*alarm goes off, but it’s a relaxing, pleasant melody as I turn it off, yawn cartoonishly, and smile as I sit up in bed happily*
Wow, what a difference a bye week makes! I feel such a lack of stress and worry and frustration, and somehow feel pretty rested and energized for the week on this lovely Monday morning.
Time to check my calendar and see what I’ve got on the docket for this week...
OH GREAT, just a short week packed with meetings and work, then a quick trip across the country to Los Angeles for a couple friends’ wedding, and obviously also trying to stay up to date on what happens in the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team’s 9th game of the season on Saturday when they host the Pittsburgh Panthers. Easy peasy, y’all!
Welp, as much as I’d like to bask in the peaceful morning I woke up to, I have to get going if I want to complete everything I need to complete before my out-of-office message goes up Wednesday night. Let’s do it, starting with our weekly W.I.N. call!
*clicks “Join Call” button*
Happy Monday everybody! I hope you all had a nice bye weekend — I know I truly enjoyed mine, although it went way faster than I’d like. I can’t believe it’s already the beginning of the week again, or that it’s now late October. Time really freaking flies!
So true, Greg — you really DO blink and miss it. Crazy stuff.
Okay, do we have everyone on the call that we expected to have for today? Where’s Gwen? Is she stuck on another call, or — oh, okay, yes please ping her, but I think we will want to get started without her to make sure we cover everything. I can always catch her up offline.
Great, so...I’m sharing my screen now. Can you all see it?
I’ll take your silence as a yes — this week’s agenda is pretty much the same as always...
And per usual, I feel comfortable skipping the definition and process slides — feel free to review those on your own time if you ever need a refresher, but I imagine we’re all experts on this at this point in the project, 9 weeks in!
Perfect, so let’s start where we always do, with a review of Last Week’s Results.
Luckily, the Irish were idle this past weekend, so we can keep this slide light, high-level, and mostly just focus on funny things that happened to other programs during our off week.
Let’s jump into the positives first.
Both USC and Clemson lost their games, which is always fun to see. Both easily could have pulled out the wins, too, which was a nice added bonus to see them both fail there. Bonus points go to USC, too, for losing to a Utah team starting a safety at running back and a former walk-on pig farmer at QB, which is just amazing.
Kyle Whittingham with an all-time quote: "They've got a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback, so they're gonna make some things, and that's just the way it is. But we've got ourselves a pig farmer at quarterback, so we're proud of that guy, too."— Josh Furlong (@JFurKSL) October 22, 2023
Meanwhile, Iowa continued to be the most Iowa Iowa that’s ever been Iowa-ed, but unfortunately their luck came to an end when a pretty questionable fair catch call ruined their game-winning punt return touchdown. Instead, they fell 12-10 to Minnesota in a game where the Hawkeyes gained two — that’s right, T-W-O — offensive yards in the entire second half. Just so Iowa it hurts.
Ohio State beat Penn State in one of the most boring top-10 games I’ve ever seen, which I guess is technically a positive. I don’t like OSU in any way, shape, or form, but their continued success makes ND’s moral victory a month ago look just a tad better, and also I hate Penn State a lot so them losing and being exposed as frauds once again is always a nice touch.
Virginia has been through hell and back again with what they went through last season, so it was really awesome to see Tony Elliott and that program get a massive upset over undefeated North Carolina, a team we all knew wasn’t truly a CFP contender but who somehow snuck this far into the year without a loss. Shout-out to the Hoos for a big win, even if the CW prioritizes Tim Allen over college football!
Meanwhile, Air Force continues to be undefeated and push for that Group of 5 spot in the NY6 bowls. Since James Madison isn’t eligible, we’re most likely looking at Air Force and Tulane as the most likely options at this point, although I suppose Liberty or Fresno State could force themselves into the conversation. But that’s pretty awesome to see for Air Force, so I’m rooting for them to run the table and give some poor P5 team (please don’t let it be ND) a really annoying and tough test with the triple option in a NY6 bowl game.
The Irish landed a commitment from class of 2025 4-star tight end prospect James Flanigan over the weekend, which alone is a nice recruiting win — but it helps even more that he’s a legacy with a dad who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated after a massive Irish victory back in the day, so it’s cool to see that legacy carry on to another generation of great football players.
