Matchups: Notre Dame vs. Pittsburgh
Sam Werner | Friday, November 13, 2009
NOTRE DAME PASSING
Even though the rest of the team may have faltered in last week’s loss to Navy, junior quaterback Jimmy Clausen continued to put up impressive numbers.
The loss of sophomore tight end Kyle Rudolph will undoubtedly hurt the passing game, but junior Mike Ragone showed last week that he should be able to fill in well enough.
Sophomore wide receiver Michael Floyd should be even closer to full strength after another week of rest and recovery. Floyd appeared to shake the rust off quickly against Navy last weekend with 10 catches, and will be even more effective Saturday night.
The real test will be up front for the Irish, as Pittsburgh leads the country in sacks with 39. Notre Dame’s offensive line has improved this season, but still gave up two crucial sacks to an undersized Navy defensive line last weekend. Keeping Clausen clean will be essential if the Irish want to come out winners.
Edge: Notre Dame
NOTRE DAME RUSHING
Notre Dame’s leading rusher Armando Allen returns to action this week after missing the past two games with an ankle injury. When healthy, Allen has looked like the most effective Irish rusher this season, and his return to the lineup should mean a big boost in the Irish rushing attack.
That being said, Robert Hughes also established himself with strong games against Washington State and Navy. Freshman Theo Riddick also had a breakout game against the Midshipmen, rushing five times for 35 yards against the Midshipmen despite receiving limited carries in the second half.
On the other side of the ball, Pittsburgh boasts one of the strongest defensive lines in the country and held Navy, which gashed the Irish defense last week, to only 129 yards rushing.
It’s possible for the Irish to run the ball against Pittsburgh, but it will take a real commitment to the ground game that was absent against Navy.
NOTRE DAME SPECIAL TEAMS
Freshman kicker Nick Tausch missed his first two field goals since the second game of the season last week, but there’s no reason to think that Tausch won’t return to form this week. Heinz Field is notorious for the difficulty it presents kickers, but the freshman’s body of work indicates that there should be nothing to worry about.
Eric Maust, who didn’t have to punt at all last week, will take over from freshman Ben Turk for the punting duties.
NOTRE DAME COACHING
The loss of Kyle Rudolph will affect the play calling, and new starter Mike Ragone will probably stay in and block more than Rudolph would.
Last week, Irish coach Charlie Weis showed the flaws that have plagued him his entire career. Goal line plays such as a toss to Robert Hughes and an end around playaction pass left fans scratching their heads. Weis needs to keep it simple this week with his job on the line.
Panthers quaterback Bill Stull has been solid, if not spectacular this season. All the Irish coaches praised Stull’s poise and decision making under pressure. Stull has indeed been effective, throwing 17 touchdown passes with only four interceptions. He ranks fifth nationally in passing efficiency, only two spots below Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen.
On the receiving end, sophomore wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin stepped up after a promising freshman season. At 6-foot-5, Baldwin has the ability to outjump opposing cornerbacks and come down with difficult catches. Senior tight end Dorin Dickerson leads the team with 39 catches and 10 touchdown grabs.
A game against run-happy Navy made Notre Dame’s pass defense statistics look a little bit better, but it’s no secret that the Irish secondary has struggled this season. They’ve shown flashes of talent in the past, but will need to turn in their best game of the season if the Irish want to win this game.
After what looked like weeks of improvement, the Irish run defense took a step back last weekend, giving up 348 rushing yards to Navy’s triple option attack. It’s possible that the Irish were simply foiled by Navy’s unique offense and will return to form against the Panthers’ more traditional style.
For Pittsburgh, redshirt freshman Dion Lewis has exploded onto the scene this season, running 203 times for 1,139 yards and 12 touchdowns. Lewis is seventh in the country in terms of rushing yards, and leads the Big East.
The Irish have certainly slowed down good running backs this season. Nevada’s Vai Taua, USC’s Joe McKnight and Boston College’s Montel Harris all rank in the top forty rushing nationally.
Freshman linebacker Manti Te’o has improved against the run, and should continue to rack up the tackles this week. However, If most of the leading Irish tacklers are defensive backs, as is often the case, Notre Dame could be in trouble, as that means Lewis was able to break through the Irish front line often.
PITTSBURGH SPECIAL TEAMS
Junior kicker Dan Hutchins has made 13 of 16 kicks on the season, and only missed one inside of 40 yards. As a punter, Hutchins is averaging 41.2 yards per kick, and has had 13 punts down inside the 20-yard line.
The Panthers are still searching for the answer returning kicks, as eight different players have at least one kick return on the year. Against the Irish, look for freshmen Ray Graham and Cameron Saddler to line up deep.
Edge: Notre Dame
Four seasons ago, Dave Wannstedt went against Charlie Weis in both coaches’ collegiate debut. Both have come under some fire during their tenures at their respective alma maters, but Wannstedt seems to have bounced back and has led the Panthers to their first top ten appearance since 1982.
The Panthers run a balanced offensive attack, and Wannstedt has shown over the course of the season that he knows what it takes to win.