If the Boston College game last week was a cake – walk and the Stanford game was the ultimate test, think of Saturday against Pittsburgh as that funky middle ground in between the two. Problem is, it’s really hard to gage which game it’s closer to.
As mused earlier in the week in this space, “How good is Pitt?” has become one of the most thought – provoking questions in all of College Football. Pittsburgh should have had a much better September than they did. Its also one of the more underrated stories in the sport, almost shocking considering it involves a team in a major conference.
In a week one loss to Utah, it became evident in the second half that Dave Wanstedt horribly underestimated quarterback Tino Sunseri. Waiting 30 minutes to let the ball fly through the air was probably the difference in that game. It was horrible play – calling that falls directly on the coaching staff and should have resulted in a huge Pittsburgh win on the road.
The second loss for the Panthers was a 31 – 3 drubbing at home by Miami. Nothing positive can be said about this game. The Pitt offensive line was atrocious and the defensive line couldn’t stop the run. Pitt also turned the ball over three times, including two picks by backup Pat Bostick (who, by the way, only threw the ball 9 times – I did the math, that’s one pick per every 4.5 throws. Ouch)
So why should Pittsburgh scare Notre Dame, you ask? They certainly don’t bear results that should raise concern, but they do boast two offensive players that perfectly exploit the Irish’s weaknesses.
Running back Dion Lewis can be one of the most dynamic players in the country. For whatever reason, he hasn’t done it on a consistent enough basis this season. Through three games, he hasn’t broken the 200 yard barrier yet. Super surprising, given the expectations, but very indicative of the kind of year Pitt has had.
But that’s not to say that Pitt hasn’t run the ball well. Ray Graham has gotten more carries this year then Lewis, and deservedly so. Graham has averaged nearly ten yards a carry. This is double trouble for the Notre Dame defense. They haven’t had as much trouble stopping the run as they have stopping the big play. A number like 9.5 yards/carry screams big play potential.
Quarterback Tino Sunseri is going to be a star. He showed in the week one loss to Utah that he is quite capable of putting a team on his shoulders and carrying them for a half. He showed tremendous accuracy potential in that game. His completion percentage is right around 65%. The way to stop Sunseri is getting past a bad Pitt offensive line. Notre Dame sacked Mike Marscovetra five times next week. They must dial up the same kind of pressure for Sunseri, forcing him into situations where he has a hard time showcasing his accuracy.
Pittsburgh is a team in emotional flux. They have had tons of players find themselves in trouble off the field this season. Domestic disputes, cars through buildings, underage DUI, you name it. It’s been a tough year outside Heinz field for Dave Wanstadt’s group. That has to wear on this group. How they handle a really tough road environment is an interesting storyline. It’s another reason why Pittsburgh isn’t the lock pick that they may have been when the schedule came out in this one.
Offensively for the Irish, this will be a really good test for Dayne Crist. Crist was good against a bad Boston College team last week, but absolutely dreadful against Stanford in South Bend two weeks back. Again, we understand that Pittsburgh cannot be compared to Stanford, but they have a way better defensive scheme then anything Crist saw in Boston last year. It’s the perfect time of the season for a test like this, it will be fascinating to see how Crist responds.
If Crist struggles early, Brian Kelly cannot hesitate to go to the running game. Almost quietly, Armando Allen is having a fantastic season. Even if Cierre Wood is making too many mistakes to get consistent carries, there is no excuse for Allen not being featured prominently.
The Pick: Notre Dame 30 Pittsburgh 27- This one was a classic two years ago and it will repeat as such on Saturday. Although Lewis and Graham are scary, I think Notre Dame has ironed out their big play issues enough that those two will be relatively contained. Sunsuri, although talented is still unproved.
Not enough constants to win on the road.
About the Author
Written by Jordan Lauterbach
Jordan Lauterbach began his career in sports media when he was just 15 years old at WKWZ - Syosset. He hosted a sports talk show for nearly four years before moving on to WCWP - Brookville in 2006. Lauterbach currently hosts a sports talk show every Wednesday night from 9pm - midnight (eastern) and a College Football talk show on Saturday mornings from 11am - 12:30 (eastern) (can be heard online at wcwpsports.com and on Long Island on 88.1fm). Follow me on twiiter: jlauterbach1