Also, seeing Clemson lose in OT to Miami, Pitt lose to Wake, and Stanford get absolutely torched by UCLA made it clearer than ever that the Irish SHOULD run the table to finish this season 10-2.
Yes, Clemson still has a really good defense that we’ll be asking this questionable Irish offense to win against on the road, but this is a super winnable stretch of football for the Irish and a chance to snag a NY6 bowl bid in year 2 for Freeman, which would suddenly make him look back on track to get this program into contention (even if this feels like the year they should have done it in the first place, seeing how wide open everything is). That’s a positive and I’ll take it.
Other fun positives were watching this play from the Oregon/Wazzu game and also wondering what #8 on Wazzu was doing...
...as well as finding out about the VERY TALL KICKER...
Montana State has a GIANT kicking good god. pic.twitter.com/Att8hYnYlQ— Sickos Committee (@SickosCommittee) October 22, 2023
...and also this kiss-blowing celebration by a UCF receiver on his way to the end zone against Oklahoma:
He blew a kiss towards the Sooners sideline— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 21, 2023
Finally, I just want to give a shout-out to the brunch deal at Smoke Daddy, the BBQ restaurant where we watched the OSU/PSU game on Saturday. It’s a fantastic bargain for a lot of food in a solid atmosphere and it was a fun way to spend a bye week Saturday with friends, hopping around to a few bars/restaurants while watching football and not at all getting stressed about the Irish.
Okay, now onto the negatives. Let’s start with one that’s really sort of a positive for anyone outside their program/fan base — the continued and hilarious downfall of the Michigan State Spartans program. They had to fire Mel Tucker because at best he’s a gross, unprofessional weirdo and at worst he was sexually harassing a sexual harassment survivor, making him a monster. Then, of course, they’ve just been absolutely atrocious on the field this year, capped by their 49-0 beatdown at the hands of their in-state rival Wolverines on Saturday.
But the icing on the cake was that they just continue to find new and absurd ways to one-up how much they can mess up, with Saturday’s latest entry in that story being a trivia question they put on the jumbotron about where Hitler was born.
It doesn’t even make sense why they’re putting up random trivia at all (if you feel the need to put up trivia like you’re at a movie theater before previews have started, maybe make a MSU-specific set of trivia questions to keep it relevant???), but obviously letting that question hit the jumbotron with everything going on in the world right now was just tone deaf and stupid to the extreme. Hats off to MSU on that one!
Other negatives from the weekend included Michigan continuing to skate by against horrible teams and garner hype as the “best team in the country” and for J.J. McCarthy as a Heisman contender, etc. I do think Michigan is probably one of the best teams in the country and will likely beat OSU and make the CFP, but it’s so annoying that we’re about to be done with October and the best team they’ve played is either...*checks notes*...UNLV or Rutgers! I’m very much looking forward to their @Penn State, @Maryland, vs. OSU stretch to finish the season, where they can at least prove they’re worthy of this hype.
- Arizona State being Arizona State after outplaying Washington for the majority of the game, throwing a back-breaking pick-six to give up the lead and then failing to do anything else down the stretch
- Duke’s backup QB situation...WOOF. They controlled that game until Riley Leonard had to come out, and then FSU just took over and ended up blowing them out, which stinks
- USC and Clemson losing, although fun for us, technically ain’t great for ND’s resume
- Brian Kelly being disrespectful to the troops by blowing out Army — also, why is LSU playing Army in late October?
Alrighty, with all that said, we can quickly go through our Fun With Charts and Graphs section, which will just be one slide today because there’s not much new to cover from a Notre Dame perspective after a bye week.
However, there is this bar chart I’d like to quickly talk through showcasing some important data points from around the college football industry this past weekend:
I think that speaks for itself, but let me know if you have any questions as you peruse the data I’ve laid out in this chart.
Sweet, now that we’ve covered that, we can move forward. Because of the bye week, there will be no Team Members of the Week this week — we’ll resume celebrating our successes next week after the Irish take on Pitt and several people emerge as worthy of the title.
So we can quickly run through this week’s Live Journal, which featured Pat Rick turning an Ohio State/Penn State brunch into a full-day affair of beer drinking, good times with friends, and enjoying a day of no-stress football while still managing to lose most of the bets he placed!!!
