5 keys for Notre Dame against Pitt: Third down, efficiency important for Irish

Staff reports
ND Insider

Here are five keys for No. 5 Notre Dame when it hosts Pittsburgh Saturday.

STOP THE RUN

Running back Qadree Ollison’s expanded role is paying off, as the Panther rushing attack ranks No. 39 with 203.8 yards per game. Fellow running back Darrin Hall and Ollison combined for 43 touches, 314 total yards and three touchdowns in last week’s win over Syracuse. Meanwhile, Pitt is 117th in yards per completion and 118th in passing yards per game. The Irish should cruise to a victory if they limit the Panthers to 150 rushing yards.

WIN THIRD DOWN

Poor nickel back play has the Irish ranked 89th in third down conversion percentage, allowing 43 first downs on 104 attempts. Not many are worse than the Panther defense, though, as they are No. 114 (38-of-85). The Pitt offense ties at No. 46 (32-of-76) with Virginia Tech, who converted 10-of-21 third downs against Notre Dame. The Irish must get off the field and allow their offense to expose a susceptible Panther defense.

TURNOVER BATTLE

Ian Book’s interception against the Hokies did not cost him much. Notre Dame and its quarterback this time should look to take advantage of a careless Pitt squad. The Irish are tied for No. 22 with 11 forced turnovers. The Panthers have coughed it up 11 times, tying them for No. 102. Watch for Pitt defensive end Rashad Weaver to potentially cause problems. He’s tied for the nation’s lead with three fumble recoveries.

EFFICIENCY

Book’s 73.3 completion percentage on 77-of-105 passing places him among the nation’s most efficient quarterbacks. His first stumble came last week with an interception and deep ball issues. Book should handle a Pitt defense that ranks No. 73 in pass efficiency defense. Tony Jones Jr. will likely receive an increase in volume. A week removed from a two-carry, minus-one yard performance, Jones should be back to full strength. An efficient Book and healthy workload between Dexter Williams and Jones would pace the Irish to a balanced outing.

TEST THE FRESHMEN

Ball State prevented a Phil Jurkovec appearance, although Wake Forest’s poor outing allowed Notre Dame to test a few freshman, including Jurkovec. Favored by 21½ points, the Irish could capitalize and evaluate a handful of players. Defensive end Justin Ademilola and running backs C’Bo Flemister and Jahmir Smith, receiver Joe Wilkins Jr. and offensive tackle Jarrett Patterson have played in two games. Safety Paul Moala, cornerback DJ Brown, defensive lineman Jamion Franklin and Jurkovec have played in one game.

Notre Dame’s Tony Jones Jr. (6) runs the ball during the Notre Dame-Stanford NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana.
Pittsburgh running back Qadree Ollison is averaging 99.3 rushing yards per game.

PITTSBURGH (3-3) @ NOTRE DAME (6-0)

At Notre Dame Stadium (77,622), South Bend, IN

Kickoff: 2:30 p.m.

TV: NBC

Series history: Notre Dame leads series 48-21-1

Betting line: Notre Dame by 21½