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Notre Dame’s Opponents: Pittsburgh ponders QB Pickett’s availability; Clemson rolls

Pittsburgh Joey Yellen

Miami Hurricanes linebacker Corey Flagg Jr. tries to block Pittsburg Panthers quarterback Joey Yellen (16) in the first quarter at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, Saturday, October 17, 2020.

Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi will not rule out senior quarterback Kenny Pickett despite what is suggested to be a decently serious left ankle injury, giving the three-year starter “a chance” of playing this weekend. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly “expects” Pickett to play.

That may all be coach-speak. Panthers sophomore Joey Yellen played well enough against now-No. 11 Miami for Pittsburgh to be competitive in his first start, throwing for 277 yards on 22-of-46 passing.

“He threw the ball, pushed the ball down the field, made big plays and kept plays alive,” Kelly said of the Arizona State transfer. “They didn’t cash some drives in and they had to settle for some field goals, but was very impressed with the way he played as a young player going in there.

“The moment didn’t look too big for him, pushed the ball down the field and had escapability.”

Considering Narduzzi admits he had no idea what to expect from Yellen in Pickett’s stead, any performance warranting praise — even praise soaked in vague football terms such as “escapability” — should be considered a worthwhile start for a backup unexpectedly thrown into action against a top-15 team known for its havoc-causing defense.

Notre Dame fits those parameters, as well, so Narduzzi slow-playing the possibility of Pickett not making his 31st start just yet is far from shocking, even if most indications suggest Irish defensive coordinator Clark Lea will need to game plan for the inexperienced Yellen.

Duke (1-5, 1-5 ACC): The misery continued for the Blue Devils after their momentary taste of victory, returning to what will be their norm this season with a 31-20 loss at North Carolina State. Chase Brice throwing three interceptions undid the genuine chance afforded by a relatively even day yardage-wise, 355-to-319.

Duke now has a week off to ruminate on its continued struggles.

South Florida (1-4): The Bulls showed signs of life in a 39-37 loss at Temple, but three lost fumbles counteracted two interceptions gained. While blowing a 31-20 lead with only 16 minutes remaining may leave a sour taste, competing in a game also served as a bit of a step forward.

South Florida can take its next step in short order, facing Tulsa on Friday (7:30 ET; ESPN), though as 10.5-point underdogs with a combined point total over/under of 61, as of early Wednesday morning, the Bulls will have their work cut out for them to overcome a projected 31-20 final score.

Florida State (2-3, 1-3): The Seminoles threw a wrench into the ACC race by knocking off No. 5 North Carolina, 31-28. Junior quarterback Jordan Travis bounced back from Notre Dame stifling him by running for two touchdowns and 107 yards while throwing for another score and 191 yards, on 8-of-19 passing. Florida State nearly gave the game away, trying its hardest to squander a 31-7 halftime lead, but it did just enough to notch a conference victory.

The Seminoles have a decent chance of stringing together two wins in a row, only five-point underdogs at Louisville (12 ET; Watch ESPN), an over/under of 61 suggesting a 33-28 result. One could argue that spread might be an overreaction to last week’s respective performances.

Louisville (1-4, 0-4): The Cardinals find themselves alone at the bottom of the ACC standings, not the momentum expected in Scott Satterfield’s second season. Topping Florida State, of course, would quickly change that conference positioning.

Pittsburgh (3-3, 2-3): As the first half of this piece makes clear, the focus on the Panthers currently revolves around their passing game. That is in no small part because their running game is nothing but dreadful. In the 31-19 loss at Miami, Pittsburgh ran 23 times for all of 50 yards.

If the Panthers hope to prove the books wrong, and their estimation of a 10.5-point difference between Pittsburgh and Notre Dame (3:30 ET; ABC), the ground attack will need to fare better. Either way, the over/under of 43.5 points hints at a plodding afternoon, a 27-16 scoreboard largely serving to note who first scores three times.

Georgia Tech (2-3, 2-2): The less said about the Yellow Jackets’ 73-7 loss to Clemson, the better. In the second year of a complete rebuild, comparing Georgia Tech to an offensive attack unlike many, if any, seen before would be unjust. The ‘Rambling Wreck best simply move forward and focus on a trip to Boston College (4 ET; ACC Network) as field-goal underdogs, a 55-point over/under arguing for a Saturday nearly as low-scoring as Notre Dame’s.

Clemson (5-0, 4-0): 404 passing yards for Trevor Lawrence, a punter playing quarterback for a drive, the Tigers can do as they want most weeks, a fact that will continue even more so against Syracuse (12 ET; ACC Network). It may be more pertinent to point out the over/under of 61.5 than it is to dwell on the fact that Clemson is favored by 46 points. The Tigers are likely to crack that total all on their own.

Boston College (3-2, 2-2): Somehow a 17-14 game halfway through the third quarter became a 40-14 Virginia Tech victory without needing any defensive or special teams touchdowns or even massive plays, the longest score in the stretch a 28-yard run. Because this update is probably expected, if not needed: Phil Jurkovec threw for 345 yards and two touchdowns on 28-of-51 passing, though also throwing two interceptions.

North Carolina (3-1, 3-1): The Tar Heels remain in the bigger ACC picture by virtue of their schedule avoiding Clemson, and their late charge to nearly complete a spectacular comeback underscores their underlying offensive capabilities, atypically undone by three consecutive drops on a potentially game-winning drive.

Diminish North Carolina at your own peril, a mistake their State counterpart will presumably not make this weekend (12 ET; ESPN), a game with both distinct ACC implications and a 16.5-point spread in the Tar Heels’ favor.

Syracuse (1-4, 1-3): Losing to Liberty is itself an indignity. Doing so at home is an embarrassment. Doing so at home in blowout fashion is a low few programs have experienced. This is where the Orange finds itself, and little can be said to sugarcoat it. One wonders what state that program will be in come the first week of December, presumably at 1-9 and constantly rife with rumors of discontent, stars opting out and coaches in turmoil.

Clemson will not make any of that better in any regard whatsoever.

Wake Forest (2-2, 1-2): The Demon Deacons knocked off Virginia, 40-23, largely on the legs of running back Kenneth Walker, who took 23 carries for 128 yards and three touchdowns, complemented by quarterback Sam Hartman’s 309 passing yards on an impressive 11.4 yards per attempt. Wake Forest continues to offer offensive fireworks, no matter how many quarterbacks it works through or undersized receivers the NFL covets.

Those fireworks will continue against Virginia Tech (3:30 ET; Watch ESPN), an over/under of 68 points catching more attention than the fact that the Deacons are 10-point underdogs. From here, 39-29 simply feels low-scoring.

Clemson: 5-0, 4-0 ACCNotre Dame: 4-0, 3-0North Carolina State: 4-1, 4-1Miami: 4-1, 3-1North Carolina, Virginia Tech: 3-1, 3-1Boston College: 3-2, 2-2Georgia Tech: 2-3, 2-2Pittsburgh: 3-3, 2-3Wake Forest: 2-2, 1-2Florida State: 2-3, 1-3Virginia: 1-3, 1-3Syracuse: 1-4, 1-3Duke: 1-5, 1-5Louisville: 1-4, 0-4

Friday 7:30 ET — South Florida vs. Tulsa, ESPN.Saturday 12 ET — Florida State at Louisville, Watch ESPN; Syracuse at Clemson, ACC Network; North Carolina State at North Carolina, ESPN.3:30 ET — Notre Dame at Pittsburgh, ABC; Virginia Tech at Wake Forest, Watch ESPN.4 ET — Georgia Tech at Boston College, ACC Network.

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