Q+A: The Observer answers pressing questions about Notre Dame football

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Q+A: The Observer answers pressing questions about Notre Dame football

DeShone Kizer will be dangerous under center for the Fighting Irish.
Photo courtesy of Zach Llorens, The Observer

DeShone Kizer will be dangerous under center for the Fighting Irish. Photo courtesy of Zach Llorens, The Observer

DeShone Kizer will be dangerous under center for the Fighting Irish. Photo courtesy of Zach Llorens, The Observer

DeShone Kizer will be dangerous under center for the Fighting Irish. Photo courtesy of Zach Llorens, The Observer

By Dan Sostek / Sports Editor

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With Pitt and No. 5 Notre Dame matching up Saturday for the first time since 2013, the Panthers will face a new-look team from South Bend that features some of the nation’s top playmakers.

The Pitt News reached out to Notre Dame’s student newspaper, The Observer, and its sports editor Zach Klosinski, to discuss their new quarterback, how the Fighting Irish plan to stop Tyler Boyd and which Notre Dame players will trouble Pitt this weekend.

TPN: The last two times Pitt has played Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish’s quarterbacks have been Tommy Rees and Everett Golson. How does DeShone Kizer differ from these two quarterbacks?

O: Both Everett Golson and DeShone Kizer are much more mobile quarterbacks than Tommy Rees was, which allows them to extend plays and even become threats in the running game — as we all saw last week with Kizer’s performance against Temple. The biggest difference between Kizer and Golson, though, is Kizer’s presence. Golson was a much quieter guy, and I believe that’s in part why Malik Zaire was able to take the starting job from him in the spring. Kizer and Zaire are both really confident, vocal leaders, and I think the team rallied behind Zaire in fall camp because of it, and that’s why they have been able to rally around Kizer since he came in against Virginia following Zaire’s injury.

TPN: How has this team exceeded expectations since Malik Zaire went down, and how much credit would you give to Kizer?

O: Kizer deserves a lot of the credit for stepping right into Zaire’s spot against Virginia and basically putting the team on his back against Clemson and Temple when the running game couldn’t get going. It’s hard to say whether or not the team has exceeded expectations, though, because Notre Dame’s football team is always held to very high standards, whether that’s fair or not. If anything, Kizer has surpassed the expectations put on him since Zaire’s injury, and, at times, it’s been the rest of the team that’s failed to live up to them. I think the defense’s terrible start against Clemson, for one, or the lack of a running game against Clemson and Temple outside of Kizer’s ability to make plays.

TPN: Without James Conner, Pitt’s main offensive threat is Tyler Boyd. Who will the Irish rely on the most to shut down the wideout?

O: First let me say I’m disappointed fans won’t get to see James Conner play because he’s a fantastic running back that’s fun to watch. I’m sure Irish fans wouldn’t necessarily agree with me, but I’d rather see him in the lineup like you would any elite player.

That said, expect Tyler Boyd to see a heavy dose of KeiVarae Russell and help over the top from the safeties. Interesting to note, however, I think the real mismatch for Pitt lies in the tight end position, because the Panthers have two solid, experienced tight ends that will give the Irish linebackers and safeties fits all day, especially in the first half when one of the usual starters, Elijah Shumate, is serving a suspension for a targeting call last weekend against Temple. Jaylon Smith is a linebacker who will be able to match up with either tight end, but other than that I think Pitt will find some open space over the middle of the field come Saturday.

TPN: Notre Dame pulled out a close win against Temple last week. What did Temple do that gave the Irish problems?

O: Temple did one thing really well: It dominated the line of scrimmage. C.J. Prosise was basically a nonfactor, and if it weren’t for Kizer’s ability to run, Notre Dame would have been in even more trouble. The Owls’ pass rush also got pressure on Kizer, especially in the red zone where the Irish have struggled the last couple years. That pressure led to two huge interceptions in the second quarter, so if Pitt is able to win that battle, especially in the red zone, it will give Notre Dame fits.

TPN: Who is one unheralded Notre Dame player whose name Pitt fans should know prior to Saturday?

O: I think the name that jumps out at me on offense would be Chris Brown, senior receiver. This guy has had a breakout year in his final campaign in an Irish uniform, and Kizer trusts him as a safety option if Will Fuller isn’t there for him. A couple other receivers, Torii Hunter, Jr. and Corey Robinson, would also deserve some mention. Will Fuller attracts so much attention, usually one of the other receivers will find some space in the defense.

Defensively, defensive back Cole Luke would be a name to watch on the outside, but I think Pitt fans should be ready to be amazed by Jaylon Smith, who is definitely not unheralded, but is just such a freak athlete it’s hard to appreciate his abilities until you see them in person.

TPN: What would your prediction be for Saturday’s game, and why?

O: Nine of the last 10 Notre Dame-Pitt games have been decided by one possession, and everything tells me that this will be another one of those games, including all my fellow beat writers at The Observer. So naturally, I have to go the other way.

I think Pitt’s defense will struggle some with the Irish passing attack, which is one of the best in the country. The Irish rank 30th in yards per game, but that stat is skewed by a couple games early in the year when the Irish rushing attack was putting up over 200 yards a game and Notre Dame didn’t need to pass much. Either way, I think Notre Dame wants to make a statement about belonging near the top of the College Football Playoff rankings, and would love to do it against a very good Pitt game.

I’ve been called crazy a couple times, but I gave this same final score in my prediction for The Observer, so I need to be consistent: Notre Dame 38, Pittsburgh 10. Could it be a lot closer? Absolutely. Will it be? Almost undoubtedly: I’m in the minority here by far.

If the Irish don’t play well, the Panthers are more than capable of ending Notre Dame’s hopes at making the CFP.

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