Staff Predictions 2020: Pittsburgh Panthers
Observer Sports Staff | Friday, October 23, 2020
Hayden Adams — Sports Editor
Here it is. The moment we’ve all been waiting for. The trap game that isn’t a trap game because everyone knows it’s a trap game. Notre Dame vs. Pitt. It brings to mind one word: angst. And this year’s rendition of the rivalry is no different. It’s a classic unstoppable force meets immovable object scenario when Notre Dame’s new-look run game matches up against Pitt’s defensive front. You’d best believe that if Louisville could get to the quarterback against Notre Dame with a three-man front (see four sacks taken by Ian Book against the Cards), Pitt can do the same and then some.
The other intriguing aspect of this matchup is the weakness vs. weakness presented by Notre Dame’s inability to connect on deep balls against a Pitt secondary that is prone to penalties and generally very boom or bust (see two Phil Jurkovec touchdowns to Zay Flowers against Pitt, one for 44 yards and one for 77). The Irish should win this game regardless of the status of Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett. But to borrow from fellow football beat writer Aidan Thomas, there’s three things for sure: taxes, death and Notre Dame winning unconvincingly.
FINAL SCORE: Notre Dame 20, Pitt 13
Jimmy Ward — Associate Sports Editor
It’s a trap! Or is it? To be honest, at this point in the season I have no idea which game can actually be considered a trap game. I’d say that any game following a 12-7 win over an unstable team is indeed just that — a trap game. I won’t let myself exaggerate and get too far ahead in uneasy anticipation of another ACC opponent and I’ll look at this game against Pitt at face value for what it really is.
We are six weeks into the college football experiment and despite being ranked No. 3 in the country, this Irish football team is still rusty, clunky, slow and overall just difficult to watch.
An opportunity to right the course does exist this week, but there is an undertone of deep anxiety. The Irish cannot afford to cough up another sloppy win. I think Pittsburgh will be able to take advantage of a frazzled Notre Dame team early but will get outplayed, just barely with the remaining time. Irish win, but it is still an uncomfortable win, leaving plenty more question marks. Pundits will once again have their heads in a pretzel trying to decipher just how good this 2020 Notre Dame football team actually is.
FINAL SCORE: Notre Dame 28, Pitt 17
Charlotte Edmonds — Senior Sports Writer
Ahhh, the dreaded Pitt game! You’d be hard pressed to find a Notre Dame fan who doesn’t experience a smidge of anxiety seeing the Panthers on Notre Dame’s schedule every couple of years and I’m no different. Pitt historically has been a trap game, a deceptively strong program whose record doesn’t always reflect its ability. Meanwhile, Notre Dame did little to address those concerns last week against Louisville. That said, what the offense lacked in inspiration, the defense made up for in discipline. That same discipline will be essential against the Panthers, who have all the makings of a dynamic passing offense under senior quarterback Kenny Pickett. But unlike Louisville, Ian Book and the receiving corps will have to show up against the Panthers. The run game is consistently improving, keeping the chains moving for the Irish offense, but against the Pitt defensive line, Book’s gonna have to look beyond the line of scrimmage downfield to some big targets.
FINAL SCORE: Notre Dame 27, Pitt 21
Ellen Geyer — Senior Sports Writer
This game feels eerily similar. An undefeated, top-5 Notre Dame team against an unranked Pitt. (presumably) Kenny Pickett vs. Ian Book. The Irish ground game facilitated by a back named Williams. Hopefully the 60 minutes on the gridiron look a little bit different.
I did not like what I saw in Notre Dame Stadium last week, and I don’t like traveling to Pitt on the heels of an abysmal offensive performance. As my colleagues have so wisely pointed out, the Panthers have a knack for creating a trap-game environment. They have yet to succeed during my tenure as a student, and I hope more than anything that that trend continues. The Irish passing game continues to experience offensive woes, and the Pitt defense has already recorded eight interceptions on the season — three courtesy of redshirt junior DB Paris Ford. Because offensive coordinator Tommy Rees was so quick to abandon the pass-game last weekend, I expect he’ll be cautious through the air again and Notre Dame will be run-first. With a pair of gritty backs in sophomore Kyren Williams and freshman Chris Tyree, it will probably work, but it won’t be pretty.
FINAL SCORE: Notre Dame 20, Pitt 14
Aidan Thomas — Sports Writer
I may have been spurred on in the latest episode of the Basement Breakdown to offer an overly optimistic prediction following the (self-quoted) angsty and pessimistic picks of my esteemed football beat colleagues. I still see Notre Dame winning this game comfortably, but I will renege slightly on my 35-10 thumping I called on the show. The trick to beating Pitt has proven to either be big performances from the opposing QB, or winning the field position battle (as Miami did last week when three of their four touchdown drives were 45 yards or shorter). While I don’t necessarily envision Book — averaging 178.5 passing yards per game — to light up the Panthers with an air attack, I trust Notre Dame to avoid mistakes offensively, even at the expense of explosiveness. More so than that, I trust the defense to limit a shaky Pitt offense led by a hobbled Kenny Pickett or backup quarterback Joey Yellen. Give me Notre Dame by two, maybe three, possessions as they avoid a classic trap game loss.
FINAL SCORE: Notre Dame 30, Pitt 14