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Irish Return from Bye to Face Familiar Foe in Narduzzi, Pitt Panthers

Written By: Phil Kowalis|Writer|Twitter/X: @PhilKowalisIT

Photo via Fox News


Notre Dame returns to action after a much-needed bye week, as they return to Notre Dame Stadium to host the University of Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon. The Panthers have struggled this season and enter the matchup with the Irish with a 2-5 record on the season and are coming off a 21-17 loss to Wake Forest, that saw the Demon Deacons score the winning points with just seven seconds left on the clock. Despite the loss to Wake Forest, the Panthers enter the contest with the Irish playing some of their best football this season, as two weeks ago the Panthers defeated then 14th ranked Louisville 38-21.

Pittsburgh is led by longtime head coach Pat Narduzzi, who has been one of the most outspoken coaches in the ACC against Notre Dame's arrangement with the Atlantic Coastal Conference, that allows the Irish to maintain their football Independence while being a conference member in all other sports with the exception of hockey. Narduzzi will not be the only familiar face on the Panthers sideline, as Pittsburgh's roster includes former Irish players in running back C'Bo Flemister, linebacker Shayne Simon, and former quarterback turned tight end Phil Jurkovec.

Let's take a look at some of the players to keep an eye on for the Panthers during Saturday's matchup.



Photo By: Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press


Offense:

The Panthers offense will be led by quarterback Christian Veilleux. Veilleux will be making his third start of the season for Pittsburgh and has thrown for 647 yards and five touchdowns on the season completing 52 of his 98 pass attempts, and has been intercepted twice. Veilleux replaced former Panther starter Phil Jurkovec for the win over the Louisville Cardinals.

Jurkovec has passed for 818 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions on the season in his five starts as the Panthers quarterback. Pittsburgh's rushing attack is led by C'Bo Flemister, who has rushed for 282 yards on 68 carries - good for a 4.1-yard average and has scored two touchdowns. Flemister is joined in the backfield by Rodney Hammond Jr., who has rushed for 247 yards and three touchdowns on the season. As a team, the Panthers have rushed for 781 yards on 227 carries for an average of just 3.4 yards per attempt.

Pittsburgh's top receiving threats are wide receivers Konata Mumpfield and Bub Means, and tight end Gavin Bartholomew. Mumpfield leads the Panthers with 30 catches for 347 yards and three touchdowns, and Means has added 20 catches for 326 yards and three scores.

The Panther's passing attack has accounted for 1,465 yards and 11 touchdowns on the season.



Photo By: Charles LeClaire / USA Today


Defense:

The Pittsburgh defense is led by linebackers Shayne Simon and Bangally Kamara.

Simon has 27 tackles and three sacks on the season, and Kamara has added 24 tackles and one sack. David Green is someone to keep an eye on along Pittsburgh's defensive line, as Green has accounted for 23 tackles and 1.5 sacks on the season. Bam Brima and Samuel Okunlola lead the panthers in sacks with three apiece. Pittsburgh's defense has totaled 22 sacks on the season. The Panthers also boast a strong secondary with the likes of cornerbacks MJ Devonshire, Marquis Williams and AJ Woods. The Panther secondary has been credited with 20 pass breakups and has recorded five interceptions on the season.



Summary:

Notre Dame enters the game as 20-point favorites over the Panthers, but I would not be surprised if this turns out to be a much closer contest, as Pittsburgh has a history of giving the Irish all they can handle. Notre Dame will also have to work out the kinks in an offense that has struggled over the past four weeks.

While the Irish offense has struggled Notre Dame's defense has consistently put out outstanding efforts and I expect the same from the Irish defense against the Panthers.

This game may be close for a half, but Notre Dame is clearly the better team and should pull away for a comfortable victory.

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