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irish insider

Head to head: Pittsburgh

| Friday, October 12, 2018

Observer Sports Staff | The Observer

Irish Passing

The reasons to believe junior quarterback Ian Book is not the real deal are few and far between, and since his assumption of the starting job, the Irish passing unit has taken on a new life. Since Book has taken over, Miles Boykin has had two games of over 100 receiving yards; prior to Book’s takeover, Boykin had none. It’s clear that the receivers are staying busy under Book for the better. Pitt is ranked No. 76 in FBS in defensive efficiency, and frankly, the unit is no match for Book and the Irish. Barring a Ball State-esque performance, Book and the receiving corps should have no problem handling this Pitt defense.

EDGE: Notre Dame

 

Irish Rushing

Against Virginia Tech, which has a top-10 rushing defense, and without the reassuring presence of Alex Bars on the line, Dexter Williams and the Irish were still able to finish the game with over 150 yards and three touchdowns. With Williams now in the mix, Notre Dame has game-changing explosiveness in the run game, and even with the loss of Bars, the Irish line has the depth to hold its own. Pitt ranks No. 105 in run defense, and has given up 14 rushing touchdowns through six games. This won’t be a contested area.

EDGE: Notre Dame

 

Irish Offensive Coaching 

The play-calling in the first half against the Hokies was a bit questionable, but, in general, Chip Long has proven himself to be a solid leader for the Irish offense. The Irish have converted in the moments when it counts, with a 54 percent fourth-down conversion rate. The team has also scored on 22 of its 25 attempts to do so in the red zone, giving it a top-notch offensive efficiency in the red zone. This trend should continue on Saturday, especially against Pittsburgh’s porous run defense. 

EDGE: Notre Dame

 

Irish Offensive Special Teams

Justin Yoon became the all-time leading scorer in Notre Dame football history against Virginia Tech this past weekend, and for good reason — the senior kicker has done very well thus far this season, converting seven of 10 field goals and all 26 of his attempted extra points. The Irish return game has been servicible when given the opportunity, and was highlighted by senior Chris Finke’s 61-yard punt return against Wake Forest. However, the Irish special teams did slip up last week against Virginia Tech, as a bouncing snap caused graduate student punter Tyler Newsome to be taken down in the backfield for a big loss.

The Panthers have been solid in defending special teams this season, giving up only an average of 21.8 yards on kickoff returns and 8.08 yards on punt returns. Consider this an area of the field that shouldn’t swing the outcome very much.

EDGE: Even

 

Panthers Passing

For a team that’s struggled to convert offensive production into points in general, the Panthers have been especially bad in the air, getting out-passed by an average of 75 yards. Sophomore starting quarterback Kenny Pickett’s five interceptions are only one short of his six touchdowns, a statistic that should be easy for the Irish secondary to exploit. Additionally, the Panthers have been abysmal throwing the ball on long third-down situations, only converting 34 first downs at the midpoint of the season.

As long as the Irish defensive line can contain the run game and force Pickett to look to his receivers, expect cornerbacks Julian Love and Troy Pride Jr. to have a field day.

EDGE: Notre Dame

 

Panthers Rushing

The Irish defense has been lethal as of late, especially against the run. The unit held former Heisman candidate Bryce Love of Stanford to 73 rushing yards on 17 attempts, an impressive feat. Senior linebacker Te’von Coney has looked phenomenal in Notre Dame’s last few games, and the defensive line has left little room for opposing backs. North Carolina held Pitt to a total of 35 rushing yards earlier in the year, and the Tar Heels rank 117th in defensive efficiency. Notre Dame ranks 16th in defensive efficiency, and the unit has proved itself so far this season — and even though Pittsburgh’s rushing attack has been the strength of its offense this season, the Irish should have no problem against it.

EDGE: Notre Dame

 

Panthers Offensive Coaching

While this isn’t an elite Pitt offense, coordinator Shawn Watson has a history of developing quarterbacks under his tenure, and last year’s upset win over Miami with true freshman Kenny Pickett under center — the first true freshman to start at quarterback for Pitt since 2007 — set a high bar. This year, the Panthers are certainly run-heavy, and last week proved they can score in 44-37 win over Syracuse.

But Clark Lea’s unit has been getting better and better each week, and even with the potential loss of defensive end Daelin Hayes for another game, the Irish have definitely faced tougher tests than Pitt.

EDGE: Notre Dame

 

Panthers Offensive Special Teams 

You know a special teams unit is particularly good when a head coach specifically notes it in his opening press conference. Well, that’s what Brian Kelly did this Tuesday. He talked about how the Panthers have made a number of 50-plus yard field goals, this season. The Panthers are also averaging over 23 yards per kickoff return and 10 yards per punt return this season. In comparison, the Irish have held their opponents to just seven yards per punt return and 21 yards per kickoff return.

EDGE: Even

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