I won’t read all that off to you, but the key highlights are:
- Smoke Daddy’s brunch deal is fantastic: $19 per person, each person gets an entree of their choice, and then the table gets unlimited pancakes, bacon, sausage, hash browns, and fruit. Highly recommend.
- High Life Spritzes, AKA spaghetts, are delicious and a great beverage for a brunchy football Saturday
- It was a really fun day just getting to hang with friends at bars and enjoy stress-free football
Cool, so let’s quickly check in on our timeline for Project W.I.N. — we’ve successfully navigated our first Eating Cheeseburgers week, and are now officially ready to jump into the final third of the schedule, starting with...
THE PITTSBURGH PANTHERS!!!!
That’s right folks, it’s officially Pat Narduzzi/Phil Jurkovec week, and although our good friend Phil likely won’t see the field much, if at all, it’s still going to be an enjoyable little matchup with a program who loves to talk shit about the Irish for no reason while being not very good at football but also always being good for a massive upset or two, which is why we can’t take them TOO lightly.
So, let’s start with an overview of these guys — what do we need to know about Pittsburgh as a university, a football program, etc.?
I won’t waste your time by just reading all of this off the slide, but there are a few main call-outs I wanted to touch on here:
- Blue and Gold as your colors? Get your own colors, ya posers!
- “Truth and Virtue” — the perfect motto for a team led by Pat “Nard Dog” Narduzzi and with Phil Jurkovec on the roster
- I’m only going to refer to Pat Narduzzi as “Nard Dog” from here on out
- The number of national titles Pitt claims is BAFFLING to me — these guys claim more titles than Ohio State (8), Oklahoma (7), Nebraska (5), and basically everyone else who isn’t Notre Dame, USC, Michigan, Alabama, Yale, and Princeton. That just seems wildly incorrect, but maybe I’m letting the last 30-40 years bias me a bit here.
- I got really curious why their mascot is named “Roc” — here’s what I found out: they had a really good player in the 1930s under coach Jock Sutherland by the name of Steve Petro, whose nickname was “The Rock.” So the Panther’s name is based off of/in tribute to him. That’s it. ALSO, does Dwayne Johnson know his nickname is NOT ORIGINAL!?!?!? Can he smell what Steve Petro was cooking back in 1936-1938???
- Pitt really struggles against Athletic Clubs, considering they’re 0-11 all-time vs. them. They’re also 0-2 vs. lyceums (lycea?) and winless against both Air Force and Hawaii LOL
- Famous Pitt alumni include some fantastic and notable people, such as:
- a matchmaker and relationship coach from Netflix’s Jewish Matchmaking
- Mr. Rogers and Mr. McFeely
- Alaska Thunderfuck
- their very own famous alum named Regis
- a Hall of Fame coach and Professor of Dentistry combo named “Jock”
- the real Kevin McCallister (I always wondered what the Home Alone kid ended up doing besides maybe becoming Jigsaw, and it turns out he is just a high-ranking executive of a massive airplane company)
- the host of the biggest “Females Only” party of 2015 in the “Philadelphia/New Jersey” area
- the owner of the largest ship ever built
- the CIA agent responsible for arming Afghan mujaheddin in the 1980s
- the Father of Project Management and the Father of Television (two different guys)
- the inventor of the MRI machine
- a well known Holocaust denier
- the son of a coal and railroad baron who was also apparently a murderer
Now that we’ve got a good feel for Pitt on a surface level, what’s get to the important stuff — NAMEly, what awesome names has the Nard Dog assembled on his roster for this 2023 season??
Folks, I know I often praise our opponents’ top names and oftentimes mention teams having unparalleled depth when it comes to absolutely sensational monikers, both in quality and quantity. But this week, I truly mean this: this 2023 Pitt roster is likely a top-5 or at worst top-10 all-time opponent name roster, at least in the few years I’ve been keeping track of and documenting the top names for each opponent.
Normally when I put together this list for an opponent, I take a first pass through the roster and just write down any and all names I like. Then, the next step is to sort those selected names into 2-3 groups, with one group clearly being the “elite” group that usually has anywhere from 5-10 names, a middle group having probably another 10-15 really good ones, and then an “okay” group with another ~10-15 names. So overall, I usually end up writing down about 35-40 names and choosing 36 to list on this slide.
