No. 5 Notre Dame vs. Pittsburgh: Who, what, when, where, why and by how much?
WHO? No. 5 Notre Dame (6-0) vs. Pittsburgh (3-3).
WHAT? Heading into the season, a 6-0 Irish start was not exactly expected. Notre Dame beating all three of Michigan, Stanford and Virginia Tech looked to be a tall task. But if granting the concept of an undefeated first half to the season, then this weekend’s matchup with the Panthers very much would have fit the definition of a “trap” game, one of perhaps two on the second half of the schedule. (The other being Syracuse on Nov. 17 at Yankee Stadium, a topic for another day.)
Whether or not that assessment of Pittsburgh has changed, this remains the best possibility for the Irish to overlook an opponent this season. They had struggled too much when they went to Wake Forest to look past the Demon Deacons. The bye week will allow for the necessary focus on Navy’s triple-option. The Orange actually look like one of the tougher games remaining on the schedule.
If Notre Dame is to suffer an unfortunate and unexpected letdown, it will most likely be against the Panthers, in no small part because they have managed upsets of a top-five team in each of the last two seasons.
WHEN? 2:30 ET with kickoff scheduled for 2:41. This is the second of three times the Irish will fill this unconventional time slot, also garnering a slightly-early kickoff when at Yankee Stadium.
Beforehand, once again this season, there will be a military flyover. This time courtesy of the Air Force.
WHERE? Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., where the earlier kick should fit perfectly with the day’s high temperatures of about 50 degrees with the sun out. It may be a bit brisk for the perfect fall day, but only by a touch.
NBC will have the broadcast, with the game streaming online here.
Per usual, NBC Sports Gold is available to international fans.
WHY? Because not every game can be against a top-25 opponent, nor should they be. In some respects, this lines up well with the Irish idle week. Notre Dame gets one more game in before the break, obviously meaning there is one fewer afterward. In terms of the November slog, that may prove to be a big deal.
Irish head coach Brian Kelly is 4-1 against Pittsburgh, with the average margin of victory in those four wins a meager 5.5 points.
Kelly is also 3-2 in home games preceding bye weeks during his eight years at Notre Dame. The losses came in his debut season to Tulsa in a year that finished 8-5 and in the 2016 debacle to Stanford. This year feels a bit different than those.
BY HOW MUCH?
Let’s begin with some facts: As of a very early Saturday morning check, the Irish are favored by 21.5 points with a combined point total over/under of 54.5.
The Panthers gave up 51 and 45 points to Penn State and Central Florida, respectively. With junior Ian Book at quarterback, Notre Dame has averaged 46.3 points per game over the last three weeks.
Book and the Irish scored that prolifically against the Nos. 111, 36 and 63 defenses in the country as it pertains to scoring. Pittsburgh is ranked No. 99, and that was before losing its best defender this week with a season-ending injury to linebacker Quintin Wirginis, the Panthers leader in tackles, tackles for loss, sacks and forced fumbles.
Under Kelly, Notre Dame has scored 40 or more points at least three teams in each of the last four seasons. If removing the 2016 eyesore, the Irish have reached the threshold at least four teams a year. This season, Notre Dame scored 56 at Wake Forest and 45 at Virginia Tech. The most points scored by the Irish under Kelly came in 2015 against Massachusetts in a 62-27 victory.
Now let’s jump to some conjecture: If the Irish are to reach 40 at least four times in 2018, doing so this weekend will probably need to be part of the sequence. Three of Notre Dame’s remaining opponents are tied at No. 58 in scoring defense with 25.2 points per game allowed, while Navy gives up 33.4 (No. 101) and USC 26.2 (No. 67).
Notre Dame 49, Pittsburgh 10.
(5-1 in pick; 2-4 against the spread, 3-3 point total.)
INSIDE THE IRISH READING:
— Yoon’s record, freshmen contributions & DL health— Notre Dame’s Opponents: Remaining schedule quite average at 17-16— Notre Dame’s four possible paths to Playoff— And In That Corner … The Pittsburgh Panthers, owners of two top-5 upsets the last two seasons— Things To Learn: A blowout would do more than just boost Notre Dame’s ego— Friday at 4: A ‘2’-fold look at Notre Dame’s 2012 hypotheticals sparked by a Pittsburgh possibility
— Ian Book starring for Irish after being lightly recruited
— Underdog mentality doesn’t sit well with Pitt— Pitt offensive line files order of protection vs. Notre Dame— The whole recent history of so-so Pitt teams stunning national title contenders— No. 12 Michigan, No. 15 Wisconsin meet in marquee matchup— Louisville in “no position” to buy out Bobby Petrino, per board member— Niumatalolo says QB is not the problem with Navy offense— On this Alabama team, Tua Tagovailoa isn’t the MVP— The Bottom 10’s favorite losers and those who cover them
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