Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Pittsburgh Panthers Preview and Pick – Point Spread

Notre Dame Fighting Irish (6-3 SU, 2-7 ATS) vs. Pittsburgh Panthers (8-1 SU, 6-2 ATS), 8:00 p.m. EST, Saturday, November 14 2009, Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pa. TV: ABC
by Ryno of Predictem.com

Point Spread: Notre Dame +7/Pittsburgh -7
Over/Under: 58

Once again, Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis is on the hot seat. After losing 23-21 at home to Navy on Saturday, the Fighting Irish are now 6-3 and no longer have a chance to reach a BCS bowl. The even worse news is that the Irish are on the road this week facing a top 10 opponent in the Pittsburgh Panthers.

Notre Dame was perhaps caught in a look-ahead game against Navy, as the Irish looked forward to a huge test at Pitt. Navy used the triple option to run for 349 yards on the Notre Dame defense. Navy only attempted three passes the entire game, while running the ball 56 times. Meanwhile, Notre Dame ran the ball 20 times for only 60 yards. Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen kept the Irish in the game. He was 37-for-51 for 452 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

Notre Dame could easily be as bad as 2-7 right now, if it weren’t for a few comeback victories by Clausen and the Irish. Four of their six wins this season are by seven points or less. Clausen is the MVP of the Notre Dame offense and has been of the better quarterbacks in the country this year, but he is not the most important player on the Notre Dame offense. In three of Notre Dame’s last four games - against USC, Boston College and Navy - the Irish haven’t had a 100-yard rusher. The Irish are 1-2 in those three games and haven’t scored more than 27 points in any of those games. Those three games are three of their four lowest scoring outputs of the season. Even earlier in the season against Purdue, Clausen didn’t play much of the game because of an injury. But the Irish ran the ball extremely well and established an early lead, before Notre Dame stopped running the ball and Purdue battled back and forced Clausen to come back in the game and throw a game-winning touchdown pass.

Armando Allen and Robert Hughes are the two running backs for Notre Dame. The two of them have combined for 845 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. Clausen has been exceptional this season. He has 2,770 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and three interceptions with a 67.9 completion percentage. Clausen’s top target has been Golden Tate, who has emerged as an elite wide receiver. Tate has 65 receptions for 1,059 yards and 10 touchdowns, plus two rushing touchdowns.

Pittsburgh is 8-1 overall and 5-0 in the Big East. The Panthers have two games left after this one against West Virginia and Cincinnati. If they win those two games, they will win the Big East and end up in the BCS. This is certainly an important game for Pitt, but it’s more important for Notre Dame. The Irish see it as a must-win game to save their season and perhaps Weis’s job, while Pitt will use it as a preparation game for the next two weeks.

Pitt could easily be undefeated right now, but the Panthers haven’t faced an incredibly difficult schedule. In some of their toughest games, against Rutgers and Connecticut, they won both by seven points or less. However, in their last two games against South Florida and Syracuse, the Panthers have outscored those teams 78-24.

Dion Lewis is the key to the Pitt offense. He is one of the top running backs in college football, with 1,139 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. Bill Stull has been solid at quarterback for the Panthers, with 1,879 yards, 17 touchdowns and four interceptions.

The winner of this game will be the team that does a better job stopping the run. Pitt is allowing 106.8 rushing yards per game and a 3.1 yards-per-carry average. Notre Dame is allowing 148.8 yards per game and a 4.4 yards-per-carry average.

Notre Dame is 1-7 ATS in its last eight games. The Irish are 2-4 ATS in their last six road games. The total has gone under in four of their last six games. Pitt is 4-1 ATS in its last five games and 5-0 SU in its last five home games. The total has gone under in four of Pitt’s last five games.

Ryno’s Pick: This game is certainly more important to Notre Dame than it is to Pitt. Sure, Pitt would like to keep its one-loss record intact but a loss will not affect its chances to win the Big East. Weis needs to find a way to win this game and possibly salvage Notre Dame’s season. It is true that Notre Dame has faced a tougher schedule thus far, but Pitt could easily be undefeated and Notre Dame could be 2-7. Pitt is the better team no matter how it is broken down. But it will come down to who can stop the run. Neither team is spectacular against the run, but Pitt has the better run defense. Clausen and Stull will protect the ball and move the ball down the field, but both teams need to get their running backs going. This will be a close game that could go either way, but both offenses will score points. Take the over when it comes out.