Notre Dame Fighting Irish (1-2 SU, 1-2 ATS) vs. Pittsburgh Panthers (2-1 SU, 0-3 ATS), 12:00 p.m. EST, College Football Week Four, Saturday, September 34, 2011, Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, TV: ABC
by Scotty L of Predictem.com
Point Spread: ND -7/Pittsburgh +7
Over/ Under Total: OFF
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The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame make the trip to Heinz Field to take on the Pitt Panthers on Saturday. Notre Dame overcame a heartbreaking loss to Michigan the week before to trounce 15th ranked Michigan State on Saturday. Pittsburgh will now attempt to follow suit-following a gut-wrenching loss at Iowa last week.
It figured that it was only a matter of time before Notre Dame began to show why people were high on this team in the preseason. They put it together against Michigan State and finally closed out a game properly. Their vast talent in the offensive and defensive playmaker department were on display and one can’t help but wonder if the Fighting Irish are perhaps prepared to turn this season around after an 0-2 start.
Pitt was up on Iowa late in the 3rd quarter 24-3. They were close to going to 3-0 and in just over a quarter, managed to throw a totally different light on their season and their prospects. In winning their first two games, they were hardly impressive. They took care of business against overmatched Buffalo, even if they failed to cover in a 35-16 win. More alarming was their slim 6-point win against Maine in game two-where Pittsburgh was favored by 30.
At the same time, it’s not fair to stick a fork in the Panthers based solely on one quarter. Similar sentiment would have led one to pick Michigan State against Notre Dame, assuming they were reeling after being victimized by an improbable comeback. Notre Dame was able to use it as fuel, so why can’t Pittsburgh? Well, Notre Dame was 0-2 and facing almost certain death to a season that once held promise. In addition, they have a cast of ultra-talented playmakers in Michael Floyd and Cierre Wood, among others, to fall back on. Pittsburgh is still 2-1 and frankly, they might not have the kind of scary-talented playmakers to bail them out.
Irish sophomore QB Tommy Rees, given the starting nod midway through game one, was efficient and composed against the Spartans. Running backs Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray helped carry the load, with WR Michael Floyd chipping in with 84 receiving yards. George Atkinson was a handful on returns. Big-play guys on defense began to make their presence felt, particularly top corner Robert Blanton. On Saturday afternoon, one could see that this was a team that has just started to get cooking.
Pittsburgh’s 2nd-year starting QB Tino Sunseri has struggled a bit this season, throwing 4 picks against only 3 touchdowns, including an ill-timed interception against Iowa on a last-ditch drive. And while there is no one on this squad who appears to have the ability of standout Spartans WR BJ Cunningham, the fact that he caught 12 passes and the Spartans caught 34 total balls last week might give some hope to Sunseri and his pass catchers. If you take away that 4th quarter against Iowa, they looked pretty good on both sides of the ball. That is a big leap of faith to take, but the same reasoning worked for Notre Dame last week.
If Pitt RB Ray Graham can get going, it’s not too difficult to imagine a home Panthers squad putting up some points. The Notre Dame defense has its flaws, but they are a hard-working group that became better as the game wore on against Michigan State. In addition, Rees and the offense hardly seemed flummoxed in the face of the frothing Wolverines home crowd, so they should be able to handle the rigors of this road test. WR Floyd seems to relish in silencing deafening road throngs and he should have a big game.
Scotty L’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: This is a tough game and even more so when dealing with a difficult spread such as this one. The Irish beat Pitt last year 23-17 and lost the two previous games to the Panthers. Now, we’re asking them to cover a touchdown-and on the road, no less. That seems almost an invitation to take Pittsburgh.
Let’s go with the feeling that Notre Dame is in a positive frame of mind, after emphatically snatching back some good momentum after it seemed to go decidedly sour. Losing as a double-digit favorite to South Florida and a cartoon-like last-minute collapse against Michigan had this team in the dumps. It says a lot about a team’s talent, resolve, and overall character to come back from that and beat a 15th-ranked Spartans team by 18. Look for a close game to break open a bit in the 3rd and 4th quarters, as Notre Dame’s big guns run loose a bit and put up a nice number. Take Notre Dame minus 7 points.
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