No. 3 Notre Dame seeks improvement vs. Pitt
No. 3 Notre Dame will look to stay unbeaten when it visits Pitt on Saturday afternoon at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
Notre Dame (4-0, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) is coming off a 12-7 win over Louisville last weekend in a contest that lacked style points but helped the Fighting Irish climb to their highest ranking of the season.
Meanwhile, Pitt (3-3, 2-3) has dropped three consecutive games in ACC play after starting the season hot. The Panthers are looking to bounce back from a 31-19 loss against then-No. 13 Miami, which followed one-point setbacks to North Carolina State and Boston College, the latter defeat in overtime.
Notre Dame leads the all-time series 49-21-1, including a 19-14 win over Pitt during their last meeting Oct. 13, 2018. Ten of the past 12 games between the programs have been decided by single digits.
Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly said his players still have plenty of room to improve despite their top-three ranking.
“We’re going to be a better football team as we continue to grow and develop,” he said. “Yeah, this team is nowhere near where it can be and where I think it will be. …
“We’ve got to make some plays to be more efficient scoring touchdowns in the red zone. That’s playmakers making plays. Then, defensively, we need to get off the field on third down. Those two areas will be areas of great focus moving forward.”
A clear strength for Notre Dame so far this season has been the rushing game. Running back Kyren Williams tallied 127 yards last week against Louisville, which marked the Fighting Irish’s fifth straight game with a 100-yard rusher.
Fighting Irish quarterback Ian Book passed for only 106 yards a week ago but added 47 yards and a TD on the ground. The graduate senior has passed for 60 career touchdowns, and his next TD toss would break a tie with Jimmy Clausen for third place in program history.
On the opposite sideline, Pitt is waiting to learn who will start under center against Notre Dame.
Quarterback Kenny Pickett did not play last week against Miami because of an ankle injury. He was replaced by redshirt freshman Joey Yellen, an Arizona State transfer who completed 22 of 46 passes for 277 yards and a touchdown. He also absorbed three sacks and lost one of his two fumbles.
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi has been tight-lipped about who will start at quarterback against Notre Dame.
“We expect Kenny to be back ASAP,” he said. “Will he be back this weekend? I don’t know. There’s a chance.”
Yellen said he needed to be better going forward, if given the opportunity.
“All the little things are kind of tough, especially early on, when you haven’t played in a little bit,” he said. “Sure, there were definitely a few (times against Miami) where I could have gotten rid of it a little earlier and put us in a better spot.
“I have to be a little safer with the ball. If I hit a couple balls that I missed, it’s a completely different game.”
–Field Level Media