Coming off a bye, No. 14 Notre Dame is feeling rested and refreshed as it prepares to host Pitt on Saturday afternoon in South Bend, Ind.
Notre Dame (6-2) has not played since Oct. 14, when it rolled to a 48-20 win on its home field over then-No. 10 Southern California. The Fighting Irish held a 24-6 lead by halftime and never relented.
Then came a break, which Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman described as “much needed” for his team as it gears up for its final four games before bowl season.
“For our players, mentally and physically, they needed it,” Freeman said. “You think about, we started this season the last week of June (when) we started training camp, and we had gone straight until last week. It was a great chance for them to have a bye week.”
Now, the Fighting Irish turn their attention to Pitt (2-5). After winning their season opener against FCS foe Wofford, the Panthers lost four straight. However, they showed improvement in the past two weeks with a 38-21 win over then-No. 14 Louisville and then a narrow 21-17 loss to Wake Forest on Saturday.
Part of Pitt’s progress has come thanks to running back C’Bo Flemister, a Notre Dame transfer who will go up against his friends and former teammates. Flemister leads the Panthers with 282 rushing yards to go along with two touchdowns, and he has 92 receiving yards and a touchdown.
Pitt also has found some success under new quarterback Christian Veilleux, who is set to make his third career start. He threw for 302 yards and two touchdowns last weekend.
“It’s a team that I see that is continuously getting better,” Freeman said. “This team has gotten better from what they were at the beginning of the year, so we’ve got to understand the challenge that will be presented on Saturday.”
Meanwhile, Notre Dame quarterback Sam Hartman will face a defense that he opposed in the 2021 Atlantic Coast Conference championship game while he was at Wake Forest. Through his first eight games for the Fighting Irish, Hartman has completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 1,838 yards, 18 touchdowns and three interceptions.
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said Hartman’s scouting report changed this season compared to his time with the Demon Deacons.
“Obviously, a totally different offense,” Narduzzi said. “He’s in a pro-style offense. He’s huddling up and taking snaps under center. If he’s going to play in the NFL, it’s going to be in that type of offense, not what they were doing at Wake Forest.
“I think he’s probably enjoying it. I think it’s every childhood kid’s dream to play in the National Football League, and he’s going to have an opportunity just by being able to make run checks, sit underneath the center and do all the things that they ask him to do there.”
Notre Dame also showcases a potent ground game led by running back Audric Estime, who enters this weekend averaging 6.2 yards a carry. He has rushed for 787 yards and nine scores.
Safety Xavier Watts leads the Fighting Irish’s defense with four interceptions. Three players are tied for the lead in sacks with two apiece.
Pitt’s defense features three players with three sacks apiece. Defensive back M.J. Devonshire has two interceptions and eight passes defended.
The Saturday game will be the 73rd meeting between the programs. Notre Dame leads the all-time series 50-21-1, with wins in the past three matchups.