Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Notre Dame v. Pittsburgh analysis

With a little over a week to go until the Fightin' Irish take the field against the Pitt Panthers, I am going to give my analysis of the match-up. Because I feel that the analyses which compare quarterbacks to quarterbacks in determining which team has the edge are pointless (hear that, Observer?), I am going to look at matchups, much like Charlie has said he would do, and determine where the relative weaknesses are. I based these matchups on which defenders will cover which offensive players. This doesn't allow me to include special teams, which can change games, but I did consider all of the factors in my final analysis.

Because the final depth charts haven't been released, I am projecting the starters based on the most recent information available. Returning starters are in Italics.

Notre Dame Quarterback and Receivers v. Pittsburgh Secondary

Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame's Starters:

Brady Quinn, QB, Jr., 12 starts, 191-353 2586 yards, 17 TDs, 10 INTs

Rhema McKnight, WR, Sr., 12 starts, 42 receptions, 610 yards, 3 TDs

Maurice Stovall, WR, Sr., 21 receptions, 313 yards, 1 TD

Matt Shelton, WR, Sr., 20 receptions, 515 yards, 6 TD, 25.8 YPC (school record)

Jeff Samardzija, WR, Jr., 17 receptions, 274 yards

David Wolke, QB, So.
Chase Anastacio, WR, Jr., 1 reception, 15 yards
D.J. Hord, WR, Fr.
David Grimes, WR, Fr.

Pittsburgh Starters:

Tez Morris, FS, Sr., 12 starts, 85 tackles, 3 PBUs

Darrelle Revis, CB, So., 11 starts, 49 tackles, 12 PBUs, 2 INTs

Josh Lay, CB, Sr., 6 starts, 22 tackles, 12 PBUs, 3 INTs

Mike Phillips, SS, So., 7 starts, 30 tackles, 9 PBUs, 2 INTs

Sam Bryant, S, Jr., 20 tackles, 1 PBU,
Reggie Carter, CB, Jr., 7 tackles, 2 PBU

Notre Dame's receiving core, like the rest of the offense, returns everyone from last year. One off-season change that might pay dividends is Maurice Stovall dropping 15 pounds; this could lead to a faster, more agile receiver that could live up to the hype he had coming in to ND. Shelton's 25 YPC may drop a bit, but the depth of this receiving core is going to create some match-up problems for opposing defenses - there aren't many teams that have a nickel back that can cover the likes of 6'5" Jeff Samardzija. The strength of this receiving corps is their height: Samardzija and Stovall are 6'5" and McKnight is 6'2".
The true star here, though, is Brady Quinn. If he can learn to read defenses, watch for people to get a big surprise from ND's passing game this year, as he already has the arm strength, touch, pocket presence, leadership, and (according to Charlie) all-day toughness. (Aren't you impressed that I resisted the urge to compare BQ to the other QB named Brady that Weis coached?)
Pitt's defensive backfield is experienced and tough, but they lack depth, which plays right into ND's hands. Even if their corners can cover McKnight and Stovall, and their safeties can cover Samardzija and Shelton, Notre Dame has some hidden talent in speedy Anastacio and true freshman Hord and Grimes, which can give their nickel-back fits. Plus, in five-receiver sets, there will be at least one receiver with a 6" advantage in height. Jump-ball, anyone?

Notre Dame Running Backs and Tight Ends v. Pittsburgh Linebackers

Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame's Starters:

Darius Walker, RB, So., 185 rushes, 786 yards (freshman record), 7 TD, 10 receptions, 74 yards

Rashon Powers-Neal, FB, 13 rushes, 28 yards, 1 TD, 10 receptions, 72 yards, 2 TDs

Anthony Fasano, TE, Sr., 27 receptions, 367 yards, 4 TD

Travis Thomas, RB, 25 rushes, 25 yards, 3 receptions, 30 yards
Marcus Freeman, TE, 5 receptions, 50 yards

