam Gunn. “He’s special and they do a great job of finding ways to get him the ball, whether he is lined up in the backfield in the wildcat package or he’s lined up wide.
“They find ways to get him the ball and they look for matchups that favor him and they are going to try to use him to exploit us. We have to prepare throughout the week to be matched up in different circumstances and know where he’s at every play.”
Tate’s ability to run the ball out of the wildcat and in some reverses — he has 21 carries for 157 yards and two touchdowns — is not a surprise to anyone who has watched him because he can outrun defenders as well as make people miss.
This is the best passing offense Pitt has faced, and likely the second best they will face all season (Cinci will be the best). So, yes the secondary has performed very well in recent weeks, but it will be the biggest test yet.
One of the reasons for the secondary’s improved play, has been the emergence of Jarred Holley.
Wannstedt is pleased with the progress Holley has made in the short time he has been with the team.
“Jarred Holley is a playmaker, and that interception was great,” Wannstedt said. “He has a lot of responsibility back there for a redshirt freshman, like making checkdowns.”
When Fields is healthy, Wannstedt may be faced with a decision to either bring him back or leave Holley in as the starter. It may end up being a good problem to face.
“Jarred is not only in the starting lineup right now, but he’s playing extremely well,” Wannstedt said.
I don’t see any changes being made. Elijah Fields is rather close to fully healthy (if he isn’t actually), but he seems more comfortable being a linebacker/safety with a little less pressure on him as not being a starter and being used in packages.
As everyone is saying, it won’t be enough for Pitt to play defense and get yards to chew clock. They have to score. The Irish score a lot — when they aren’t making key redzone turnovers and missed scoring opportunities.
Their defense has been as good as it should be, but it has done survived enough to keep them in games. Notre Dame has 7 games out of 9 where it was decided by 7 points or less (4-3 in those games).