Created on Friday, 02 November 2012 03:55 Written by RJ Sepich / Sports Editor
The last time the Pitt football team faced a national-championship-seeking rival on the road, one of the greatest upsets in college football history ensued.
While the Panthers (4-4, 1-3 Big East) aren’t as heavy underdogs as they were against West Virginia leading up the famous 13-9 victory over the Mountaineers in 2007, they still enter Saturday’s matchup at undefeated No. 3 Notre Dame (8-0) knowing nobody expects them to shock the Fighting Irish. The game will be played at 3:30 p.m. local time and will be televised on NBC.
Pitt head coach Paul Chryst said that he’s excited to head to South Bend for the opportunity to play one of the best teams in the nation, but that he wants his football team to stay calm and treat this game like any other.
“Emotion and keeping it in check is a big part of it,” the first-year head coach said at his weekly press conference. “I don’t think your approach is any different.”
Chryst also said that playing in games like this is one of the main reasons he decided to come to Pitt.
“I think that’s the neat thing about Pitt — it’s a part of some great series, and we get to play this one this year,” he said. “I know I’m pretty excited about it.”
Both teams enter Saturday’s showdown — the 68th matchup between the two rivals — coming off big wins.
The Fighting Irish demonstrated that they want to be contenders for the national championship as they crushed No. 8 Oklahoma on the road, 30-13. Likewise, the Panthers routed Temple, 47-17, notching their first Big East win of the season.
“Obviously, it was a good win to get Saturday, and I thought a lot of players impacted it, and that was fun to see,” Chryst said.
Pitt redshirt senior quarterback Tino Sunseri led an explosive offense in the Panthers’ win over the Owls, throwing for 321 yards and three touchdowns as Pitt recorded an impressive 528 total yards.
After the game, Sunseri lauded the play of his offensive line.
“We wanted to make sure that every time we got the ball, that we would take advantage of it,” he said. “Obviously, the offensive line played really well. You have to give a lot of credit to those guys.”
Redshirt junior wide receiver Devin Street finished with six catches for 140 yards and a touchdown against Temple, but he knows the Panthers need to improve if they want to put up points when they face a daunting Notre Dame defense.
“I think we did some good things out there, but there are definitely some things we can improve on,” Street said. “We’ll go back and watch the tape, but I think it’s just going to be a huge week of preparation before going in to South Bend. Notre Dame is a top-five team, but we’ll get after it.”
If Pitt wants to pull off an upset, it will likely need to win a low-scoring game. The Fighting Irish’s defense hasn’t allowed more than 17 points in a single game this season, allowing an average of 9.9 points per game.
With the Panthers’ offense facing its stiffest challenge of the season, the Pitt defense will need to keep Notre Dame’s offensive unit in check. But that won’t be an easy task, especially after linebackers Dan Mason and Manny Williams suffered season-ending injuries in the Temple victory. Offensive lineman Ryan Schlieper will also miss the remainder of the season.
With two of his better linebackers injured, Chryst said the Panthers will have to make some defensive adjustments.
“We’re going to make sure we’ve got it covered,” he said. “We’ll have a couple different plans and just kind of see where guys’ health is as we go forward.”
When those Panthers who are healthy enough to compete run onto the Notre Dame Stadium field this Saturday afternoon, their jerseys will have a new feature to them.
Because of last week’s impressive performance, Coach Chryst decided that it was finally time to restore player names to the back of jerseys.
“I knew it was important to them,” Chryst said. “I thought it was the right thing for this group at this time, and also if we can give a little bit of motivation, so be it.”
Chryst will now be hoping that his players justify his decision by handing Notre Dame the first defeat of its season and giving the Panthers their biggest win this season.