This week, I had 15 names in the “elite” group, 22 names in the middle group, and then another 12 in the “okay” group. That’s nearly 50 names I wrote down, not to mention a special category of additional names I wrote down, the “Two First Names” group that had another 13 names in it. I wrote down almost two-thirds of the roster this week as names I thoroughly enjoyed!!!
I’ll stop rambling about it now, but just wanted to call that out — this Pitt team has a ton of great names on it. The elite ones are incredible — Bub Means, Konata Mumpfield, Bangally Kamara, Montravius Lloyd, C’Bo Flemister, Cruce Brookins, etc. — but then even the middling names are phenomenal (Buddy Mack III, Shadarian Harrison, Cam Guess, Zach Zollers, Benny Haselrig, etc.).
So, I encourage you all to read through each and every name on that slide, as I think this team stacks up with just about anybody out there. Excellent job assembling this roster of names, Nard Dog — and great work putting together a lot of guys with two first names, too:
- Kyle Louis, LB
- Shayne Simon, LB
- Brandon George, LB
- John Glenn, DB
- Cole Mitchell, TE
- Jimmy Scott, DL
- Abe Ibrahim, LB
- Lamar Seymore, WR
- Gavin Bartholomew, TE
- Ben Sauls, PK (technically his second first name is a plurality of a first name, but I counted it)
- Thomas Aden, DL
- Elliot Donald, DL
- Isaiah Neal, DL
Okey dokey, now let’s take a look at this Pittsburgh team itself and what they’ve accomplished so far this season, as there’s plenty we can learn about Nard Dog’s squad from the numbers as well.
The 2023 Pittsburgh Panthers have had a pretty rough go of it, at least for the most part. They’re 2-5 on the year after the first seven games, having started the season by crushing Wofford but then losing 4 straight games after that, falling to Cincinnati, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Virginia Tech, with two of those losses being COMPLETE blowouts.
With a 1-4 record and things looking grim, though, they got an opportunity to catch the then-14th-ranked Louisville Cardinals coming off their huge win over Notre Dame, and the undefeated Cardinals were unprepared for Pitt to put on their best performance of the season. The Panthers routed Louisville 38-21 in the first start by sophomore QB Christian Veilleux (who replaced beloved Notre Dame son Phil Jurkovec mid-season after Jurkovec was benched), and things started to look up a bit as Pitt hit the back half of their schedule.
Unfortunately, Nard Dog and his boys went right back to being Pitt this past Saturday, losing 21-17 to a Wake Forest team starting their 3rd string QB. Thus, Pitt enters this road game in South Bend with a 2-5 record and looking very unlikely to reach bowl eligibility with games against the Irish, #4 Florida State, Syracuse, and at #20 Duke all left on the schedule. Only their game against Boston College seems particularly winnable, and even that could be a toss-up.
With that said, the Irish would be wise not to look past this Pitt team as they eye their early November trip to Clemson — as Louisville learned, they’re still juuuust fiesty enough and have enough talent to catch a good team on a bad day.
Ranked 47th overall currently in SP+ (68th offense, 37th defense, 93rd special teams), this Pitt squad has a handful of talented individuals on both sides of the ball, and like many Nard Dog teams, they’re capable of playing some really good defense. They’re just 64th in the nation in scoring defense at 24.6 PPG allowed, but that’s likely more driven by how much their defense is on the field than their ability to stop opponents from scoring. In many key metrics, Pitt grades out really well, including being 26th in total defense (323 YPG), 25th in yards per play allowed (4.9), 21st in yards per carry allowed (3.15, despite teams averaging 40+ carries per game against them), and 48th in rushing defense.
Their strength certainly lies in their front seven considering their ability to slow down the run, which makes sense considering they always seem to have some pretty strong players on the defensive line especially. This team has a few such key guys to look out for, including DL Bam Brima (20 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, 3 QB hurries), DL David Green (23 tackles, 1.5 sacks), and DL Dayon Hayes (22 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 PD, 5 QB hurries). Those three help lead a strong group up front that has helped the Panthers not only get into the backfield to stop ball carriers in their tracks (15th in the country in tackles for loss per game at 7.43), but also getting after the quarterback, as Pitt stands currently tied for 12th in the nation in sacks per game (3.14).
