Pittsburgh vs. Notre Dame: Complete Game Preview
On Saturday afternoon, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh will meet for the 68th time in the historic rivalry, with the Irish having won two consecutive games over the Panthers.
Last season at Heinz Field, the Irish escaped Pittsburgh, 15-12, in Todd Graham's lone season as head coach of the Panthers.
The series moves to South Bend this season, where Pittsburgh's first-year head coach, Paul Chryst, will seek the fifth victory of his tenure.
How do Chryst's Panthers match up with Brian Kelly's Irish?
For that answer and more, take a look through this week's game preview.
Who: Pittsburgh at Notre Dame
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. (EDT)
Where: South Bend, Ind.
Stadium: Notre Dame Stadium
Radio: IMG Notre Dame Radio Network
Internet Stream: NBCSports.com
Depth Chart for Notre Dame
QB—Everett Golson, Andrew Hendrix OR Tommy Rees
RB—Theo Riddick OR George Atkinson III OR Cierre Wood, Cam McDaniel
WR—TJ Jones, DaVaris Daniels
WR—Robby Toma, Davonte' Neal
WR—John Goodman, Daniel Smith
TE—Tyler Eifert, Ben Koyack
LT—Zack Martin, Ronnie Stanley
RT—Christian Lombard, Tate Nichols
C—Braxston Cave, Mike Golic, Jr.
LG—Chris Watt, Conor Hanratty
RG—Mike Golic, Jr., Nick Martin
DE—Kapron Lewis-Moore, Sheldon Day
DE—Stephon Tuitt, Tony Springmann
NG—Louis Nix III, Kona Schwenke
LB—Prince Shembo, Ishaq Williams
LB—Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese
LB—Manti Te'o, Jarrett Grace
LB—Danny Spond, Ben Councell
CB—Bennett Jackson, Jalen Brown
CB—KeiVarae Russell, Josh Atkinson
FS—Zeke Motta, Nicky Baratti
SS—Matthias Farley, Chis Salvi
Depth Chart for Pittsburgh
QB—Tino Sunseri, Trey Anderson
TB—Ray Graham, Rushel Shell
FB—Mark Giubilato, Adam Lazenga
WR—Mike Shanahan, Cameron Saddler
WR—Devin Street, Joshua Brinson
TE—Hubie Graham, Drew Carswell
LT—Cory King, Adam Bisnowaty
LG—Chris Jacobson, Arthur Doakes
C—Ryan Turnley, Artie Rowell
RG—Shane Johnson, TBA
RT—Matt Rotheram, Zenel Demhasaj
DE—T.J. Clemmings, Shayne Hale
DT—Aaron Donald, Darryl Render
NT—Tyrone Ezell, Khaynin Mosley-Smith
DE—Bryan Murphy, Devin Cook
SLB—Eric Williams, Emanuel Rackard
MLB—Shane Gordon, Joe Trebitz
WLB—Todd Thomas, Nicholas Grigsby
CB—Lafayette Pitts, Cullen Christian
CB—K'Waun Williams, Cullen Christian
SS—Jarred Holley, Andrew Taglianetti
FS—Jason Hendricks, Ray Vinopal
What Happened to the Fighting Irish Last Week
Notre Dame capped off perhaps its most significant victory in 15 years by defeating then eighth-ranked Oklahoma, 30-13, last Saturday evening in Norman, Okla.
The Irish got the job done by putting on a defensive spectacle, limiting the Sooners to just 15 rushing yards, which forced quarterback Landry Jones to throw the ball 51 times.
Jones accumulated 356 passing yards, but failed to put the ball in the end zone and tossed one interception, which was picked off by Heisman Trophy candidate Manti Te'o.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Irish were paced by a solid rushing attack that racked up 215 yards behind the efforts of Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick and quarterback Everett Golson.
For a full recap of Notre Dame's victory over Oklahoma, click here.
What Happened to the Panthers Last Week
Last Saturday, Pittsburgh rolled over in-state foe Temple, 47-17, giving the Panthers their first Big East Conference victory of the season.
