Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Notre Dame Football 2008
Issue 8: Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Rush Offense vs. Notre Dame Rush Defense

Without a doubt, running back 25 LeSean McCoy is the star of this Pittsburgh football team. The workhorse sophomore is averaging 21 carries, 119 yards, and two touchdowns per game. That's right - two touchdowns per game; McCoy has 14 of the team's 20 on the season.

McCoy's backup is LaRod Stephens-Howling, who is averaging eight carries and 35.3 yards per game. Stephens-Howling has four rushing touchdowns of his own on the season. (Coincidentally, LeSean McCoy's father and brother are both named "LeRod.")

Indicative of Dave Wannstedt's smashmouth roots, fullback 30 Conredge Collins is averaging two carries and 9.4 yards per game. Junior college quarterback transfer 14 Greg Cross has been used as a change of pace, running four times in two games with a touchdown.

The Irish defense will have their hands full with the Pitt run game. Not only do the Panthers throw a variety of sizes at you (McCoy is 5'11", 210; Stephens-Howling is 5'7", 180; and Collins is 6'0", 230), but they also throw out a variety of looks, from the plays designed specifically for Cross to a "wildcat" package for McCoy. This is yet another game where Notre Dame's front seven will have to step up and help out their overworked safeties.

Of course, the front seven's play has been improving, although their stats may have been padded a bit by the performance Stanford and Washington's offensive lines. Harrison Smith now leads the team with five tackles for a loss, followed by Brian Smith and Pat Kuntz with four each and Justin Brown with three. Notre Dame has finally gotten the rushing yards per game stats in their favor - 122 yards per game for the Irish, compared to 120 for their opponents - but all that could change after facing a Pittsburgh team that averages an impressive 162.7 yards per game on the ground.

Notre Dame Rush Offense vs. Pittsburgh Rush Defense

Notre Dame continues to use a three-headed running attack, but Armando Allen is establishing himself as the star of the show. Allen is averaging 11 carries and 51.4 yards per game. Robert Hughes is next with nine carries and 30.4 yards per game. James Aldridge, whose playing time and productivity have increased over the past few weeks, is now averaging seven carries and 31.8 yards per game. Allen and Aldridge are both averaging over four yards per carry, while Hughes is down to 3.3.

Golden Tate has now run three times for 35 yards and a touchdown. But since both the Tate end-around and Harrison Smith fake punt were used last week, you probably won't see them again this Saturday.

Pitt's run defense is giving up 122 yards per game, almost matching Notre Dame's offensive output. The Panthers like to spend a lot of time in their opponent's backfield, with 42 tackles for a loss on the season. They're lead by linebacker 40 Scott McKillop, who has 10.5 TFL, and lineman Jabaal Sheard with 7.5. Pitt has eight players with multiple TFL, thanks partially to rotation on the defensive line. McKillop also leads the team with 67 tackles.

But the fact that Pittsburgh has so many tackles for a loss and yet still gives up so many rushing yards tells me that they're a high risk, high reward defense. Can they be beaten by delays and misdirection?

Pittsburgh Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense

11 Bill Stull has been effective but not flashy for the Panthers this season, but a concussion has him doubtful for this game. If Stull does not play, 19 Pat Bostick will replace him. Bostick would then find himself in a familiar place, as he became Pitt's starter after a Stull injury last year as well.

Pitt had a 39:17 run-to-pass ratio under Stull, and it no doubt will remain the same with Bostick under center. Pitt's leading receiver has been 81 Derek Kinder, averaging just over three catches and 35.3 yards per game. Not surprisingly, LeSean McCoy is tied for second on the team with 17 catches, matching the performance of wideout 1 Cedric McGee. Wearing the number one in Pitt colors with dreads poking out the back of his helmet, McGee may remind some of Larry Fitzerald, by look at least.

McCoy, Mcgee, and wide receivers 88 Oderick Turner and 9 TJ Porter are each averaging at least two catches per game. Four others are averaging at least one catch per game: receiver 82 Jonathan Baldwin, tight ends 80 Nate Byham and 2 Dorin Dickerson, and fullback Conredge Collins. The 6'5" Baldwin has two of the team's four receiving touchdowns, so look for him in the red zone.