DL Samuel Okunlola has been great in that regard, with 3 of his 9 tackles on the season being sacks. Add in 1.5 sacks from Devin Danielson and 1.5 combined from Deandre Jules and Nate Temple, and Pitt has a bunch of guys who can get into the backfield and disrupt from the defensive line position.
Then, they’ve also got a handful of solid linebackers, led by a familiar name for Irish fans — Shayne Simon. The former ND linebacker has 27 tackles and 1 PD to go along with his tied-for-the-team-lead 3 sacks, and he has combined with LBs Solomon DeShields (36 tackles, 2 sacks), Brandon George (27 tackles, 1 sack), Bangally Kamara (24 tackles, 1 sack, 1 PD), and Braylan Lovelace (17 tackles, 1 FR TD) to form a pretty solid linebacking unit, especially in filling gaps and stopping the run.
The pass defense is a bit of a different story, though. Nard Dog’s defenses are oftentimes pretty strong against the pass, and at first glance it would seem this one is too, ranked 27th in the country in pass defense at 195.3 YPG allowed. However, that’s obviously just a result of Pitt seeing the 9th-least pass attempts against of any defense in the country, as opponents have chosen to run on them most of the time and likely have established leads and haven’t needed to throw the ball.
When opponents DO throw the ball, though, they’re super efficient. Pitt’s tied for 97th in the country in yards per pass attempt allowed (7.7), tied for 105th in completion percentage allowed (63.3%!!!), and 98th in passer rating allowed. The Panthers secondary is also tied for 80th in the country in interceptions, which helps strongly contribute to Pitt’s meager 9 turnovers gained on the season (T-79th in the nation). Their inability to force fumbles hasn’t helped there, either (T-116th in forced fumbles per game).
The names to know in the back end of the Pitt defense are largely safeties Donovan McMillon and Javon McIntyre, largely because they’re forced to mop up in tackles whenever opponents make it past the front seven. McMillon has 57 tackles and 1 passes defended on the year, while McIntyre has 45 tackles and 4 passes defended. Cornerback M.J. Devonshire might actually be their best and most productive defensive back, though, as the corner has 21 tackles, 8 passes defended, and 2 interceptions on the season, with one of those two picks being one he returned for a touchdown.
Other DBs to note include starting corner Marquis Williams (17 tackles, 1 PD, 1 INT) and reserve safety Phillip O’Brien (24 tackles, 2 PD, 1 INT) and rotational CB A.J. Woods (21 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 PD).
Pitt’s defense, with their inability to consistently stop opponents through the air, is still managing to be a top-50 unit when it comes to 3rd down conversions allowed, ranked 41st in the country by allowing just 35.11% of opponents’ 3rd downs to convert. However, they aren’t great at stopping opponents from picking up first downs overall (T-60th at 19.1 allowed per game), which tells us they oftentimes aren’t even able to force opponents into 3rd down situations. They’re also not particularly good at stopping teams once they allow them into the red zone, ranked 67th in the country in red zone score % allowed at 81.82%, and giving up touchdowns on 72.7% of those red zone trips, which is 118th-best in the country.
Despite not doing a great job of stopping teams from moving the chains or scoring in the red zone, the Pitt defense IS pretty solid at preventing big plays, tied for 32nd in the country in scrimmage plays of 10+ yards allowed and tied for 34th in plays of 20+ yards allowed — opponents are needing longer and more methodical drives in order to score on these guys.
Offensively, it’s been a really tough look for Nard Dog and the fellas. Pitt began the year with Jurkovec at starter and struggled mightily against both good and bad opponents, and even having switched starters of late, the Panthers offense is still struggling in just about every key metric. They’re 88th in the country in scoring (24.6 PPG), 115th in the country in total offense (320.9 YPG), and 100th in yards per play (5.14).
Typically, you’ll see Pitt under Nard Dog be a team focused on running the ball, and although they still sometimes feel like that kind of offense, this group is not very good on the ground. Pitt is 114th in the country in total rushing offense (111.57 YPG) and 113th in yards per carry (an abysmal 3.44), and have only managed to score on the ground 8 times in 7 games (T-100th in the nation).
