Notre Dame Football: Pittsburgh Panthers Preview

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Notre Dame Football: Pittsburgh Panthers Preview
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Pittsburgh Run Offense vs. Notre Dame Run Defense

It shouldn't be surprising by now that Pittsburgh's offense is led by a small but powerful underclassman running back; what is surprising is that that leader is No. 1 Ray Graham, not returning starter No. 28 Dion Lewis. 

Both Graham and Lewis have played three games and are averaging 16 carries per game, but the former has had much more success than the latter—Graham is averaging almost 10 yards per carry and 164 yards per game to Lewis's three and 48.

Quarterback No. 12 Tino Sunseri averages two rushes per game, excluding sacks, for three yards, so he's not much of a concern in the running game.

Fullback No. 27 Henry Hynoski is averaging two carries and seven yards per game.

Wide receivers No. 82 Jon Baldwin and No. 5 Cameron Saddler each have one rush to their credit on the season.

Notre Dame has faced some tough run offenses this year, and the numbers reflect it: The team is giving up 153 rushing yards per game.

The Irish have been stout against the inside run, but have had trouble with outside contain. 

Manti Te'o is averaging almost 13 tackles per game, but many of those have come from chasing down the ball carrier after the original defender missed. Fellow inside linebacker Carlo Calabrese and safety Harrison Smith are also sure tacklers, averaging over seven tackles per game; Calabrese leads the team with five tackles for a loss.

It was exciting during the Boston College game to watch him wait in a gap and then pounce on the running back at the right moment. Te'o and Darius Fleming have added four TFL apiece.

Notre Dame Run Offense vs. Pittsburgh Run Defense

Notre Dame's run offense has been up and down this year, averaging 111 yards per game.  Armando Allen is the clear leader, averaging 16 carries and 78 yards per game.

Robert Hughes is once again listed as the No. 2 tailback, although he still hasn't been given much of a chance to shine on offense. Hughes has only four carries on the year for 12 yards, and is used mostly for his blocking abilities.

Jonas Gray is once again questionable with a quad injury, leaving Cierre Wood as the lone man left in the rotation. Wood is averaging just three carries and 15 yards per game.

Quarterback Dayne Crist has been used sparingly in the Notre Dame run game as of late, although he now has two of the team's four rushing touchdowns—Allen has the other two.

Pitt's 4-3 defense has been predictably stout against the run, giving up three yards per carry and 97 yards per game. Linebackers No. 55 Max Gruder and No. 38 Greg Williams lead the team in tackles, and have combined for 45 overall.

Excluding sacks, however, the team is averaging just two tackles for loss per game.

Pittsburgh Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense

After a rough few years for Bill Stull and No. 19 Pat Bostick, the Panthers may have found a quarterback in No. 12 Tino Sunseri. Sunseri is completing 63 percent of his passes, completing 16 of 25 attempts per game for 172 yards. On the season, Sunseri has four touchdowns to two interceptions.

Wideouts No. 82 Jon Baldwin and No. 87 Mike Shanahan (not related, as far as I'm aware) are averaging around 50 yards per game on close to four catches per game. Baldwin has two of the team's four receiving touchdowns.

Running backs Ray Graham and Dion Lewis are averaging three catches per game, and receiver Cameron Saddler two per game. Receiver No. 15 Devin Street, tight end No. 85 Mike Cruz, and fullback Henry Hynoski are each averaging one catch per game.

Notre Dame is giving up 248 yards per game in the air. The pass rush has generated just 13 sacks and 12 quarterback hits through five games. 

Carlo Calabrese leads the team with 2.5 sacks, while Darius Fleming, Ethan Johnson, and Prince Shembo are right behind with 2.0. Fleming and Brian Smith lead the team with three quarterback hits each.

The Irish have seven interceptions on the year, led by Darrin Walls with two. ND has 28 official passes defended, including 21 breakups. Walls leads in both categories, with five and three respectively.

Predictably, fellow corners Gary Gray and Robert Blanton have put up similar numbers to Wall's in defenses and breakups.

Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. Pittsburgh Pass Defense

On an average Saturday, Dayne Crist completes 23 of 39 passes (58 percent) for 272 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. For what it's worth, his efficiency rating is 129.9.

Theo Riddick is now the leading the Irish with 30 catches (six per game) and three touchdowns. Michael Floyd is still the big play threat, hauling in 28 catches and averaging 82 yards per game. Kyle Rudolph has been hampered by injuries as of late, but still has made 23 catches and three touchdowns.

Armando Allen is averaging three catches per game and TJ Jones two. Jones also has two touchdown catches, matching Michael Floyd.

John Goodman has played well as of late, picking up Rudolph's slack as a reliable outlet option; that performance has caused Goodman to be named a co-No. 1 with Jones on the depth chart. Goodman is now up to eight catches on the year.

Pitt has been all-or-nothing against the pass. Even without the injured No. 91 Greg Romeus, the line has gotten into the backfield a bunch.

No. 97 Jabaal Sheard, No. 98 Chas Alecxih, No. 94 Myles Caragein, and No. 35 Brandon Lindsey have made 15.5 stops in the backfield, including 10 sacks. Sheard has 11 quarterback hits, almost three per game.

Despite all the pressure from the line, the Panthers are still giving up 244 passing yards per game. The team does have four interceptions, three by free safety No. 17 Jarred Holley.

Special Teams

No. 30 Dan Hutchins kicks field goals for the Panthers—he's converted eight of 11 attempts.  Hutchins is perfect from inside 40 yards but has yet to make one from longer than 40. David Ruffer remains perfect for the Irish, converting all eight attempts with a long of 46.

Dan Hutchins also handles Pittsburgh's punting duties—he's averaging 46 yards per kick with a long of 59. Opponents have returned five of Hutchins's 16 punts for a combined two yards. 

Ben Turk continues to be inconsistent for the Irish: Turk is averaging 37 yards per punt with a long of 53. Fortunately for Turk, the Irish punt coverage is holding opponents to just two yards per return.

Cameron Saddler is Pitt's primary kick returner—he's averaging 20 yards per return with a long of 27. 

David Ruffer is averaging 65 yards per kickoff with three touchbacks in 26 tries. 

Notre Dame opponents are averaging 22 yards per return, giving them an average start on the 26.

Bennett Jackson's performance against Boston College has propelled him to the top kick return spot. Jackson is averaging 28 yards per return with a long of 43. 

No. 39 Kevin Harper kicks off for the Panthers—he's averaging 66 yards per kick with six touchbacks on 22 tries. Pitt is giving up just 13 yards per return, leaving opponents with an average start on the 22.

Cameron Saddler also returns punts for Pittsburgh—he's averaging 11 punts per return with a long of 29. 

John Goodman will again return kicks for the Irish. Goodman has shown reliable hands but not much return ability so far, averaging just six yards per return with a long of 13.

Notre Dame Players to Watch

Robert Hughes, John Goodman, Carlo Calabrese, Ethan Johnson, David Ruffer, Bennett Jackson

Prediction

Notre Dame 27, Pittsburgh 22

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