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Notre Dame at Pittsburgh: What to watch for

Notre Dame travels to Pittsburgh tonight as the No. 24 Irish (7-2) try to keep their BCS bowl berth hopes alive.

Notre Dame has won its last four games and is No. 23 in the BCS standings, while the Panthers (4-4) have lost their last two.

Both teams are getting back to more traditional football as the squads are coming off back-to-back games against option teams.

The Irish defeated Air Force and Navy in the last two weeks, while the Panthers lost to Navy and Georgia Tech.

Here are some things to watch for in tonight's game:

Close calls: Notre Dame has won the last three games against Pitt, but it hasn't been easy. The Irish won 20-16 in 2010, 15-12 in 2011 and 29-26 in three overtimes last season. The Panthers had won the previous two games before the Irish winning streak, but those were close as well. Pitt won 36-33 in four overtimes in 2008 and 27-22 in 2009.

Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald: The 6-foot, 285-pound senior leads the nation in tackles for loss with 19 ½ and is fourth in sacks with nine. In last week's 21-10 loss to Georgia Tech, he made 11 tackles – all solo – with six for loss, forced two fumbles and had a sack.

New plan of attack: Pittsburgh is not the running team it has been in the past. The Panthers are averaging 122.5 rushing yards. But they are having more success throwing the ball this year with quarterback Tom Savage, who played at Rutgers before transferring to Arizona before coming to Pitt in 2012. The 6-5, 230-pound senior has thrown for 1,779 yards with 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions. His top targets have been Tyler Boyd, who has 644 receiving yards and six touchdowns, and Devin Street, who has 690 receiving yards and four touchdowns.

Irish on the run: Notre Dame is averaging 150.1 rushing yards, and it could find success against a weak Pitt run defense. The Panthers are giving up 164 yards per game. Freshman Tarean Folston made a case to become Notre Dame's main running back last week, gaining 140 yards and scoring the winning touchdown against Navy. He is third on the team in rushing yards with 256 on 40 carries. Cam McDaniel's leads the Irish's running backs with 469 yards on 98 carries, and George Atkinson III has 455 rushing yards. McDaniel and Atkinson each have three touchdowns.

Prediction: Notre Dame 13, Pittsburgh 10

The Journal Gazette's Assistant Sports Editor Tony Krausz covers The University of Notre Dame. Krausz, a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a native of St. Louis, has been assistant sports editor since October 2005. Prior to joining the JG, he worked at two papers in Mississippi covering high school and college athletics.

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