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Deciphering what Pitt we'll see

Nov 13, 2009, 4:30 PM EST

I’ve thought long and hard about this weekend’s game. (A loss like the Navy game will do that to you…) Yet the more I think about Pitt, the more I’m just not sure of what we’ll actually see out there.

I understand that the AP Top 25 has Pitt ranked eighth, the BCS has the Panthers at twelve, and the Coaches’ poll has them at ninth. But honestly, who really knows what kind of team Pitt is?

There are two parts of me thinking about this game, and I figure I’ll just spell them both out:

Part One (aka Pitt doesn’t scare me…):

What’s to respect about Pitt? They’re a poor man’s, Big East equivalent of Iowa, a team that was finally exposed last weekend with a loss to Northwestern. Let’s take a look at the Pitt schedule. A victory over Youngstown State that shouldn’t count. A track meet victory against Buffalo, where this “vaunted” Pitt defense gave up 500 yards to Buffalo, 433 in the air, and capitalized on three lost fumbles. This isn’t last year’s Buffalo either, this is back-down-to-Earth Buffalo.

If you’re looking for a signature victory, could it be Navy? A team that is now such an embarrassing loss that it could cost the Notre Dame coaching staff its job because they turned the ball over twice inside the five-yard line and came away with nothing in four trips to the red zone?

Pitt’s one loss is an eyesore, a 38-31 loss to NC State, that only last week finally won their first ACC conference game with a win over 2-7 Maryland. If we want to talk about an ugly loss, this should qualify as an ugly loss.

While we should all give credit for Pitt winning the games on its schedule, what kind of credit should it be? This part of me is leaning toward the polite golf clap, something akin to sinking a three-footer for par. South Florida is doing it’s annual sink, Pitt needed 21 second half points and a 15 point rally to beat UConn, and they won an “Ehh” Rutgers game, against a team that really hasn’t beaten anyone close to good this season either.

This part of me expects a motivated Notre Dame, playing in front of a national audience, to overwhelm Pitt early and often, coming together in a cathartic experience to avenge last week’s loss and the four-overtime debacle last season at home.

Part Two (aka Oh boy, is ND in trouble…)

When I think about match-ups I like, I don’t think about Pitt.

Front four that can get pressure on a quarterback? That’s Pitt. By the numbers, they’ve got a better pass rush than USC, and I think Paul Duncan kept his game uniform from that week and used it as a turn-style costume for Halloween. If USC provided a long day for the Irish while playing in the sanctity of Notre Dame Stadium, what’s Pitt going to do in front of the largest crowd in school history?

And how about that running game everybody thought would fall apart when Mark May’s favorite, Shady McCoy, left for the NFL. Dion Lewis has rumbled for 1,139 yards already this season and is averaging 5.6 per carry with 12 touchdowns. He’s run for 100+ yards for four straight games and has yet to be held below 79 yards a game, so the Irish’s middle-of-the-pack rush defense doesn’t look like it’ll present many problems.

Think tight ends have hurt the Irish? We haven’t seen anyone like Dorin Dickerson since Anthony McCoy, so Dickerson might as well get his shoes shined and his Sunday best pressed and ready for the postgame media conference. Maybe the uneasy sleep I had this week was because I was seeing Dickerson run wild in the secondary, with Harrison Smith trailing behind him by four or five steps.

And speaking of the Irish’s stout passing defense, Notre Dame has climbed all the way up to 88th, but mostly because they played woeful Washington State and Navy, who only attempted three passes, but still caught the Irish napping for a long touchdown pass. Add in Bill Stull, the fifth-rated passer in college football and deep-threat Jonathan Baldwin, who is averaging 20 yards a catch, and, well — let’s just say I didn’t get a whole lot of confidence in Tenuta’s gang over the past six days.

If this part of me has learned anything, it’s that Notre Dame does it’s very best to play to the level of its competition and hasn’t executed with enough precision to win all the close games, especially in the red zone. Hopped up crowd, fragile team psyche, bad matchup and good opponent… hopefully the jitters won’t effect the team’s live-blogger as well.

*************

Now what do I think is going to happen? I still see a lot of resolve in this Irish team, but they’ve just made so many mistakes that I am done trying to predict what’s going to happen. If anything, I feel like the Irish are due for some good luck, and nothing creates good luck like playing good football.

Up until the Navy game, I thought things were trending up, yet the loss to the Midshipmen put everybody on red alert. Still, I really feel like this Notre Dame team isn’t the same as the disappointing group from last season, and that they’ll figure out a way to win this game.

We’ll find out a lot about this team tomorrow. If they rally around their embattled head coach and win decisively, it could get the Irish back on a roll and finishing the season strong. And if that happens, it could save the man that leads the program.    