However, they also don’t run the ball very often compared to most teams (T-103rd at 32.43 attempts per game) and only slightly more than they pass, so some of their underperformance here and through the air is partially just because they do such a poor job moving the ball that they don’t get as many offensive plays as many teams do (122nd in the country in offensive plays).
The ground game described above is largely driven by a trio of backs, a group again led by a former Notre Dame player. C’Bo Flemister leads Pitt in rushing yards this year with 282, averaging 4.1 yards per carry and having scored twice on the ground. He’s also added 5 catches for 92 yards and a receiving touchdown this year.
He splits the workload with Rodney Hammond Jr., who’s run for 247 yards and an identical 4.1 yards per carry while scoring thrice on the ground. Add in 3rd string RB Daniel Carter (104 yards, 4.5 YPC, 2 TD) and anything involving the running game will go through those three guys.
Unfortunately for them, though, the Pitt offensive line doesn’t do a great job getting a push, or keeping opponents out of the backfield. The Panthers are tied for 69th in the nation in tackles for loss allowed (5.71 per game) and 96th in TFL yards (186 on the year), making it difficult for Flemister, Hammond, and Carter to find room to run. Add in that the line is also T-66th in sacks allowed (2 per game) and T-105th in sack yards allowed (134 on the season), and it’s pretty tough for anyone in the backfield to get much done.
That, of course, made it difficult for Jurkovec when he was under center, and makes it difficult for Christian Veilleux now that he’s taken over as starter. Jurkovec threw for 818 yards on a really bad 50.9% completion percentage and 7.3 yards per attempt in 5 games as starter, tossing 6 touchdowns and 3 picks while being sacked 12 times.
Veilleux has played in 4 games this year, including starting the last two, and has already managed 647 yards and 5 touchdowns on the year, but has also struggled to complete passes (53.1%), throw the ball downfield (just 6.6 YPA), and has tossed a couple interceptions of his own. He’s been able to avoid being sacked a bit better than Jurkovec, though, having only been sacked twice.
When Veilleux drops back to pass on Saturday, he’s likely going to look for a small group of top targets, most likely focusing on trying to find WRs Konata Mumpfield and Bub Means. Mumpfield leads the team in catches (30) and receiving yards (347), and is tied with Means for the team lead in receiving touchdowns with 3.
Means has 20 catches on the year for 326 yards, and is definitely the big play threat amongst the Pitt receivers — he has a long catch of 75 yards this season.
TE Gavin Bartholomew is also a favorite target of Panthers QBs, having caught 17 passes for 310 yards and a score on the season, giving them a big and athletic target at the position. WR Daejon Reynolds (11 catches, 154 yards) is another decent option for Veilleux.
The Panthers have not been very effective through the air this year, with their passing offense ranking 92nd in total pass offense (209.3 YPG), T-83rd in yards per attempt (7.0), 96th in passer rating, and a near-worst-in-the-country 128th in completion percentage (51.9%). That inability to throw the ball consistently along with their not-great efficiency on the ground and proclivity for allowing lots of tackles for loss and sacks have made things tough for Pitt offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr., as Pitt has struggled to move the chains (T-113th at 17.1 first downs per game) and convert on 3rd down (90th in the nation at 37.23% conversion rate).
Pitt’s been fantastic in their score percentage once they get into the red zone (14th in the country at 93.75%), but unfortunately they’re 128th in the nation in red zone attempts on the year with just 16. So, despite being good at scoring when they get there, they REALLY struggle to ever actually get there. That would be less of a problem if they had lots of big-play ability, but unfortunately even with guys occasionally capable of home run plays like Means, Pitt is largely not very good at picking up chunk yardage — they rank T-115th in plays of 10+ yards, T-64th in plays of 20+ yards, T-64th in plays of 30+ yards, and T-86th in plays of 40+ yards.
The one thing they really have going for them offensively, though, is that they take care of the football pretty well. With just 8 lost turnovers in 7 games, they’re tied for 37th in the country in that stat, choosing to instead just perpetually punt the ball back to opponents as opposed to making huge mistakes and giving it to them via interception or fumble, allowing them to rank T-55th in turnover margin despite not having a defense that great at forcing turnovers.
