While No. 3 Notre Dame has been vaulting up the rankings and Pitt has been suffering through a three-game losing streak, recent history shows the Irish will have trouble getting out of Heinz Field with an easy win Saturday. The Fighting Irish and Panthers have played 71 times since 1909 and the games of late have been close with 10 of the last 12 meetings decided by single digits.
The game features a true strength-on-strength matchup with Notre Dame carrying top-10 rushing attack averaging 261.0 yards per game behind the one-two punch of Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree at running back, and Pitt's run defense, which ranks No. 1 in the country allowing just 61.5 yards per game.
The Irish have national championship aspirations this season and have a key date with No. 1 Clemson on the horizon. But they can't get caught sleep walking against a Pitt team that is known for taking down top teams at home. Just ask No. 2 Miami in 2017, who entered their matchup with the Panthers one game away from a perfect season ahead of a showdown with Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. Pitt took down the Hurricanes and ended any hopes of reaching the national title game.
Let's take a closer look at the storylines to follow in this one before making some expert picks both straight up and against the spread. Odds via William Hill Sportsbook.
Notre Dame: While much is made of the Pitt defense, the Fighting Irish have their own defense worth highlighting as part of the analysis of this year's team as an ACC championship and College Football Playoff contender. Notre Dame has really only played two quarters of football that haven't lived up to the defensive standard of the Clark Lea era, and on the season, the Irish rank No. 4 nationally with just 11.5 points per game allowed. Only Oklahoma State (9.0 points per game allowed) is ranked higher among Power Five opponents, and there's a real bend-but-don't-break to this year's unit that's done a terrific job of forcing field goal attempts or getting turnovers when opponents get into the red zone.
But while Notre Dame seems to be in championship form in terms of running the ball and playing defense, the pass game is still a work in progress. Ian Book does a good job of leading the offense and offers an extra threat as a runner but the Irish are missing the downfield passing threat they had with Chase Claypool and Cole Kmet. Given Pitt's strength defending the run, we should anticipate some third-and-long scenarios that will test Book. How he performs will go a long way in decided whether we think this team is as close to Clemson in the ACC as it is in the AP Top 25 poll.
Pitt: Starting quarterback Kenny Pickett missed last week's loss to Miami due to injury, and could be out again against Notre Dame. Facing top-notch defenses like the ones fielded by the Hurricanes and the Fighting Irish is not ideal for a backup quarterback, but transfer Joey Yellen seems to be the guy after winning the in-game battle with Davis Beville. Yellen threw for 277 yards and a touchdown on 22-of-46 passing by the end of the game, moving the ball well in the second and third quarter but struggling to punch it in the end zone when the Panthers got scoring opportunities. That's where Pitt has to improve if it hopes to capitalize on having one of the best defenses in the country, because there were at least 16 points left on the field by settling for field goals. Pitt's three losses have come by a combined 14 points, so those missed opportunities for touchdowns are starting to add up in a way that's become the storyline of this three-game losing streak.
Date: Saturday, Oct. 24 | Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Location: Heinz Field -- Pittsburgh
TV: ABC | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Game prediction, picks
I'm not going to put Notre Dame's passing game in the spotlight for its lack of production against Louisville because the windy conditions did not allow for any kind of confidence in putting the ball in the air. Instead, I'll go back to the Florida State game, where the group picked up some confidence in the first half with senior Javon McKinley emerging as that apparent No. 1 threat. I think Book gets tested by Pitt's defensive front, and his pass catchers are ready to help him answer the challenge. Pick: Notre Dame (-10.5)
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