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No. 3 Notre Dame at Pittsburgh: Who, what, when, where, why and by how much?


WHO? No. 3 Notre Dame (4-0, 3-0 ACC) at Pittsburgh (3-3, 2-3).After the Irish slipped by Louisville last weekend, head coach Brian Kelly trotted out a well-worn coach-ism.

“When you’re a top-5 team in the country, you’re going to get the opposition’s best game, period,” Kelly said. “That was not a 1-3 football team we played today. That was a team that played their absolute best, took care of the football.”

Kelly had maintained all week the Cardinals were better than their record indicated, a claim supported by watching Louisville’s first few games and recognizing the speed on its roster.

No one is mistaking Pittsburgh for its record, either. Not with its top-flight defense and a penchant for springing upsets under sixth-year head coach Pat Narduzzi.

WHAT? A measuring stick for Notre Dame. Rolling through rebuilding Florida State was one thing, as was playing down to the Cardinals’ level. The Irish cannot afford to muck it up with the Panthers, not if they want to win today and not if they want to find the footing needed to get by No. 1 Clemson in two weeks.

Not everything should be viewed through an orange-and-white prism. That gauge applies only on Nov. 7 (and probably Dec. 19), but at some point, Notre Dame needs to establish what it can rely on in November.

WHEN? A 3:36 ET kickoff, which will bring perfectly-seasoned football weather in the Steel City on the Ohio River. The Irish and their fans (and beat writers) will have two weekends of afternoon work before returning to primetime against Clemson.

WHERE? Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, where Notre Dame senior defensive tackle and Pittsburgh native Kurt Hinish played three times in high school. The most difficult aspect of Heinz Field has long not been rowdy fans, which will obviously be nearly entirely mitigated this weekend, but often its swirling wind. In such an instance, Irish senior kicker Jonathan Doerer focuses his warmups on finding the sweet spots through the wind patterns.

ABC has the national broadcast, meaning Watch ESPN is the friend of anyone needing to stream the game.

WHY? When Notre Dame added five ACC games a year to its schedule in 2014, facing Pittsburgh was one of the reasons it made sense. They may not be storied rivals a la USC or Michigan, but the Irish have a lengthy history against the Panthers, with a few moments of notoriety (2012’s drama chief among them, but let’s not forget the sprinklers going off in quadruple overtime in 2008 or the last-second field goal that ended Tyrone Willingham’s tenure in 2004).

Similarly, folding Notre Dame into the ACC meant capitalizing on its history with Boston College, Florida State and Miami. It is hard to believe it is a complete coincidence two of those were added to the Irish schedule in the pandemic reshuffling. These pairings make the ACC partnership a natural one.

When an unstoppable force meets an immovable object in college football in 2020, the expectation is the tie goes to the offense. Notre Dame’s rushing offense ranks No. 6 in the country with 261 yards per game (min. 3 games) and No. 4 in yards per carry at 5.87. Behind sophomores Kyren Williams and C’Bo Flemister, freshman Chris Tyree and fifth-year quarterback Ian Book — not to mention what may be the country’s best offensive line — the Irish have run through their entire schedule to date.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh gives up 61.5 yards per game and 1.85 yards per rush, both the best in the country. Immovable object might apply more literally here than usual on a football field.

Thus, the combined point total over/under of 43.5 makes more sense than Notre Dame being favored by 9.5 points as of late Friday evening. A 27-17 final would fit the usual theme between these two programs, though, if anything, it might be too wide a margin of victory.

In six meetings during the Kelly Era, the Irish have gone 5-1 against the Panthers, the wins reaching the end of four quarters with an average score of 23-18, the loss not too far from that tone at 28-21.

In other words, playing Pittsburgh is typically tense and ugly. In each of its last two unbeaten seasons, Notre Dame got past the similar color scheme by one score, in the 2012 instance needing three overtimes.

If anything will allow Saturday to be the exception proving those rules, it will be the Irish defense, a rather immovable object in its own right, facing a stoppable — hmmm, there might not be an appropriate antonym for “force” to stick here. The Panthers average 2.89 yards per carry and 5.11 yards per play. In five FBS games, Pittsburgh has averaged 24.4 points per game, and none of those defenses compares to the standard set by Clark Lea’s.

The Irish may struggle to score much, but if their unstoppable force can play to 2020’s trends to beat the Panthers’ immovable object a time or two, that should be too much for Pittsburgh backup quarterback Joey Yellen to match.

Notre Dame 27, Pittsburgh 7.
(4-0 straight up, 2-2 against the spread, 2-2 over/under)

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INSIDE THE IRISH READING:A Notre Dame win warrants celebration, for one couple more than othersSpace Notre Dame’s friend off the field, its foe in the red zonePittsburgh ponders QB Pickett’s availabilityAnd In That Corner … The Panthers and a backup QB await Notre DameHainsey, Hinish and Pittsburgh key Notre Dame’s return from 2016’s debacleThings To Learn: Time for Notre Dame to lean on its strength, not its development30 Years of ND on NBC: Offensive high against Pittsburgh brings ironic end to Willingham’s tenure

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