SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Brian Kelly’s address has changed and so have his players. The style, though, is much the same now that he’s at Notre Dame.
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt knows what to expect Saturday when his Panthers meet the Fighting Irish. He’s seen it before from Kelly when they used to face off in the Big East.
It’s been 10 months since Kelly’s Cincinnati Bearcats wrapped up an unbeaten regular season – his last game at the school before coming to South Bend – with a pulsating 45-44 comeback win over Pitt.
Wannstedt says Kelly’s offense is similar to the one he employed so successfully at Cincinnati behind quarterback Tony Pike and big-play receiver Mardy Gilyard. It’s just that Notre Dame’s players aren’t quite as experienced in the offense.
“Both coordinators are with him, so schematically there is a lot of carry-over,” Wannstedt said. “They’re not quite as far along in their passing game today at Notre Dame like they were last year at the end of the year with Cincinnati with having those kids around him a couple of years.”
He observed that Dayne Crist, who ran for a TD and threw for two more in a win at Boston College last week, has improved as he gets used to the offense.
“They’re obviously a spread team, not a drop back team,” Wannstedt said. “I think that Dayne Crist, their quarterback, has done a really great job at making that transition.”
Kelly was 2-1 against Pitt at Cincinnati – the three games decided by 15 total points – and figures the Panthers are going to try and pound the ball on the ground after Ray Graham ran for 277 yards on 29 carries last week against Florida International. Dion Lewis sat that game out because of a sore shoulder, but is expected to play this week.
“We know what their personality is,” Kelly said. “We beat them 28-21 and whatever that thing was last year. It was a lot of points. … You’re going to be in a fight for four quarters against Pittsburgh.”
The Panthers (2-2), with a tough loss at Utah in overtime and a blowout defeat from Miami at home, have won two straight against Notre Dame. They captured a wild 36-33 four-overtime victory at South Bend two years ago and prevailed 27-22 at Heinz Field last season when Lewis rushed for 152 yards.
Kelly’s first Notre Dame team (2-3) is still evolving, as he likes to say. And the schedule ahead is a bit easier starting with Pitt followed by Western Michigan, Navy and Tulsa to wrap up October.
And while Crist and top receiver Michael Floyd aren’t quite at the stage that Pike and Gilyard were last year against Pitt, they’re improving.
“Those are probably the two differences between our team and the Cincinnati team, more experience at the quarterback position, although I love what Dayne is doing,” Kelly said.
“Mardy Gilyard was a big play guy in special teams and made some big plays down the field. … So, different players, but we’re going to need the same kind of production from the quarterback and the wide receiver.”