Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs Pittsburgh Panthers Pick
Pittsburgh Panthers (3-3 SU, 2-4 ATS) vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (6-0 SU, 4-2 ATS) b>
Date/Time: Saturday, October 13th, 2:30 PM
Where: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, IN
By: Mike Mann., NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: PITT +21/ ND -21 (MyBookie)
Over/Under Total: 57
The Pittsburgh Panthers head west on I-80 to take on Notre Dame in South Bend on Saturday afternoon. The Fighting Irish lead the all time series 47-21-1 and have been the victors in four of the last five games played between the teams.
REST OF THE WAY
Notre Dame comes into the game fresh off of an enormous 45-23 victory at Virginia Tech that now sets the Irish up for a strong run at a BCS playoff spot as they should find themselves favored in every game the rest of the way. They can ill afford not to take every game seriously though, as undefeated teams continue to drop like flies with three in the top ten (LSU, Oklahoma and Auburn) all losing this past week despite being picked to win by the bookmakers in every game. With a bye after playing Pittsburgh, Notre Dame ends their season with games against Navy, Northwestern, Florida State, Syracuse and USC, and while none of those teams are currently ranked, all five are still readily talented enough to cause all sorts of problems for the Irish if they aren’t fully focused each week of play.
The Fighting Irish aren’t the only team coming off of a big win, after Pitt upset Syracuse 44-37 in overtime this past week. It was a momentous win for the Panthers as they had lost their previous two against UNC and UCF and now they find themselves at 3-3 through the first half of the season. This weeks’ game will be especially important for Pitt if they want to have a good chance at gaining bowl eligibility as four of their last six games are on the road and they could likely be favored in just one of their final six overall. Unfortunately for Pitt they have struggled at times against quality opponents since head coach Pat Narduzzi arrived in 2015, as of their 17 losses before this season 14 came against teams that went on to win a bowl game. If they want to get back to the postseason after missing out last year, they will need to pull off an upset or two along the way.
One area of play that Notre Dame seems to have an edge this week is at the quarterback position. Pitt starter Kenny Pickett has struggled with consistency and has thrown an interception in all but one of their games so far this season. There is talent at the Panther wide receiver position with Taysir Mack, Maurice Ffrench and Rafael Araujo-Lopes, with French leading the team in receptions and Araujo-Lopes hauling in three touchdowns so far. As a team though they rank just 119thin passing yards per game and will have their work cut out for them against a strong Irish defensive backfield led by standout cornerback Julian Love, who had both an interception and fumble recovery for touchdown against Virginia Tech.
Thankfully for Panther fans they have a reasonably strong running game to fall back on with the struggles of their passing attack. Ranking 39thin the country with an average of 204 yards per game, the Pitt backfield is a two headed attack led by senior Qadree Ollison and junior Darrin Hall. Both are averaging 6.5 yards per carry, though it is the expected backup Ollison that leads the team in both yards and touchdowns while also doubling Hall’s total in carries. The team now has a record of 15-6 throughout his career when Ollision scores a touchdown.
DEXTER EPISODE 2
There is no longer any question who leads the Irish backfield after Dexter Williams had another explosive outing in just his second game of the season. The senior running back now has 339 yards with four touchdowns and an 8.9 yards per carry average, which is made that much more impressive considering he had an average of 9.2 a season ago. Williams had the biggest play of their win against Virginia Tech when he ran 97 yards for a touchdown when the Irish were backed up near their goal line and the Hokies having near full control of momentum at that point. He will hope to continue his success against a Pitt defense that is highlighted by a strong duo at linebacker in Oluwaseun Idown and Quintin Wirginis.
At quarterback the Irish continue to find success with Ian Book at helm, who now on the season has completed 73% of his passes while throwing for nine touchdowns compared to just one interception. He did show some inconsistencies against Virginia Tech after a dominant opening drive, as he missed multiple open receivers down the field that would have likely ended up with scoring plays. He continues to be concise with a 15-20 yard radius, but struggled against zone looks and in the long run definitely benefited from Virginia Tech’s injury depleted defense. Thankfully for Book he will be able to use this week and the following bye to tune up his deep throws to get ready for their end of the season stretch run.
THE FINAL DECISION
Some sort of a letdown is a logical expectation for Notre Dame, especially after two straight weeks of big environment, emotional wins against Stanford and Virginia Tech. They now face a Pittsburgh team that is likely their easiest opponent the rest of the way, and with a bye week coming next there could be a chance for a look ahead. Even with that possibility, I still believe that the Irish are that much more talented than the Panthers, and that playing in front of their home town crowd even the three touchdown head start won’t be enough. Count on Book, Boykin and Williams to lead the way for another Irish win and cover this Saturday against Pittsburgh.
Mike’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Notre Dame -21