  1. sharkey - Nov 13, 2009 at 8:38 PM

    This game, and UCONN, and Stanford will be decided by the Irish defense. The offense has been putting up 30pts nearly every game. This,with any kind of decent defense is usually enough to win a game. The O can not be expected tp keep having to score because the opposing team scores 7 or three points per possesion. The question should be “are Tenuta and Brown going to save their and Charlies jobs this season?”
    The only thing I can say is C’mon Charlie, get it together… AND WIN DAMMIT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. mike ford - Nov 13, 2009 at 9:23 PM

    Good read, Keith! I have been doing some research about Tenuta and his defenses of past and I’m definitively impressed. I am in hard times trying to figure the problem with this yrs Irish squad, other than some decent games stopping the run and a couple all out great stops when we really needed them we have not followed in the footsteps of Tenuta’s past defenses. Everyone including myself have been really puttin the screws to this guy, yet I wonder why we really are so bad. Is it really Tenuta who had an impeccable record at GT, if you go back to his stats from 2001 till 2007 his guys really took it to their opponents and although GT never really came to fruition with the polls they always played extremely tough on defense! I think getting rid of him would only further our problem. When he was hired at GT he went into a system already stacked to his liking, he came to us implementing a whole new style and it’s definitely work still in progress. I am hoping we get were we need to be on both sides of the ball this week. GO IRISH!! ALWAYS TRADITION!!

  3. TLNDMA - Nov 14, 2009 at 1:00 AM

    In the Holtz years, he came under a lot of criticism for not employing a more aggressive defense. I was one who wondered why he didn’t blitz more . As we have seen from opposing defenses this yr. playing a bend but don’t break D can be very effective. Alternately, being aggressive with the wrong personnel can be a detriment. I don’t think ND has the personnel to play Tenuta’s scheme. He doesn’t seem to be able to adapt. I hope I’m wrong , but I have a very bad feeling about this game vs. Pitt. I’ll be there to the end no matter what, I hope it’s just H1N1……….Go IRISH!!

  4. Elwood Cross - Nov 14, 2009 at 1:31 AM

    I keep hearing about how desperate Notre Dame is for a victory. And I feel for them. But I don’t think that it will be coming along against Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh Has vastly improved since that debacle of a game against North Carolina State. Defense, Offense, Special teams you name it. The Big East has been vastly underrated by the Media and National polls. As a matter of fact I don’t believe that Notre Dame will beat lowly Conneticut When they play them. This isn’t going to be a great finish to this season for Notre Dame I don’t Believe. I hope that I’m wrong for Notre Dame’s sake.

  5. bill in shanghai - Nov 14, 2009 at 7:12 AM

    Hmmm, maybe you didnt watch the Navy game, Sharkey. Our offense stopped itself 4 times in the red zone. Offense lost the game, not defense. We lost by a safety, by the way, given up by…the offense.
    We had the ball with 4 shots inside the 5 vs USC at the end and this offense couldnt get it in…probably the defense’s problem, right?
    Maybe you should pay attention to what’s going on vs. pressing your agenda.

  6. sharkey - Nov 14, 2009 at 8:17 AM

    Hmmmm, mabe you didn’t see the first half, Bill. The defense had already given up 21 pts on blown plays of over 20 or more yrds. 300+ yrds rushing before half time. They could not get Navy’s offense off the feild. They were totaly embarassed the first half. They made corrections the second half, but it was too late. probably the offenses prob right? It takes both, but it has been the offense having to pull the game out on 4th quarter come backs because the defense cant stop a 3rd down conversion. The offense has its problems too, but some stops and punts would be nice to take some pressure off the the offense. maybe you should pay attention to whats going on before pressing your agenda.

  7. mrandolph - Nov 14, 2009 at 10:46 AM

    ND has not had a great defense since Barry Alvarez left.

  8. sharkey - Nov 14, 2009 at 11:51 AM

    oops, sorry bill, wasn’t paying attention. Should read 200+ yrds first half (194 i believe). Anyway, here’s hoping the Irish come out strong on both sides of the ball!!! They certainly are capable of it!!. GO IRISH!!

  9. jan - Nov 14, 2009 at 12:57 PM

    ND hasn’t had great consistent line play on either side of the ball since Joe Moore “left”

  10. ndfanintx - Nov 14, 2009 at 1:46 PM

    ND hasn’t had great offense and defense since….
    Lou Holtz “left”.

  11. mrrandolph - Nov 14, 2009 at 6:59 PM

    I agree

  12. Patin Soleser - Dec 8, 2009 at 5:55 PM

    Fantastic blog, You make reasonable points in a concise and pertinent fashion, I will read more of your stuff, thank you for your time.

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