Players to watch: Notre Dame vs. Pittsburgh

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

A look at a few players to watch in Saturday’s game (3:30 p.m. EDT on ABC) between No. 3 Notre Dame (4-0, 3-0 ACC) and Pittsburgh (3-3, 2-3 ACC).

QB IAN BOOK, Notre Dame

Coming off one of the worst performances of his career, quarterback Ian Book will have something to prove on Saturday. The graduate senior posted the fourth-lowest pass-efficiency rating in 27 career starts against Louisville last week, dropping him to No. 44 among 71 quarterbacks who qualify nationally at 133.9. Pushing the ball downfield has been missing from this offense. The Irish rank last in the ACC in completions of at least 15 yards (16). The passing game will be critical to Notre Dame succeeding against Pittsburgh. The Panthers boast the nation’s best run defense.


An argument can be made that cornerback TaRiq Bracy has been Notre Dame’s third-best defender this season, ranking behind safety Kyle Hamilton and rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. He ranks third in tackles (18) and ties for the lead in pass breakups (three) on the Irish despite missing the South Florida game. At 5-foot-10, 180, Bracy has become more reliable as an open-field tackler and on jump-ball opportunities after gaining 10 pounds in the offseason. He draws a favorable matchup if Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi gives quarterback Joey Yellen the nod at starter on Saturday.

QB JOEY YELLEN, Pittsburgh

Whether starting quarterback Kenny Pickett will play after missing last week’s game with an ankle injury remains to be seen. The expectation appears to be that backup Joey Yellen will play. The graduate transfer from Arizona State completed 22-of-46 passes for 277 yards and a touchdown in a 31-19 loss to Miami last Saturday. Pittsburgh ranks among the worst in rushing offense (No. 70), so Yellen may have to overcompensate through the air and with top wide receiver target Jordan Addison. Notre Dame comes in at No. 8 in pass-efficiency defense.

S PARIS FORD, Pittsburgh

While Book has struggled, he has only thrown one interception this season. Book may need to take more risks, though, if Pitt’s stout run defense lives up to its expectations. Panther safety Paris Ford could take advantage if Book is more opportunistic. He’s one of seven defenders with three interceptions this season. Look for the hard-hitting Ford to also have an impact against the run. The redshirt junior led Pitt in tackles (97) and picks (three) in 2019 and projects as a future top NFL Draft pick.

Pittsburgh Panthers defensive back Paris Ford (12) flexes after a play against Eastern Michigan in 2019.
Notre Dame cornerback TaRiq Bracy (28) tries to tackle Virginia’s Hasise Dubois (8) on Sept. 28, 2019.

NO. 3 NOTRE DAME (4-0) vs. PITTSBURGH (3-3)

Kickoff: Saturday at 3:30 p.m EDT

Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh


Radio: WSBT (AM 960, FM 96.1), WNSN-FM (101.5)

Line: Notre Dame by 10 1/2