SOUTH BEND – Notre Dames offensive line has a more tangible problem than their coachs future to worry about this weekend.
The Irish (6-3) square off against the No. 1 sack team in the nation when they travel to play No. 8 Pittsburgh (8-1) at 8 p.m. Saturday in Heinz Field.
The Panthers have 39 sacks, seven better than USC, which recorded five sacks against Notre Dame in a 34-27 victory Oct. 17.
They are a bunch of talented guys, and they like to get up the field and wreak havoc, right tackle Sam Young said.
The scariest part about Pittsburghs 4.3 sacks per game and 70 tackles for loss, which is 10th best in the nation, is how the Panthers get to quarterbacks.
With a seamless rotation of ends and tackles, Pittsburgh rarely blitzes and receives production from the ends and middle of the line.
They do a great job of getting pressure with four people, offensive line coach Frank Verducci said. Obviously, all four, if not six because they go three guys at defensive end and three guys at defensive tackle, contribute to the pass rush.
Theyre unique in that each individual pass rusher can create opportunities for himself.
Pittsburghs push up front is so strong that defensive tackle Mick Williams leads the team with 13 tackles for loss to go with three sacks.
And the rotation is so strong that backup nose tackle Myles Caragein trumps starter Gus Mustakas production. Caragein has four sacks and 6 1/2 tackles for loss compared with Mustakas four tackles for loss and 1 1/2 sacks.
Then the Panthers come at you from the ends.
Greg Romeus, who starts on the right, has a team-high 7 1/2 sacks and nine tackles for loss, and Jabaal Sheard, who starts on the left, has 2 1/2 sacks and 6 1/2 tackles for loss. Backup right end Brandon Lindsey fills out the rotation with his four sacks and 5 1/2 tackles for loss.
Not to slight anyone else that weve played against, but Pitts front four might be the best weve gone against all year, center Eric Olsen said. Theyre tremendous athletes across the board. Whether its the defensive ends or the guys inside.
Back in the lineup to help Notre Dame with blocking will be right guard Trevor Robinson, who sat out last weekends 23-21 loss to Navy with an ankle injury, and running back Armando Allen, who missed the last two games with ankle problems.
But the Irish lost tight end Kyle Rudolph – likely out for the rest of season with a shoulder injury – as a blocking option. The 6-foot-6, 260-pound sophomore was essentially a sixth lineman against the Trojans, to whom the offensive linemen are comparing the Panthers.
There are similarities in the level of talent, Robinson said of Pittsburgh and USC. I dont think it would be a stretch to say (Pittsburgh) is as good. We have a lot of respect for these guys this week.