Notre Dame Football: Most Important Players in Matchup Against Pittsburgh

Rob GoldbergFeatured ColumnistNovember 3, 2012

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 06: Everett Golson #5 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish passes against the Miami Hurricanes at Soldier Field on October 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Things get easier this week for Notre Dame, but no one on the team should be looking past the next few opponents.

After thrashing the No. 8 team in the country on the road, the Fighting Irish must feel good about its season outlook. The squad moved up to No. 3 in the BCS Rankings and is only one Kansas State or Alabama loss away from being in position to play for the national championship.

However, Notre Dame must take care of business itself in order to make it happen. Every year in college football, perfect seasons are ruined by one uninspired game by a far superior team.

In order to avoid that fate this week, the Irish need key contributions from these players.


Everett Golson

As always, the starting quarterback is the man in charge and the person with the greatest effect on the game. If he does not play well, the Irish could be in trouble.

Golson had a great game on the ground against Oklahoma, totaling 64 rushing yards and the go-ahead touchdown with five minutes left. However, he still leaves a lot to be desired as a passer, completing only 52 percent of his passes.

A.J. McCarron of Alabama and Kansas State's Collin Klein replicate their BCS Standings as the No. 1 and No. 2 passers in the nation as far as efficiency. Golson is currently 88th in the country in that statistic. 

His job is secure over Tommy Rees, but the Irish still need the first-year starter to show he can have a good game from beginning to end.



Stephon Tuitt

Manti Te'o is the best player and the leader of the defense, but there are a number of lesser-known individuals that are very talented. Stephon Tuitt is one of those players. 

The defensive end has eight sacks this season, which puts him in the top 10 in the nation. 

He will have a tougher time against Pittsburgh, who has only allowed 16 sacks all season, but chances are that he improves upon his sack total in this game regardless.

Quarterback Tino Sunseri is not mobile in the pocket, so Tuitt can disrupt the entire game plan by putting pressure on the passer and forcing him into mistakes throughout the game. 



Theo Riddick

Head coach Brian Kelly likes what he has in Theo Riddick. He is a strong runner who does not hesitate when he sees a hole.

However, he is being outproduced by his teammates in the backfield.

Cierre Wood is a much more dynamic runner and has the ability to go the distance every time he touches the football. Sophomore George Atkinson III also has the skill to break loose and leads the team with 8.1 yards per carry.

The senior Riddick remains the lead back, but he has been held under four yards per carry in more than half of his games this season. Meanwhile, Wood has not rushed for less than an average of five yards per carry in a single game. 

Riddick must show that he can succeed against a defense that allows an average of 141 yards per game on the ground. Otherwise, the team should look in other directions when the games get tougher at the end of the season.