It's the big one. Pitt vs. Notre Dame at home in front of what should be a sold-out Heinz Field. After last week's 4th quarter meltdown, Pitt needs a win, or at leastto play strong throughout the entire game. Here are some keys to this week's game.
When Pitt has the ball:
1) Get the run game established
Notre Dame has been great at stopping the run through the first three games. They've only allowed 89.7 yards per game on the ground and only one rushing TD. Pitt will have to get Ray Graham going if they want to knock off the Irish at home.
2) Keep the interceptions down
Tino, despite what others have said, had a solid game last week on the road. However, he did throw two costly picks - one in the red zone and the other, which effectively ended the game. I personally think the Iowa secondary is better than Notre Dame's, but regardless of that, Tino can't throw 50-50 balls. He did a good job completing easy passes and scrambling when he needed to. He needs to keep improving.
3) Convert on 3rd down
Pitt is currently 82nd in 3rd down conversion percentage at 37.5%. Notre Dame on the other hand, is 10th in 3rd down conversion defense at 25%. Pitt has to win that battle or at least be converting 50% of 3rd downs if they want to stay in the game.
When Notre Dame has the ball:
1) Stay strong in the 4th quarter
We saw last week what can happen when this defense meets an opponent with talent enough to win. This defense has struggled in the 4th quarter and it finally caught up with them. If the defense can force a big stop or get a turnover (which apparently is easy against Notre Dame), it can give them the motivation and that extra bit of juice to keep going in the final minutes of the game.
2) Turnovers. Force them
I don't know if ESPN has talked about it enough, but apparently Notre Dame turns the ball over. A lot. The Irish have had 13 turnovers in three games and have the worst turnover margin in FBS. This is just the kind of game where the defense can get a load of confidence by picking off passes from a young Tommy Rees or force a fumble.
3) Have some sort of pass defense
Despite his youth, Rees is a talented QB. And despite Pitt's experience, they are not good in pass defense. See the problems? Notre Dame has one of the top WRs in all of college football in Michael Floyd and you can bet that Rees will target him a lot, especially against a weak Pitt secondary. But there's experience here and talent as well. If Pitt can show that, they have a shot at limiting Floyd's production.
Pitt offensive line vs. Notre Dame defensive line
The Irish have loads of experience on the defensive side. Eight returning starters with five of the front seven returning from a year ago. But Pitt fared well against Iowa last week, allowing three sacks (an improvement for Pitt) and gave Tino time to at least get a pass off. The offensive line depends on the health of Chris Jacobson, the starting LG. If Jacobson is out, Cory King will replace him in the starting lineup, which means Pitt will be without a guy who had 16 starts and with this line they need all the help they can get. If the offensive line can get decent blocking, though, it'll allow Ray Graham to get off some big runs and give Tino time to get the ball out. Pitt will have to win the trenches to win the game.