Pittsburgh is the Next Victim of Juggernaut Notre Dame

Notre Dame  Ian Book

Rainman M.

Monday, October 8, 2018 11:09 AM UTC

Monday, Oct. 8, 2018 11:09 AM UTC

Undefeated Notre Dame hosts Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon. The Irish have been unstoppable with their new quarterback and Pittsburgh isn’t equipped to stop them. 

Rainman's Notre Dame Betting Record: 2-4

Pittsburgh (3-3) at No. 5 Notre Dame (5-0)Free NCAAF Pick: Irish -21Best Line Offered: Heritage

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It blows my mind that Coach Brian Kelly waited so long to replace quarterback Brandon Wimbush with Ian Book. The only reasonable explanation is that Book looked like he did last year when he practiced and therefore failed to beat out Wimbush for the starting job.

After three games, it’s very apparent that Book is a different quarterback compared to what he was last year when he came in relief or mop-up duty. Book’s completion rate is 18 percent higher than Wimbush’s, he’s throwing for .7 yards more per attempt, and his touchdown-toi-interception rate is nine-to-one whereas Wimbush’s is one-to-four. Wimbush throws a better deep ball and can run better than Book, but that’s it. Book is accurate especially on short and intermediate throws. He can go through his progressions and find the open guy. He’s also mobile, but he doesn’t really need to scramble and he doesn’t need to throw many deep balls.

Notre Dame’s offense benefits immensely from having a competent quarterback. Book forces the opponent to think about defending the pass, whereas the defense had been able to focus on stopping Notre Dame’s rush attack. Since two weeks, the offense has also benefitted from having previously suspended Dexter Williams at running back. He averages 8.9 yards per carry. Notre Dame’s more balanced offense under Book has produced nearly twice as many points in its last three games as it has in its first three games without Book. The offense’s time of possession has improved. So, not only does the defense get more of a cushion, it gets more rest as well. Under Book (and Williams), the Irish are 3-0 ATS. They’ve more than tripled the spread in each of their last three games.

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Pittsburgh doesn’t have the tools to stop Notre Dame. Pitt’s defensive line and linebacking corps returns significant experience, but hasn’t found success. Pitt ranks outside the top 100 both in opposing rush YPC and rush yards per game. The way to score a lot against Pittsburgh is on the ground, which is exactly what Notre Dame typically likes to do.

While Pittsburgh will have to respect Notre Dame’s newfound pass attack, the Irish will run over Pitt. They were limited in running back depth against Virginia Tech because Tony Jones Jr. was injured. Still, Dexter Williams produced 178 yards off 17 carries. He’s explosive and accelerates to top speed quickly. Williams enters a hole decisively, but can also bounce outside. He’s aggressive and can blow past defenders with his speed in order to achieve a big play. At 215 pounds, he also possesses added physicality and strength that he lacked when he began his college career and that makes him more versatile.

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The Panthers’ defense ranks outside the top 100 in sack percentage. Pitt’s secondary misses lockdown corner Avonte Maddox and safety Jordan Whitehead. Both are in the NFL. Without them, stopping Book will be challenging. Book will have time to throw and a quartet of receivers of small and large size, with varied speed and strength, with between 18 and 28 receptions. Pittsburgh’s defense has allowed at five touchdowns to its last three opponents — UNC, UCF, and Syracuse.

Notre Dame’s defense is superb. It ranks 12th in opposing yards per play and 18th in opposing points per game. With its strong secondary led by preseason All-American cornerback Julian Love and with its physical pass rush, the Irish held the likes of Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello to his worst game of the season in terms of passer rating. The pass defense ranks 12th in opposing passer rating.

Pittsburgh is run-first and will have some success on the ground with Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall. However, strong rushing attacks have never sufficed to produce many points against Notre Dame’s defense. The Irish have faced a number of strong running backs who have produced good numbers. But, they’ve allowed a max point total of only 27 when the backups played a quarter against Wake Forest. Pittsburgh will ultimately have to pass, but quarterback Kenny Pickett isn’t comfortable throwing for large gains. He averages only 6.20 yards per attempt, has a low completion percentage against Power Five opponents, and is interception-prone.

Last week was Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl. The Panthers were 2-3 and facing a beatable opponent before having to face Notre Dame. Pittsburgh pulled off the crucial upset win at home and now comes the expected loss. Notre Dame will start in front, forcing Pitt to emphasize its weak pass game, which will lead Pitt to dig itself further into a hole. The Irish will run over Pitt, expose its secondary, and end up winning in a blowout.

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