Pittsburgh Starters:

H.B. Blades, LB, Jr., 108 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 3 INTs, 2 PBUs, 1 FF, 1 FR

Clint Session, LB, Jr., 91 tackles, 7.5 TFLs, .5 sack, 2 INTs, 6 PBUs

Brian Bennett, LB, Jr., 35 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, 1 PBU, 1 FF, 1 FR

J.J. Horn, LB, Sr., 24 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, 3.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 FF

H.B. Blades is a bad-ass in Pitt's linebacking corps, but Notre Dame gets the edge here because while H.B. Blades, if he's on his game, might make it a long day for Walker, he simply is not man enough to cover Fasano. Fasano has the blocking skills of a starting tackle, the hands of a receiver, and the bruising running style of a fullback. While I have no dreams of BQ or D-Walk for Heisman, I'm predicting Fasano as a lock for the 2005 John Mackey Award for best Tight End. At worst, H.B. Blades has a killer game and makes this a draw, but I certainly don't see this matchup going in favor of the Panthers.

Notre Dame Offensive Line v. Pittsburgh Defensive Line

Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame's Starters:

Ryan Harris, LT, Jr.

Bob Morton, LG, Jr.

John Sullivan, C, Jr.

Dan Stevenson, RG, Sr.

Mark LeVoir, RT, Sr.

Scott Raridon, T, Sr.
Dan Santucci, G, Sr.

Pittsburgh Starters:

Thomas Smith, DT, Sr., 47 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR

Phil Tilman, NT, Sr., 3 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack, 1 QBH

Joe Clermond,, DE, So. 27 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 FR

Chris McKillop, DE, So., 7 tackles

Charles Sallet, DE, Jr., 26 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR
Ron Idoko, DT, Sr., 10 tackles, 1.5 TFL, .5 sack, 2 PBUs, 1 FR

Notre Dame has 5 returning starters on their line, and a little bit of depth (this year - only 3 scholarship players left next year). However, any depth problems won't show up until later in the season. Pitt, on the other hand, has two returning starters, only one of which (at this point) will probably be starting. There are no superstar pass rushers, or staunch run-stoppers. They are a solid D-line, and have some potential, but they won't be ready to handle the experience and technique that Notre Dame is going to come out of the gates with. Pitt is going to get man-handled at the line of scrimmage, and will come out solidly ahead in this matchup.

Pittsburgh Quarterback and Receivers v. Notre Dame Secondary

Edge: Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Starters:

Tyler Palko, QB, Jr., 3,067 yards, 24 TDs, 7 INTs

Greg Lee, WR, Jr., 68 receptions, 1297 yards, 10 TDs

Joe DelSardo, WR, Jr., 49 receptions, 573 yards, 4 TDs

Marcel Pestano, WR, Fr.

Derek Kinder, WR, So., 1 reception, 3 yards, 1 TD

Kelvin Chandler, WR, So., 4 receptions, 47 yards, 0 TDs

Notre Dame's Starters:

Mike Richardson, CB, Sr., 33 tackles, 1 INT, 32 yards

Terrail Lambert, CB, So.

Tom Zbikowski, FS, Jr., 70 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 INT, 22 yards, 1 FR, 75 yards, TD

Anthony Vernaglia, SS, So.

Ambrose Wooden, CB, Jr., 5 tackles

Everyone knows how Tyler Palko torched the Notre Dame secondary for 5 touchdowns last year, but there will not be a repeat performance. He might get three or four, though. Pitt's inability to run the ball (see below) combined with their success through the air last year will mean that they will test the Notre Dame secondary early and often. I fully expect the Notre Dame secondary to be much improved from last year, and the aggressiveness of the Pitt passing game may just be their downfall; Zbikowski's switch to Free Safety will mean that he'll be playing center field back their, and his arm strength, awareness, and hitting will likely lead to an INT or forced fumble, which could very well be the turning point in what is shaping up to be a shootout.

