Pitt and Notre Dame kick off at Notre Dame Stadium Saturday afternoon in a pivotal game for both teams.
I went over the Pitt point of view Thursday morning in my weekly blogger debate. Now I’m previewing the game from the Notre Dame perspective with Lou Somogyi from BlueAndGold.com and Eric Hansen from the South Bend Tribune. Let’s break down Pitt-Notre Dame…
Question #1: What’s the one impression you took away from Notre Dame’s win at Boston College?
Somogyi: The run defense is continuing to play better. It did a good job of limiting Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor to 108 yards on 28 carries, with no run longer than nine yards. To hold Montel Harris to 28 yards on 15 carries was even better. Granted, the Irish could crowd the line because BC had a green QB and no threats at receiver. Still, improving against the run has been a priority and will certainly be needed against Ray Graham and Dion Lewis.
Hansen: The pieces are starting to fall into place for Notre Dame to be a pretty good team in November. Still a work-in-progress in October
Question #2: How similar is Brian Kelly’s system at Notre Dame compared to what Pitt saw at Cincinnati?
Somogyi: The only difference is that most of Kelly’s personnel at Cincinnati had worked in it for two or three years, whereas the one currently at Notre Dame is, as he often states, “a work in progress.” Kelly stated that Pitt knows what he will do on offense while he also has a pretty good idea of how Pitt will run its defense. From that perspective, he calls it “a wash.”
Hansen: The concepts are similar, the players are not. The biggest difference is experienced quarterback (UC) vs. inexperienced quarterback (ND) and all that comes with that. But I do think Dayne Crist has a higher ceiling in the long term than Tony Pike.
Question #3: This will be the 66th meeting between Pitt and Notre Dame. How is Pitt viewed by the Irish faithful as far as rivals go?
Somogyi: A well-respected rival that has no fear of Notre Dame. The one I would compare it to is Michigan State. Both are viewed as tough, physical, blue-collar programs that have a history of performing well against the Irish, but also every now and then are seen as a ”head case” program that has a tough time getting over the hump when it comes to consistency or dealing with higher expectations.
Hansen: The word rival did not come up this week at all. I’m not sure this ND team looks at it that way — when you have rivalries with BC, USC, Michigan, Michigan St. already on the schedule. However, fans and players do look at this as a very pivotal game this season.
Question #4: As Pitt’s final non-conference opponent, many see this as a big game and as a last chance for Pitt to prove itself. Given that the Irish don’t have conference play, games take on a different type of meaning. But where does this rank for Notre Dame as far as big games go for the season?
Somogyi: When you’re 2-3 this year and 18-24 over the last four, any victory is cherished. Everyone pointed to the month of October as a chance for Notre Dame to put together a winning streak and put itself on the right track prior to having an off week on Nov. 6 and then facing nationally ranked Utah (Nov. 13) and archrival USC (Nov. 27). It’s about weekly improvement and building some momentum that has been lacking in this program for a long time.
Hansen: It’s big, because these two teams have star players and yet are both flawed. It’s probably the swing game that will land ND in the Champ Sports Bowl or something less palitable. USC is still the measuring stick, whether it’s deserved or not.
Question #5: What’s the best-case and worst-case outcome for Notre Dame Saturday?
Somogyi: The best case is a win while everyone stays healthy. The worst is a third-straight loss at home and a pivotal figure such as Dayne Crist or Manti Te’o suffering a serious injury.
Hansen: Best case. ND wins and plays really good run defense. Worst case, ND loses and regresses.
Chris Gates | Area 4-1-Zoo Blog