Blue and Gold Illustrated

October 28, 2023

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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40 OCT. 28, 2023 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED GAME PREVIEW: PITTSBURGH BY JACK SOBLE D own by 17 with 3:24 left in the fourth quarter against Virginia Tech Oct. 7, Pittsburgh super senior quarterback Phil Jurk- ovec dropped back and bailed to his right. Hokies senior defensive tackle Pheldarius Payne was waiting for him, bringing Jurkovec down for the Hokies' second straight sack and fourth of the game. Pitt, about to fall to 1-4, lost 15 yards on the play. ACC Network analyst Tim Hasselbeck had seen enough. "Same story," Hasselbeck said. "Jurk- ovec has a pocket." Jurkovec, who began his college ca- reer at Notre Dame before transferring to Boston College in January 2020 and later Pitt in 2022, would take only two more snaps as the Panthers' QB1. Two days later, Pitt head coach Pat Nar- duzzi and offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. benched him for redshirt sophomore and Penn State transfer Christian Veilleux. The Panthers needed a "spark," Narduzzi said. Notre Dame could use a spark, too. The Irish are beaten and battered af- ter eight straight games, the last four at night, and a bye week to rest. They need something to build off for the stretch run. The Irish can find that something against the struggling Panthers, when they face Pitt at 3:30 p.m. on Oct. 28 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. Notre Dame will host a team trying to rediscover the magic of just two years ago. Back then, Pitt was one of the most exciting programs in college football. On Dec. 4, 2021, Pitt completed a dream season with a 45-21 win over Wake Forest — a team led by then- redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Hartman — in the ACC Championship Game. Quarterback Kenny Pickett earned an invite to New York City as a Heis- man Trophy finalist, and in the confer- ence championship he prompted a rule change by faking a slide (you can't do that anymore) on his way to a 58-yard touchdown run. Jordan Addison, finish- ing his Biletnikoff Award campaign as the nation's best wide receiver, caught 8 passes for 126 yards. Pitt finished third in the country behind only Ohio State and Western Kentucky with a scoring average of 41.4 points per game, and the Panthers crushed the Demon Deacons for their first-ever ACC title. They were good. They were fun. That's why Narduzzi's comments on a local podcast the following summer, speaking about then-offensive coordi- nator Mark Whipple (now at Nebraska), were so striking. "Our old offensive coordinator had no desire to run the ball," Narduzzi said July 20, 2022 on the "Bazzy's Black and Gold Banter" podcast, according to Sports Illustrated. "Everybody knew it. He was stubborn. Wake Forest was 118th in run defense, and we threw the ball every down. When we ran it, we ran it for 10 yards, but that wasn't good enough." Again, Narduzzi was talking about a game in which his team scored 45 points. Pickett left to become a first-round pick with the Pittsburgh Steelers while Addison transferred to USC. With those two players gone, the Panthers' offense took a downturn in more ways than one. According to, Pitt passed the ball 53.3 percent of the time in 2021. In 2022, that number dropped to 44.5 percent. Through Week 6 in 2023, it was back up slightly to 50.5 per- cent — but teams who are trailing tend to pass the ball more. In 2022, the Panthers fell to 31.3 points per game, which was still good enough to go 9-4. So far this season, they're in the bottom third of the coun- try at 23.2. The rushing numbers were up in 2022, though, going from 150.5 yards per game to 182.9, but this season, that total is down to 116.2. Cignetti, Whipple's replacement, was instrumental in bringing in Jurk- ovec from Boston College (he was hired from the Eagles in 2022). However, he chose to run the ball 24 times for 38 yards against Virginia Tech, including 4 IN A PIT Notre Dame looks to start its home stretch strong against a struggling Panthers team Super senior quarterback Phil Jurkovec, who started his college career at Notre Dame, was benched after the Panthers' offense struggled during a 1-4 start. PHOTO COURTESY PITT ATHLETICS Facts & Figures NOTRE DAME VS. PITTSBURGH Date: Oct. 28 Site: Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET Television/streaming: NBC/Peacock Radio: This game can be heard on Notre Dame IMG affiliates. Series facts: Notre Dame is 49-21-1 all-time against Pitt, and the Irish have won the last three match- ups. Their latest meeting was a 45-3 Notre Dame road win on Oct. 24, 2020. The Panthers' latest victory was a 28-21 road win on Nov. 9, 2013. Head coaches: Pitt — Pat Narduzzi (64-44, ninth season); Notre Dame — Marcus Freeman (15-7, second season) Noting Pitt: The Panthers' only win this season is a 45-7 victory over FCS foe Wofford Sept. 2 … Pitt ranked 20th in the nation in total defense at 301.6 yards allowed per game through Week 6 … The Panthers were tied for 70th in scoring defense, thanks in part to 94th-ranked red zone scoring percent- age, allowing 11 touchdowns in 15 attempts … Pitt lost six players to the 2023 NFL Draft, including defensive tackle Calijah Kancey, who went 19th overall to the Buccaneers … The Panthers have been bowl-eligible in all but one year (2017) since 2008; they declined to participate in the 2020 postseason … Pitt is allowing 2.6 sacks per game, tied for 100th in the country.

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