Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi is excited for his team to travel to play No. 5 Notre Dame on Saturday.
Well, sort of.
“I’m looking forward to Notre Dame — and when I say looking forward, I don’t know if I’m looking forward to playing the No. 5 team in the country,” Narduzzi said to reporters this week. “Because they are awful good. Maybe as good a football team you’re going to see — that Notre Dame has ever had, I think.”
That is high praise for one of the most prestigious programs in college football history. But a hot start has Notre Dame (6-0) dreaming of a pathway to a perfect regular season and a shot at a championship.
Pitt (3-3) is a heavy underdog but has momentum after its overtime win over Syracuse last week.
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said he expected a tough fight from the Panthers.
“When we talk about Pittsburgh, Pat Narduzzi is somebody that I’m very familiar with as a former Michigan State defensive coordinator,” Kelly said to reporters at his weekly news conference. “We’ve had many battles with him, and now as the head coach, we know the style of football — physical, hard-nosed, run the football, aggressive defense. We’re going to get that again.”
No defense has managed to stop Notre Dame since Ian Book replaced Brandon Wimbush as starting quarterback three games ago. The Fighting Irish have averaged 46.3 points per game since then, and the school’s athletic department believes Book is the first signal-caller since at least 1950 to complete at least 70 percent of his passes in three consecutive games.
Fighting Irish running back Dexter Williams also has a chance to wear out Pitt’s defense. Williams rushed for a career-high 178 yards on 17 carries a week ago in a road win over Virginia Tech.
Pitt is led by quarterback Kenny Pickett, who has completed 61.3 percent of his passes for 880 yards, six touchdowns and five interceptions. Qadree Ollison leads the ground attack with 596 yards and five scores.
On defense, Notre Dame is led by linebacker Te’von Coney, who has 48 tackles, one sack, one interception and one fumble recovery through six games. Defensive lineman Jerry Tillery leads the unit up front with 7 1/2 sacks, while defensive backs Jalen Elliott and Tony Pride Jr. have two picks apiece.
Pitt has given up at least 37 points in each of its last three contests. The Panthers are led on defense by linebacker Quintin Wirginis (41 tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles) and defensive back Damar Hamlin (35 tackles, one interception).
Nine of the past 11 meetings between Notre Dame and Pitt have been decided by single digits.
“We’re not talking about upsets,” Narduzzi said. “We never do. We’re talking about us and being a better football team and executing. When you execute and you believe in what you’re doing, those are the keys to playing well and having a chance to win the football game. You just want a chance.”