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Notre Dame Football Opponent Quick Look Preview: Pittsburgh Panthers

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Let’s take a quick peek at what the Pitt Panthers will bring to the table in their late October match-up with the Irish

NCAA Football: Miami at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

With the start of the season just around the corner, we’ll be taking a look at each ACC opponent the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will (potentially) face in the 2020 football season. Today brings us to those pesky, under-achieving, annual season-ruining Pittsburgh Panthers.

Three Things to Know About Pittsburgh

They’ve Got Another Stout Pat Narduzzi Defense

Pat Narduzzi has been anything but ultra-impressive in his first 5 years as Pitt head coach (36-29 overall record), but the one thing he’s almost always been able to hang his hat on has been coaching up a pretty tough defense. That was obviously what he became known for as Defensive Coordinator at Michigan State, building those fantastic defenses during the Mark Dantonio golden years, and something that he’s been able to do at Pitt despite lacking in some other areas of coaching.

The 2020 Pitt Panther team is no different, considering they originally* returned 8 starters from one of the better defenses in the country in 2019. That unit ranked 1st in the country in sacks, 11th in pass efficiency rating, 12th in rushing defense, 15th in total defense, and 9th in tackles for loss.

*I will explain why I said “originally” in the following “thing to know” about Pitt

Highlighting the returning defensive talent is defensive end Patrick Jones II, who was 2nd Team All-ACC last season with 8.5 sacks, 18 QB hurries, 12 tackles for loss, and 4 forced fumbles (good enough for 5th in the nation).

To reap the benefits of Jones II wreaking havoc in the backfield, the Panthers return a couple absolute studs at the safety positions, with Damar Hamlin (84 tackles, 10 passes broken up, 1 INT) and Paris Ford (team-leading 97 tackles, 11 passes broken up, 3 INT) combining to make an athletic, hard-hitting combo at the back end of Narduzzi’s unit.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Panthers also bring back some additional experienced starters in the front seven, and as of just a couple weeks ago they looked ready to be one of the best defenses in the country, which could be worrisome considering the unproven skill talent being asked to take over the ND offense.

But They’ll Be Missing a Key Piece — Star DT Jaylen Twyman

That is, until August 8th, when potential All-American defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman announced on Twitter that he was opting out of this season to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft.

Twyman was a force in the middle for Narduzzi last season, racking up 10.5 sacks (16th in the country) and tying Jones II for the team lead in tackles for loss with 12.

The absence of Twyman will certainly hurt the Panthers’ ability to stymie the run, and even more so to collapse the pocket and get to the opposing QB, and so this is a huge loss for Pitt and an absolute boon for Pitt opponents like Notre Dame.

NCAA Football: Ohio at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s to hoping this means Ian Book has the time to pick that defense apart, and that the Irish offensive line now has no excuse to make things happen in the run game.

Pitt Has Some of the Best Names in College Football

Looking at just the expected starters for this coming season, the Panthers offer up a BEVY of wonderful names.

The crew is headlined by WR Shocky Jacques-Louis, who is closely followed by fellow starting receiver Taysir Mack. There aren’t many receiver combos out there who tout names that great.

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Add in other potential-two-deep names like Habakkuk Baldonado, Kaymar Mimes, Chase Pine, Jake Kradel, Keyshon Camp, and Tre Tipton, and you’ve got yourself a fun group of names for broadcasters to use during Pitt games.

However, when you dive into the details of the Panthers roster, it’s unbelievable how much additional name talent Pat Narduzzi has amassed over the past few years. Here are the big-hitters in that regard:

  • SirVocea Dennis
  • Calijah Kancey
  • Joey Yellen
  • Bangally Kamara
  • Judson Tallandier
  • Buddy Mack III
  • Gusty Sunseri
  • Hudson Primus
  • Bam Brima
  • Jahvante Royal
  • Cam Guess
  • Kirk Christodoulou
  • Josh Junko
  • Liam Dick

That’s a team I think any of us can get behind (besides on October 24th, obviously).