Does another tight contest await Saturday night when No. 23 Notre Dame and Pitt square off?
When Notre Dame has the ball: The onus falls on the offense a little bit more this week as it tries to bail out a defense with no shortage of injuries. The expected return of Chris Watt at left guard will be big for a group tasked with slowing down Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who is arguably the best interior defensive lineman in the nation this season. Tommy Rees cannot afford to turn the ball over, and he and the rest of the offense will be helped a great deal if Tarean Folston runs on Pitt the way he did against Navy last week, as the freshman looked better than any of the other Irish backs during his breakout 140-yard day.
When Pitt has the ball: Though Notre Dame's starting defensive line is probably at less than 100 percent health, the Panthers have been abysmal running the football this year, failing to reach even 25 rushing yards as a team in three games this season. They do, however, have a much better decision-maker under center in Tom Savage, who has two arguably the ACC's best receiving duo in redshirt senior Devin Street and freshman sensation Tyler Boyd. Street has struggled against the Irish in three previous matchups but is a smart, sure-handed route-runner who can make plays all over the field. Boyd was a running back in high school and Pitt is not afraid to get him the ball in several different ways to keep the defenses honest. Though nothing like the challenge of facing an option team the past two weeks, Notre Dame will have to again be cautious on the edges in defending Pitt's playmakers.
Intangible: Notre Dame, as we know, has been dealing with a lot of injuries. So, too, has Pitt, though it expects the left side of its offensive line, Adam Bisnowaty and Cory King, to be fine Saturday night. This series has not been short on drama in recent years, and that could be the case again at Heinz Field.
Prediction: Notre Dame 14, Pitt 10. Picture the 15-12 contest from 2011, just in a night atmosphere. And this time, both teams will have somewhat of an excuse, as it is later in the season and both are ailing. Nonetheless, the Irish survive one last test before a much-needed bye week.