Pittsburgh at Notre Dame

The Sports Xchange

October 10, 2018 at 5:34 pm.

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Saturday, 2:30 p.m. ET
SITE: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind.
TV: NBC
SERIES: Notre Dame leads 47-21-1. Notre Dame won the last meeting 42-30 in 2015.
RANKINGS: Notre Dame No. 5

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Panthers

–RB Qadree Ollison is coming off his best performance of the season after rushing for 192 yards on 24 carries against Syracuse. He rushed for a touchdown and also had two catches for 15 yards. Ollison, who has rushed 596 yards this season, was named the ACC Running Back of the Week for his efforts.

–RB Darrin Hall, the complement to Ollison, was also explosive out of the backfield for Pittsburgh against the Orange, racking up 107 yards on 17 carries and scoring two touchdowns. His two scores were the game-tying and game-winning scores for the Panthers. It was also Hall’s fifth career 100-yard rushing game.

–FS Damar Hamlin, the Week 6 ACC Defensive Back of the Week, amassed a career-high 14 tackles against Syracuse. A four-star recruit ranked No. 151 by 247sports in his recruiting class, the 14-tackle effort by Hamlin represented a positive step forward for a highly-touted recruit. “Damar Hamlin is playing at a high level. You guys will figure that out here pretty soon. But he’s playing really good,” Narduzzi said.

–CB Dane Jackson, a junior from Coraopolis, Pa., recovered a fumble for a touchdown against Syracuse, a game in which he also had a single tackle. The play was setup by a strip from LB Quintin Wirginis. Jackson has 19 tackles and five passes defended for the season.

Fighting Irish

–RB Dexter Williams missed the start of the season, but he looked electric in last week’s win over Virginia Tech. Williams rushed 17 times for a career-high 178 yards. He could pose nightmares for Pitt’s defense.

–WR Miles Boykin will go for his third consecutive game with 100-plus yards receiving. He has three touchdowns in his past two contests and has established clear chemistry with new starting QB Ian Book.

–DT Jerry Tillery leads the team with 7.5 sacks through six games. Tillery routinely has won his battles at the line of scrimmage and forced opposing quarterbacks to pass the ball a second or two faster than they preferred.

–CB Julian Love is coming off a terrific performance that included seven tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery that he returned for a touchdown in the win over Virginia Tech. He has 24 tackles and an interception and has broken up 11 passes and forced three fumbles for the season.

KEYS
TO THE GAME

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi has mixed feelings about playing at unbeaten Notre Dame on Saturday.

“I’m looking forward to Notre Dame — and when I say looking forward, I don’t know if I’m looking forward to playing the No. 5 team in the country,” Narduzzi said. “Because they are awful good. Maybe as good a football team you’re going to see — that Notre Dame has ever had, I think.”

Kickoff on NBC is 2:30 p.m. at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind.

Their hot start has the Irish (6-0) dreaming of a pathway to a perfect regular season and a shot at a spot in the College Football Playoff. Unranked Pitt (3-3) has momentum after its overtime win over Syracuse last week.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said he expects a tough fight from the Panthers.

“When we talk about Pittsburgh, Pat Narduzzi is somebody that I’m very familiar with as a former Michigan State defensive coordinator,” Kelly said, referring to the Panthers’ coach. “We’ve had many battles with him, and now as the head coach, we know the style of football — physical, hard-nosed, run the football, aggressive defense. We’re going to get that again.”

No defense has managed to stop Notre Dame since Ian Book replaced Brandon Wimbush as starting quarterback three games ago. The Fighting Irish have averaged 46.3 points per game since then, and the school’s athletic department believes Book is the first signal-caller since at least 1950 to complete at least 70 percent of his passes in three consecutive games.

“Offensively, he’s making things click,” Narduzzi said. “He can run. He’s tough. He’ll run you over.”

Fighting Irish running back Dexter Williams also has a chance to wear out Pitt’s defense. Williams rushed for a career-high 178 yards on 17 carries a week ago in a road win over Virginia Tech.

Pitt is led by quarterback Kenny Pickett, who has completed 61.3 percent of his passes for 880 yards, six touchdowns and five interceptions. Qadree Ollison leads the ground attack with 596 yards and five scores, and Darrin Hall is coming off a 107-yard rushing game in the win over Syracuse.

“Ollison and Hall are contributing, both at a high level,” Kelly said. “They’re big, physical backs. They play with a fullback, so it’s good, old-fashioned, get-after-it football, which is synonymous with Pittsburgh in terms of who they are and what they’ve been as an identity.”

Linebacker Te’von Coney leads the Irish defense. He has 48 tackles, one sack, one interception and one fumble recovery through six games. Defensive lineman Jerry Tillery leads the unit up front with 7.5 sacks, and defensive backs Jalen Elliott and Tony Pride Jr. have two picks apiece.

Pitt has given up at least 37 points in each of its last three contests. The news got worse Wednesday: Linebacker Quintin Wirginis (41 tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles) suffered a noncontact knee injury in practice Tuesday and is out for the season.

“Our entire team is certainly heartbroken for Quintin,” Narduzzi said in a statement. “He was having an absolutely outstanding senior season, on and off the field, and we are very sorry it ended prematurely due to injury.”

Nine of the past 11 meetings between Notre Dame and Pitt have been decided by single digits, and Pitt also has knocked off a highly ranked foe in each of the last two years. Last year it was No. 2 Miami. In 2016 it was No. 2 Clemson.

But neither coach considers that a factor going into the game.

“I think it’s not even part of the conversation,” Kelly said.

“Again, we have a great deal of respect for our opponents, but this is much more about how we prepare. We’re not pleased with the way we played four quarters last week, and our emphasis will be on our performance and playing much better.”

Said Pitt’s Narduzzi: “We’re not talking about upsets. We never do. We’re talking about us and being a better football team and executing. When you execute and you believe in what you’re doing, those are the keys to playing well and having a chance to win the football game. You just want a chance.”