Pittsburgh Running Backs and Tight Ends v. Notre Dame Linebackers

Edge: Notre Dame

Pittsburgh's Starters:

Rashard Jennings, TB, Fr.

Tim Murphy, FB, Sr., 3 starts, 88 attempts, 349 yards, 1 TD

Erik Gill, TE, Sr., 12 starts, 25 receptions, 433 yards, 4 TDs

Raymond Kirkley, TB, Sr., 9 starts 154 rushes, 560 yards, 6 TDs, 23 receptions, 179 yards
Kellen Campbell, FB, Sr., 3 rushes, 6 yards, 4 receptions, 34 yards
Steve Buches, TE, Jr., 7 receptions, 94 yards, 4 TD

Notre Dame Starters:

Brandon Hoyte, LB,

Corey Mays. LB

Chinedum Ndukwe, Apache, Jr., 7 tackles

Maurice Crum, Jr, LB, So.

Not even close. Pittsburgh's running game sucked last year. Pittsburgh's running game will suck this year. Erik Gill is a decent tight end, but Hoyte can neutralize him. Look for Notre Dame's linebackers to be the difference in this game, wreaking havoc in the backfield.

Pittsburgh Offensive Line v. Notre Dame Defensive Line

Edge: Draw

Pittsburgh Starters:

Charles Spencer, LT, Sr.

Dominic Williams, LG, Fr.

Joe Villiani, C, Jr.

John Sinonitis, RG, Jr.

Mike McGlynn, RT, So.

Dale Williams, G, Sr.
Chris Vangas, C, So.

Notre Dame's Starters:

Victor Abiamiri, DE, Jr., 15 tackles, 6 TFL, 2 sacks,

Trevor Laws, DT, Jr., 17 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack

Brian Beidatsch, DT, Sr., 3 tackles

Chris Frome, DE, Sr., 7 tackles

Ronald Talley, DE, So.
Nate Schiccatano, DL, Sr.

Pittsburgh's offensive line returns three starters, and Notre Dame's line is experienced for not having any returning starters. On a pure talent level, Notre Dame could edge out the Panthers in this match-up, but the beauty is that they don't need to. If the D-line can keep the O-line occupied, the linebackers can mop up. If Pittsburgh falls behind, Abiamiri can be dangerous when he pins his ears back and all-out rushes the passer.

Notre Dame Head Coach v. Pittsburgh Head Coach

Edge: Notre Dame

Notre Dame's Head Coach: Charlie Weis, 1st year, 0-0

Pittsburgh Head Coach: Dave Wannestedt, 1st year, 0-0

Charlie's Championships: 3 Wanny's Superbowl Championships: 1
Charlie's College National Championships: 0, Wanny's College National Championships: 2

The reason I give the edge to Charlie here is that Charlie's winning is much more recent (he won his most recent Superbowl in January) and Wanny hasn't won it all since '92. Also, Charlie is on the upswing of his career, being promoted from Patriot's Offensive Coordinator to Notre Dame Head Coach. Wannestedt, on the other hand, was fired from his position as Head Coach of the Miami Dolphins, and took the position at Pittsburgh because it was all he could get. Long-term, Charlie is where he wants to be; if he wanted an NFL head coaching position, he needed only wait until the season was over, and he would have been offered several. On the flip side, many people think Wanny will take another NFL job if they came calling.
Wanny is, however, a quality coach, and a superb defensive mind. On the flip side, Charlie is a superb offensive mind. Of all of the coaching matchups this year, I find this one the most intriguing.

Final Prediction:

Notre Dame 38
Pittsburgh 28

A shootout is blown up when Notre Dame's defense finally bends, but doesn't break. Notre Dame's offense has too many weapons and too much experience to be stopped by this defense. Also, Notre Dame's lost tradition of wearing down their opponent's returns, as Notre Dame pulls away in the fourth quarter.