Friends, I know it seems insane considering we’re all still trying to catch our collective breath after last Saturday’s shoot-out, but the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team has yet another game in just two days, as 4-0, #3 ND will play its first road game of the season against the Pittsburgh Panthers.
Pitt enters this match-up 3-3 after beginning the year 3-0, dropping two 1-point games in a row against NC State and Boston College before falling 31-19 at Miami last Saturday.
Now, the defensively-minded Panthers look to use their strength up front to slow down the Notre Dame rushing attack and potentially topple a top-3 team while getting back above .500.
With all that said, I reached out to a friend of the OFD Q&A, Anson Whaley, who serves as Manager/Editor over at Cardiac Hill, SB Nation’s Pitt Panthers site. I asked Anson how he feels about Pat Narduzzi, what the Panthers’ QB situation is this weekend, if the Pitt defense can stand up to the ND ground game, whether sleeping inside a refrigerator is legal, and much more.
Let’s check out what he had to say and prep ourselves for a battle on Saturday.
1. Panthers head coach Pat Narduzzi is now 39-32 as head coach, and has never had a better season than 8-5. What are Pitt fans’ thoughts on Narduzzi — do you still believe he’s the guy to make Pitt a contender in the ACC?
Anson Whaley: Coming into this year, I think Narduzzi’s stock was pretty solid. But this year, his rep has really taken a hit. The team was expected to be in the Top 25 and 2020 was sort of the year where it was all supposed to come together — returning three-year starter at QB, strong defense, and a lot of returning starters on the OL. But things really came off the rails with back-to-back one-point losses to NC State and Boston College.
I personally think Narduzzi is fine. The reality is that Pitt is very close to being 5-1 — just as they were close to being a .500 team instead of the one that went 8-5 last year when they won three straight games by a field goal or less. There’s sometimes a really fine line between a team that wins five games vs. eight games. Or eight games and ten games. I think Narduzzi’s done a good job and he’s set up to have potentially his best recruiting class next season with one that is in the Top 25. But there’s a large part of the fanbase that’s unhappy with him right now and wants more.
2. What’s the status of Kenny Pickett with his injury that kept him out of the Miami game last weekend? If he will be out again, what should Irish fans expect from Joey Yellen (besides lots of shouting)? If Pickett will be able to play, how does that change things for Pitt?
Anson Whaley: I don’t personally expect Pickett to play. He didn’t even travel with the team last week and, as we learned in Narduzzi’s press conference this week, didn’t even take any reps in practice last week. Narduzzi sort of tried to sell the idea he could play last weekend but I don’t think that was ever a possibility. His leg looked horrible at the end of the Boston College game and even though he stayed in, he was hobbling badly.
Yellen should be the guy and he had a very solid game against Miami with about 275 passing yards and a touchdown. That was also without having any semblance of a running game and while splitting time in the game early on with fellow backup Davis Beville. I did not imagine he would play as well as he did and while he had some accuracy issues, you can’t get much more from a backup quarterback.
Yellen will make some mistakes, maybe hold onto the ball a bit too long at times, and is not the scrambler that Pickett is. But he’s a capable quarterback and will get better with time — he’s only a redshirt freshman.
3. Who are the most dangerous guys on the Pitt offense — whom should Irish fans be afraid of heading into this weekend?
Anson Whaley: It probably starts with true freshman wide receiver Jordan Addison, who is quickly making a name for himself. Last week, he had his best performance of the year with eight catches for 147 yards. He’s just been extremely productive and has had at least seven catches or 75 yards receiving in every game this year. He has twice as many catches as anyone else on the team (38) and also leads the team in yardage (444) and touchdown receptions (3).
Pitt also has guys capable of making big plays at receiver in Taysir Mack and D.J. Turner. All three can make fantastic catches, honestly, though drops of some very catchable balls have also been a big problem.
4. Even with some key players opting out before the year, this Pitt defense is a top-25 group (currently #7 in total defense, #17 in SP+). Where do their biggest strengths lie, and do you think they match up well with a run-heavy Irish offense that struggled last week against Louisville?
Anson Whaley: Their strength is absolutely in the defensive line and more largely, the front seven. Pitt has guys that are backups that could not only start for other teams but possibly even be stars for them.
Narduzzi has emphasized being able to rush the passer and even with the loss of All-American lineman Jaylen Twyman to an opt-out, those guys haven’t missed a beat. They’ve been absolutely brutal for opposing running games. I looked up the stat last night but Pitt has allowed only one running back to reach even 50 yards against them (78 yards) — and that was due to giving up a very long run on a single play. They lead the nation in run defense, barely giving up 60 yards per game.
5. FAN QUESTION:
Is it illegal to sleep in your refrigerator?— IRISH TAILGATERS CLUB (@IRISHTAILGATER) October 19, 2020
Anson Whaley: Why can’t I just show a gif like before? Can I just show a gif?
In 1999 Pitt beat Notre Dame in the last ever game at Pitt Stadium. They boxed up the atmosphere and crowd noise in a post game ceremony. This is real thing that happened.— Brendan (@verypiratey) October 19, 2020
Anson Whaley: Chicago. Obviously.
7. Festive question alert!!! If you had to design/staff a haunted house using current Pitt players, which guys would you choose and what would their spooky roles/characters/costumes be within the haunted house?
Anson Whaley: I’m too old for this, honestly.
8. Notre Dame has a junior running back by the name of C’Bo Flemister. What are the best names on the Pitt roster, and do any of them measure up to our guy C’Bo?
Anson Whaley: Wait, we’re still on C’Bo? We did this last time.
Pitt’s got a few guys that measure up pretty well. I don’t know that anyone in the nation can beat Pitt in the names department. Wide receiver Shocky Jacques-Louis is our headliner. Israel Abanikanda isn’t bad. Liam Dick for obvious reasons. Habakkuk Baldonado for a little Old Testament representation. SirVocea Dennis because his dad literally wanted something that rhymed with courvoisier. I could do this all day.
9. Alright, prediction time: who will win, what will the score be, and explain your reasoning.
Anson Whaley: I’d love to pick Pitt here and I do think Notre Dame is primed for an upset. I love the Pitt defensive line against the strong Irish running game, but I’m not sure the secondary can prevent the big play — something they’ve given up a bit this year.
With a healthy Kenny Pickett and a full Heinz Field, I’m feeling more confident about this one. And given the history of close games between the two, I think it’s going to be close. But Pitt has had problems getting into the end zone and has had to settle for field goals. Against a strong Irish defense, I’m just not sure they score enough points. I’ll say something like 17-13, Notre Dame. If Pitt scores more points than that, I think the defense will have to get involved and set them up deep in Irish territory, which happened a bit against Miami.
I want to give a massive shout-out to Anson for fielding my questions and providing some great insights into this Panthers team. I encourage you all to head over to Cardiac Hill and check out his and the rest of the team’s work, as there is no better locale for learning about Pitt Panthers football.
That’s it for this week, folks — as always, GO IRISH!