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- Pitt has been playing well so far this season, despite the injury to star RB James Conner. How has the Pitt offense adapted? Is it a case of find Tyler Boyd and let him make plays, or have they stayed committed to the running game to be successful?
Pitt is still remaining pretty true to the run. They are passing about the same as last season (averaging about 26 pass attempts per game to 24 last year), but are relying on a running back by committee to some degree. The starter is Qadree Ollison but while he's taken the bulk of the snaps, backups Chris James and Darrin Hall have also been given a good number of reps. Each of these three guys have also had some injury issues so that's affected things, too. None of them bring what James Conner does, but the group has been competent. Ollison in particular has a healthy 5.6 yard-per-carry average and also has eight touchdowns this year.
That said, the Panthers are still utilizing Tyler Boyd a great deal. He's caught at least ten passes in four of his seven games (he was suspended for the opener) and is on pace to top his personal best of 85 in 2013. The coaches are utilizing him any way they can. He's catching an insane amount of balls, being utilized as a running back on designed runs and trick plays, and is a returner on special teams. Boyd has even completed a couple of passes. He hasn't been used as a downfield threat as much as he probably should, but overall, he's the biggest weapon the offense has.
- Coming off of the loss against UNC, what were some things that gave the Panthers trouble? Notre Dame is a spread team like UNC, but not hurry-up. Do you see any parallels heading into this weekend?
Pitt had a lot of trouble with quarterback Marquise Williams, who threw for nearly 300 yards and had some key scrambles. That's obviously the biggest parallel in terms of containing a mobile quarterback with Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer.
Other than that, I'm not sure how many parallels there are. More than anything, perhaps, Pitt killed their chances in the North Carolina game with a series of gaffes. They had a key fumble on their side of the field, which led to North Carolina points. Before the half, they also had a chance to get points on the board but ran out of time due to a highly-publicized mistake of not getting plays on the field soon enough and letting too much time tick off the clock. After blocking a punt and recovering on North Carolina's 15-yard line, they could advance the ball only four yards and had to settle for a field goal. The Panthers just made too many mistakes and ran into a better team - that's a losing combination 95% of the time.
- Who is one non-star player that ND fans may not know who is going to have a huge game against the Irish on each side of the ball?
On offense, a guy that has kind of broken out a little is the Panthers' second receiver, Dontez Ford. He had a slow start with only four total catches in Pitt's first four games, but has eight in the past two. He's made some key grabs, too, and is being used a bit more downfield. He's not putting up huge stats, but has the eight catches for nearly 150 yards over the last two contests. If the Irish key in on Boyd, Ford is a guy that should see some opportunities.
Defensively, if someone steps up, it could be a player in the secondary. Kizer has had some miscues this season and Pitt needs to force him into at least one interception. I'll say one of the two safeties, Jordan Whitehead or Terrish Webb, has a nice day. Whitehead already, technically, is a star. But he's not a name probably known by most of the country, so I'll go with those two.
- What unit on the field for the Panthers do you see as having a difficult time against the Irish?
Pitt's cornerbacks have had a difficult time of things lately and if the team doesn't get any pressure up front, I could see them struggling again. Avonte Maddox is pretty good by my estimation, but at 5'9", has been picked on a lot this year. The safeties can bail them out to a degree when they're in position, but they have also had some trouble as well. It all will come down, I think, to the Panthers' ability or lack thereof to get to Kizer up front.
- What unit on the field for the Panthers do you see as having good success against the Irish?
That's tough to say only because Notre Dame has excelled all over the field this year. The Irish run defense has been a little vulnerable, ranking in the bottom half of the FBS, so if you forced my hand it might be Pitt's running backs. But I also expect Tyler Boyd to be a huge part of whatever Pitt does. Seeing him make a huge play in the game wouldn't surprise anybody.
- What's your prediction for the game this weekend, and how do we get there exactly? Bonus points for GIF usage.
Pitt has had success against Notre Dame in the past but this is also a better Irish team than the one they beat in 2013. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see a win here and even in the years they've lost, the games are generally, for whatever reason, very close. Getting the game at home and Pitt bringing back a bunch of legends (Dan Marino, Mike Ditka, Tony Dorsett, and several others will all be there) should help rally the troops as well. I can't responsibly pick Pitt here, but again, a win shouldn't surprise anyone.
That said, Notre Dame is playing for their playoff hopes here and it's hard to see them coming out unprepared. I'll go with something like 24-17. Boyd and Ollison get touchdowns but Pitt has a problem containing Kizer.
And just because you asked nicely ...