Another note overall for this Pitt team is that they’re very undisciplined, ranking 124th in the country in penalty yards per game (71!!!) and nearly dead last in penalties per game, ranked 130th in the country with 8.9 penalties called on them each week.
Finally, there’s not too much to note with their special teams, aside from maybe a dangerous return man. PK Ben Sauls has NOT been given many opportunities on the year, having hit all of his 19 extra point attempts and hitting 5-of-8 on his field goal attempts, missing both of his attempts from 50+ yards and going 2-for-3 on kicks of 40-49 yards.
Punter Caleb Junko has certainly gotten a lot of work this season and is a top-30 punter in the country in terms of average punt (45.1 yards per punt), but he still isn’t really a guy who’s going to completely flip the field and help win Pitt a ballgame.
On the kick and punt return side of things, WR Kenny Johnson is pretty productive as a kick returner with 33.7 yards per return on 7 kick returns, including a 100-yard TD against North Carolina.
So the Irish would be wise to avoid giving him any opportunities after what happened with Zachariah Branch a couple weeks ago. CB M.J. Devonshire returns punts for the Panthers but hasn’t really done much there, with 13 returns on the season for a total of 36 yards (2.8 yards per return, with a long of 12).
Alrighty, we’re running out of time here, so let’s quickly flip to the next slide so we can cover What’s Important Now as the Irish host Nard Dog and Jurkovec and the rest of these Pitt people on Saturday afternoon.
After a long four-week stretch against ranked opponents and then a nice week off eating cheeseburgers, I think there are really 6 clear key focus areas for what’s truly important this week:
1. Take care of the football and win the turnover battle. Pitt likes to get pressure and they don’t turn it over much on offense, so that’s how they could actually maybe win this game — they took down Louisville by winning the turnover battle 3-0, and from the ND/Louisville game we already know what happens when ND gets careless with the ball and gives away too many offensive possessions. This is critical to making this the easy win it should be.
2. Use the pass to establish the run. I know I usually start these W.I.N. points by emphasizing establishing the ground game first and foremost, but I think the Irish offense needs a jump-start, and knowing Pitt stinks against the pass, it might be best to pick them apart on the first few drives, stretch them a bit with a couple shots to Chris Tyree or Jaden Greathouse or Jordan Faison or even Holden Staes, and then bludgeoning/gashing them in the second half with a healthy dosage of Estime, Love, and Price.
3. Speaking of Jeremiyah Love and Jadarian Price, get them the football FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. It’s ridiculous they aren’t getting more touches, especially with how useless the wide receivers have been of late. Involve the talent at running back more and let these kids loose — both Love and Price are threats to take it to the house every time they touch the ball, so ND should be maximizing the plays in which they’re fed the rock.
4. Get after the quarterback to put pressure on the young signal caller. He may not provide the fun target that Jurkovec would have provided, but this is a sophomore who’s still very new to starting at the collegiate level, and who hasn’t faced a defense as good as ND’s yet. Get in his face, force him to move in the pocket and make split-second, risky decisions with the ball, and then have the DBs ready and waiting to jump a route and capitalize.
5. Tackle well and don’t make mental mistakes/penalties. This Panthers offense otherwise shouldn’t find much success moving the ball on the Irish defense, and Pitt themselves is a very undisciplined team who commits lots of penalties. Don’t give that right back to them with penalties on the ND side, and focus on executing, tackling well, and making Pitt beat you. Because if you generally execute and cut out the mental mistakes, a team like them will NOT beat you.
6. Put them away early. Don’t let the Pitt super-weapon hang around and leave things up to weirdness and chance down the stretch against a Panthers team with nothing to lose and plenty of chips on their shoulder regarding ND. Step on their throats, blow them out, and get the backups some much needed PT against an ACC opponent.
Alrighty everybody, that’s all we’ve got for this week. Any questions?
Great, well per usual I will be sending out the link to this deck right after we hang up here, so be sure to open that, review it, and refer to it throughout the week as needed.
Otherwise, thanks everyone for your time today, and I hope you have a great rest of your Monday and week!
*clicks “End Call” button*
Sweeeeeet, not time to just try to simply shove 5 days’ worth of work into 3 days so I can actually travel without my work laptop this long weekend and enjoy myself a great wedding celebration (and ND blowout victory of the Nard Dog). Let’s do this!!!