Early football preview and predictions: Pittsburgh Panthers
Observer Sports Staff | Thursday, April 16, 2020
One of Notre Dame’s more underrated rivalry games returns to the schedule in 2020. The Irish will take on the Pittsburgh Panthers on Oct. 17 at Heinz Field, home of the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers. It will be Notre Dame’s third game of the season at an NFL stadium, after Wake Forest and Wisconsin.
Opponent: Pittsburgh Panthers
Date: Oct. 17, 2020
Location: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA
History of the matchup
Pittsburgh is Notre Dame’s fifth most-played opponent, behind only Navy, USC, Purdue and Michigan State. In 70 matchups, Notre Dame leads the all-time series 48-21-1. The rivalry began in 1909 when Notre Dame won the first matchup 6-0. There have been some memorable matchups throughout the series, particularly in the last 15 years.
The longest game in Notre Dame history was played in 2008 when Pittsburgh defeated the Irish by a field goal in the fourth overtime. In 2012, Notre Dame stayed undefeated in a controversial, triple-overtime win. The Irish erased a 14 point second-half deficit to force overtime, and the referees missed a potential penalty on a game-winning Pittsburgh field goal in the second overtime when two Notre Dame players were on the field wearing the number 2. Pittsburgh missed the kick, and Notre Dame won in the next overtime.
The last matchup took place in 2018 when Pittsburgh again nearly upset a highly ranked Irish team. They took a 7-6 lead into halftime and then returned the second-half kickoff for a touchdown. Junior quarterback Ian Book threw two touchdowns in the second half, and the Irish kept their playoff hopes alive.
Pittsburgh’s 2020 team
Pittsburgh was a respectable 8-5 in 2019 and finished fourth in the ACC Coastal division. They return 17 starters from that group and boast one of the best defenses in college football. Their front seven will likely test Notre Dame’s offensive line, as Pittsburgh was third nationally in sacks last season and returns nearly all of their starters there.
In addition to returning star defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman who led the team with 10.5 sacks, and Patrick Jones III who had eight-and-a-half sacks and 12 tackles for loss, they also gain the production of defensive tackle Rashad Weaver who led the team in sacks in 2018 but was injured in training camp last year. The Panthers’ secondary is also very experienced, even after graduating second-team All-ACC cornerback Dane Jackson.
The offense, however, is another story. They return quarterback Kenny Pickett who is expected to start for the third consecutive season, but he threw just 13 touchdowns against nine interceptions last year. Pittsburgh had difficulty running the ball as well, averaging just 119 yards per game. Their leading rusher was then-junior A.J. Davis, who rushed for 530 yards and four touchdowns, along with freshman Vincent Davis, who ran for 314 and five scores. They return a solid core of receivers as well.
Pittsburgh’s offensive line was inexperienced last year, and it showed, but they return four starters there, and it should be an improved unit. Expect their offense to make strides this year, as they will benefit greatly from a year of experience.
(Way too early) Predictions:
Hayden Adams — Sports Editor
Oct. 17, 2020: Most midterm exams are done, the Irish are coming off of a (likely) home win against Stanford and facing Pittsburgh with fall break starting and a bye week on the horizon. What happened last time we saw this scenario? Oh, that’s right, Pitt nearly derailed Notre Dame’s College Football Playoff hopes. Ian Book threw two picks, but in all fairness, the rushing attack gave us a preview of 2019 by rushing for only 80 yards on 38 carries. Fortunately, they were saved by Miles Boykin’s late-game heroics as they scraped out a 19-14 victory.
Pittsburgh is a team to be feared. They ended 2017 national champion UCF’s regular-season winning streak, after all. Jokes aside, I am a bit concerned about the physical nature of Pitt’s style of play. They’ll try to take advantage of an already worn down Notre Dame team right before a bye week. That said, like the concerns about facing a ranked Navy team last season, I think the real threat Pitt presents is blown out of proportion a bit. They aren’t as talented or as well-coached as the Irish, bottom line, and I think the Irish staff has had enough experience with trap games to get through this one.
FINAL: Notre Dame 27, Pitt 17
Liam Coolican — Sports Writer
This is a scary game for Notre Dame. They will have just played two difficult games in Wisconsin and Stanford, and Pittsburgh will be coming off a bye week. The Panthers’ defense is legit, and their offense will be much improved from their 8-5 team last year. It will be a low-scoring, grind-it-out type of game, and, if recent history is any indication, expect it to come down to the wire. Ian Book needs to have a great game for Notre Dame to win because they won’t be able to run the ball against that front seven. I’ll predict a Notre Dame victory, but I would not be surprised at all if it went the other way.
FINAL: Notre Dame 24, Pitt 23