If Notre Dame is going to remain undefeated and continue its push for a berth into the ACC title game it will need a strong performance from its offense. The Irish offense faces its toughest test of the season, and how well they play will ultimately decide the outcome of the game.
Pitt comes in with the nation’s 7th best total defense and 16th best scoring defense, thanks in large part to a dominant defensive line. That line is why the Panthers lead the nation in sacks and have the nation’s best run defense.
There are areas where Notre Dame can thrive, but at the end of the day this game is going to come down to a strong game plan that is executed at a high level. Here are my keys to success for the Notre Dame offense:
1. Get Ian Book Comfortable, Immediately
This game is more than just earning a win over an average Pitt team, it’s about putting the offense in position to really take off as it prepares for the challenging part of the schedule. That, of course, begins on Nov. 7 when Clemson comes to South Bend. If Notre Dame is going to win games in November it needs quarterback Ian Book to start playing better … a lot better.
A big part of that is on offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, who needs to do a better job utilizing the strengths of his personnel, properly build around the strengths of the offense and make sure that the early game plan is centered around getting Book comfortable and confident. If Book gets on an early roll this offense can be very hard to stop.
Quick game, play-action shots, moving the pocket, using Book in the run game, attacking the perimeter of the defense. All are areas where Book can thrive, and if Rees can push all the right buttons early and get his veteran quarterback rolling the Irish could dominate Pitt.
2. Take Advantage Of Their Strengths
Notre Dame has extremely talented tight ends (Tommy Tremble, Michael Mayer), it has athletic players on the outside (Kevin Austin, Braden Lenzy, Jordan Johnson, Xavier Watts) and it has running backs who can do damage in the pass game (Kyren Williams, Chris Tyree). Oh, and they have a mobile quarterback who can do damage as a scrambler and on designed runs.
That is the talent that should be the strength of the Irish offense, and the other skill players (Javon McKinley, Ben Skowronek, Avery Davis) need to be complements of that speed and athleticism.
It also happens to be the best way to exploit Pitt’s defense. If the Notre Dame staff can take their best athletes (first paragraph) and isolate them against the Pitt cornerbacks and linebackers
3. Maintain Balance
Notre Dame will need to be balanced if it’s going to not only beat Pitt, but come out of this game feeling like it is actually a top ten team. If it grinds its way to a 13-10 win over Pitt it will look good on the stat sheet, and head coach Brian Kelly will convince us how Pitt is actually better than 3-4, but it will be a very bad sign for Notre Dame’s chances at beating an actual good team.
The Irish offense needs to run the ball efficiently, rip off big runs when those few opportunities arise, and the pass game needs to start catching up and pulling its weight. If Notre Dame comes out of this game with a balanced performance it will put the offense in a good spot to start beating the good teams on the schedule, which are right around the corner.
4. Push The Tempo
One concern about this matchup has been Notre Dame’s methodical approach on offense. No RPOs (Run Pass Option) and no tempo has made it easier for defenses to communicate, get lined up however it wants, and to get more advanced calls in from the sideline.
If Pitt is able to do that this could end up as a low-scoring slugfest.
Rees coming out and pushing the tempo a little bit, even if it’s just as a change up, could give the offense the spark it needs to really take it to the Panthers.
5. Protect The Football
Pitt has generated 11 turnovers this season, and its aggressive philosophy can lead to offenses making uncommon mistakes. Notre Dame needs to be aggressive on offense while balancing the ability to protect the football.
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