Quarterback Tino Sunseri was a focal point of the dominating effort, completing 20 of his 28 pass attempts for 321 yards and three touchdowns. Sunseri's job was made increasingly easy by a rushing attack that piled up 207 yards, 188 from Ray Graham and Rushel Shell.
The Panther defense limited the Owls to 195 passing yards, while also recovering two fumbles.
For a full recap of Pittsburgh's win against Temple, click here.
What It Means to Both Teams
After walking out of Oklahoma Memorial Stadium with a 30-13 victory over the nation's No. 8-ranked team, and with a relatively soft remaining four regular-season games, the Irish are poised to make a run at an undefeated regular season.
In order to reach that desired 12-0 mark, Notre Dame will need to maintain the edge that has allowed it to win its first eight games of the season on the way to a spot in the Top Five of the BCS standings.
The Irish can't take Pittsburgh lightly, as a subpar outing won't impress voters, who are increasingly important to Notre Dame's national championship aspirations.
Therefore, a win over Pittsburgh, while the Panthers aren't a quality team, will be yet another addition to the Irish's resume.
For the Panthers, a victory over a traditional rival ranked third nationally on national television would gain Paul Chryst and Co. notoriety for throwing a wrench in the national championship picture. A win would also go a long way in establishing Pittsburgh as a threat in the Atlantic Coast Conference when the Panthers make the move from the Big East Conference.
Key Player for Notre Dame
Key Player: Manti Te'o, LB
Notre Dame makes it no secret that it will win games based on the play of its defense, which is led by all-world linebacker Manti Te'o.
The Hawaiian native finds himself ranked second in the most recent Heisman Trophy straw poll behind Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein.
Without a doubt, Te'o is the soul of not only the Irish defense, but the entire team. He's the engine that makes it go, and he's a player that Notre Dame fans should enjoy thoroughly while they can, because Te'o is a once-in-a-lifetime player.
And against a suddenly dangerous Pittsburgh rushing attack, Te'o will be counted upon to wreak havoc in the backfield.
Key Player for Pittsburgh
Key Player: Two-headed monster of Ray Graham and Rushel Shell
Pittsburgh prides itself around running the football, especially because of the presence of the two-headed monster of Ray Graham and Rushel Shell at running back.
The two combined for 188 of the Panthers' 207 rushing yards against Temple a week ago, and they will receive the bulk of the carries against Notre Dame this week.
Graham (5'9", 190) is the lightning to Shell's (6'1", 215) thunder. Their one-two punch will be examined later.
Notre Dame Will Win If...
Notre Dame will win if it plays with a chip on its shoulder and doesn't come out flat after an emotional victory over Oklahoma last week.
The Irish know they can, and should, beat Pittsburgh, but any mental lapses will be their demise.
Pittsburgh would love nothing more than to knock the Irish out of contention for the national championship, meaning that the Irish must match the Panthers' level of intensity for four quarters.
As far as X's and O's, the Irish defense must be disciplined against the run, as the Panthers will take shots down the field in play-action if they effectively establish the running game with Rushel Shell and Ray Graham.
Pittsburgh Will Win If...
Pittsburgh will win if it can catch a drowsy Notre Dame squad off guard.
The Panthers don't quite have the same level of talent as the Irish, so out-hustling Notre Dame will be a key factor in a potential Pittsburgh victory.
And as I pointed out earlier, Chryst and Co. must emphasize the rushing attack in order to take advantage of quarterback Tino Sunseri's ability to throw the football down the field in play action.
Pittsburgh may also have history on its side, as the last time Notre Dame beat a Top 10 team on the road to become 8-0, it was knocked off the following week by an unranked Boston College team in South Bend, 14-7.
At 8-0, and with an extremely realistic possibility of playing for a national championship, Notre Dame would seem to be susceptible to overlooking a 4-4 Pittsburgh squad.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has his team locked in mentally to what he considers "the process."
Kelly has instilled in his players a sense that each and every game, regardless of opponent, is vitally important to the end goal of playing for a national championship.
With that razor-sharp focus and a defense that seems to be playing better and better with each passing week, Notre Dame will move to 9-0 after defeating the Panthers.
My Prediction: Notre Dame 28, Pittsburgh 10