Notre Dame’s Tommy Rees only has one game on Pittsburgh’s Tom Savage in the two school’s century-plus rivalry. The senior quarterback's one career start against the Panthers came in 2011, and he needed a fourth-quarter rally to come up with the 15-12 victory.
Rees will look to extend Notre Dame's winning streak to five games when the Fighting Irish visit Heinz Field to face a struggling Pittsburgh squad on Saturday night.
The Irish have won three straight and hold the 47-20-1 all-time record in the 104-year-old rivalry. However, those three games have been decided by an average of four points, including last year’s 29-26 triple overtime epic that nearly derailed Notre Dame’s national title hopes.
Savage, also a senior but in his first year as the full-time starter, has never faced the Irish and hadn’t taken a snap in over two years until arriving in Pittsburgh. He guided Rutgers to eight wins and passed for 2,211 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2009, but was hurt in 2010 and forced to sit out two years after transferring to Arizona and finally Pittsburgh. In his first three games of the season, Savage has totaled nine touchdowns to four interceptions, but has cooled off since his six-touchdown performance at Duke.
Rees has so far won the statistical battle with 2,186 yards and 22 touchdowns to Savage’s 1,779 yards and 14 scores, but both also have a pair of top flight running backs behind them that haven’t really experienced the rivalry either.
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Juniors Cam McDaniel and George Atkinson III have gained 919 yards and six touchdowns, but only Atkinson has logged any time against Pitt. He tallied two yards on one attempt in last year’s thriller.
Panthers junior Isaac Bennett is seventh in the ACC in rushing with 543 yards and five touchdowns, and freshman James Connor has racked up 407 yards and four scores.
Rees might have a leg up with senior receiver TJ Jones, who caught five balls for 53 yards and a score against Pittsburgh last year, and has already broken his career season-highs with 742 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Panthers will counter with the receiving duo of senior Devin Street and freshman Tyler Boyd’s 1,334 yards and 10 touchdowns, along with the ACC’s third-best pass defense and senior defensive lineman Aaron Donald’s nine sacks.
After the huge loss to Oklahoma, the Irish defense has surrendered 34 points twice and on the year have given up 30-plus points four times, compared to one time for last year’s squad. Pass rushers Stephon Tuitt and Prince Shembo lead the Irish with eight sacks, and junior safety Matthias Farley has recorded two interceptions.
Betting Odds: Notre Dame favored by 4.5 points
Over/Under: 51 points
Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC
Live Radio Stream: Multiple stations via TuneIn
Prediction: Notre Dame 34, Pittsburgh 30