Keys to the game
After losing in consecutive weeks to Navy and Georgia Tech, rattling the cage of a team like Notre Dame probably isn't the best way to handle the pre-game buildup. However, Pitt tight end J.P. Holtz chose to say he hated Notre Dame because the Irish players and coaches are cocky. Holtz has seven receptions for 60 yards this season. What are the odds he's going to be shut down Saturday?
QUITE A CHALLENGE
Notre Dame left guard Chris Watt couldn't go in last week's game with Navy. A knee injury in the Air Force game, which turned out to be a torn PCL, left the joint unstable. No surgery is required. Watt just has to get used to the knee's new function. He better get used to it in a hurry. He will be matched up against Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald (6-foot, 285 pounds), who leads the nation in tackles for loss (2.4 per game) and is third in sacks (1.1).
Injuries have decimated the Notre Dame defense. While piecing together a workable unit with available bodies, Notre Dame will also have to find a chemistry that can work. Pitt (held to minus-5 yards rushing in last week's loss to Georgia Tech) is hardly an offensive juggernaut (123 yards rushing, 233 passing a game). Quarterback Tom Savage (133 of 219, 7 interceptions, 1,779 yards, 14 TDs) is the guy who makes them go.
Who's due for a big game on the Notre Dame defense? Keep an eye on outside linebacker Prince Shembo and defensive end Stephon Tuitt. Playing against the option the last two weeks limited the productivity for both. Pitt, which runs a pro-style offense, has given up 29 sacks. Going up against leaky protection could allow for a big day for both of those pass rushers.
There's something about playing Pitt that has brought out the worst in Notre Dame in recent years. Two years ago, the Irish struggled and barely survived at Heinz Field, 15-12. Last year, all the Panthers had to do was connect on a chip shot field goal in the second overtime to win, but it sailed wide right and Notre Dame eventually won in the third OT. Even though ND should be a decided favorite, strange things happen.