Notre Dame is giving up 212 passing yards per game, compared to the 233 yards per game the Pitt offense averages. The Irish defense's goal should be to shut down the run and force Bostick to beat them. Pat Kuntz leads the team with three sacks, while David Bruton has three interceptions.

Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. Pittsburgh Pass Defense

Notre Dame's young aerial assault continues to rack up numbers, led by Jimmy Clausen. On an average day, Clausen will complete 21 of 35 passes for 261.7 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception.

Clausen has shared the wealth equally between his top two receivers, as both Golden Tate and Michael Floyd now have 31 catches on the season. That means both are averaging four to five catches a game. Tate has the slight edge in yards per game - 80.7 to Floyd's 76.1 - but Floyd has five touchdowns to Tate's four.

Armando Allen is averaging three catches and 21.9 yards per game. David Grimes is expected to be back this week, hoping to maintain his average of four catches and 36.4 yards per game. Kyle Rudolph and Robby Parris are each averaging two catches per game, although Parris has struggled to find consistent playing time. Duval Kamara and Robert Hughes are each averaging at least one catch per game.

Pitt has been stout against the pass, giving up just 187.1. No doubt that number is helped by the push of the men up front. Of Pittsburgh's 42 tackles for loss, 21 have been sacks. Jabaal Sheard leads the team with 4.5, while Scott McKillop has 4.0 and 91 Greg Romeus has 3.5.

For what it's worth, Pitt also has 25 pass breakups and 23 quarterback hits on the season. Cornerback 17 Aaron Berry leads the team with four breakups, although most of the lineman have one or two. That means the Irish playcalling will have to plan around pressure and knockdowns at the line. Not surprisingly, Jabaal Sheard leads the team with six quarterback hits. Safety 31 Dom DeCicco leads with two interceptions.

Special Teams

37 Conor Lee is back for his third season as Pitt's placekicker, and he's been very accurate so far. Lee is 11-for-13, with his only misses coming from 40+ yards. Lee's longest make on the year was from 44 yards. That's not bad, considering Heinz Field's reputation for poor field conditions and the treacherous open end of the stadium that faces the river. For the Irish, Brandon Walker has made his last three attempts to improve to four-for-ten on the year. However, he's only one-for-five in front of the home crowd. Let's hope his recent streak has improved his confidence.

18 Dave Brytus Pittsburgh's punter. He's shown a strong leg with an average of 41.7 yards and a long of 60. For Notre Dame, Eric Maust is averaging 41.7 yards per punt with a long of 54. You may notice that those numbers haven't changed from last week, as the Irish did not need to punt in Washington.

LaRod Stephens-Howling has taken most of Pittsburgh's kick returns, with a long of 21.4 yards and a long of 34. Reserve wideout 10 Aundre Wright has taken a third of the team's total kick returns, with an average of 20.3 and a long of 29. Ryan Burkhart is averaging 61.1 yards per kickoff for the Irish. Couple that with a solid 16.3 yard return average given up by Notre Dame, and opponents are getting an average start on the 24.

Armando Allen and Golden Tate are sharing kick return responsibility for Notre Dame. Allen has taken most of the kicks and has a 22.1 yard average; his long is 53 yards. Tate has a 21.8 yard average with a long of 29. In addition to long fields goals and punts, 24 Luke Briggs is the kickoff specialist for the Panthers. Briggs is averaging 62.4 yards per kickoff with two touchbacks in 38 tries. Pittsburgh gives up an even 20.0 yards per return on average. That gives opponents an average start of the 27 yard line.

Aaron Berry has returned three punts for the Huskies, with a pedestrian average of 5.4 yards but a long of 24. Armando Allen returns punts for the Irish. He's averaging 9.4 yards per return with a long of 22.

Notre Dame Players to Watch

Armando Allen, Michael Floyd, Golden Tate, David Bruton, Kyle McCarthy


Notre Dame 28, Pittsburgh 24