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Thursday, July 26, 2012
ND's 2012 opponents, Week 9: Pittsburgh

By Matt Fortuna

Week 9: Nov. 3 vs. Pitt (at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind.)

Time/TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC

Series: Notre Dame leads all-time, 46-20-1

2011 record: 6-7 (4-3 Big East; tied fourth place)

Head coach: Paul Chryst (first year)

Returning starters: Offense: 8; defense: 4; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Tino Sunseri, RB Isaac Bennett, RB Ray Graham, WR Devin Street, OG Chris Jacobson, DT Aaron Donald, LB Todd Thomas, S Andrew Taglianetti, S Jason Hendricks, S Jarred Holley, CB K'Waun Williams

Key losses

DE Brandon Lindsey, DT Chas Alecxih, DT Myles Caragein, LB Max Gruder, CB Antwuan Reed

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Ray Graham* (958 yards)

Passing: Tino Sunseri* (2,616 yards)

Receiving: Devin Street* (754 yards)

Tackles: Max Gruder (116)

Sacks: Aaron Donald* (11)

Interceptions: Jarred Holley*, K'Waun Williams*, Chas Alecxih, Brandon Lindsey, Andrew Taglianetti*, Todd Thomas*, Jason Hendricks*, Carl Fleming (1)

Three questions for ... Big East blogger Andrea Adelson:

With four head coaches in three years, it is safe to say that the Panthers' program has been far from stable. How will the team benefit from Paul Chryst's simplified approach in his first year at the helm?

Andrea Adelson: I think the potential is there for this team to stabilize itself in Year 1 for one big reason: Chryst likes to run the football, and Pitt has been a very traditional running team. Blue-collar, as they say. Last year under Todd Graham was an entire departure not just from the identity of Pitt football, but from the identity of Pittsburgh itself. Pitt has some quality running backs, so I think a emphasis on the ground game is much needed for the Panthers to return to any sort of normalcy.

It seemed like Tino Sunseri took the brunt of the criticism from all corners whenever things fell flat on offense last year. What does he need to do this year to make it all go away and become an effective leader on offense?

AA: Great question. Believe it or not, Sunseri is going into his third season as the starting quarterback despite being roundly criticized for all three seasons. I think going away from the spread hurry-up will help him. He never really got the timing down, and was sacked many times because he just wouldn't get rid of the football. Getting more of a run-heavy, play-action attack is certainly going to help him. He just has to manage the game and limit all his mistakes, something he failed to do a season ago when he had more interceptions (11) than touchdown passes (10).

The defense is undergoing a bit of a makeover, especially in the front seven. How creative will new coordinator Dave Huxtable have to get to turn this into a solid unit?

AA: Well he has an excellent secondary, with some pretty good depth at safety. So perhaps that means he can take a few more risks up front, or feel more comfortable playing man. The front seven is a big concern, particularly the defensive line. Aaron Donald returns after getting 11 sacks a year ago, but he moves inside. Besides him, there is little in the way of experience. But I will say that Huxtable did some great things with the defensive line when he was UCF defensive coordinator. I watched him turn undersized Bruce Miller into the C-USA Defensive Player of the Year. UCF traditionally played very well against the run, so that has to be encouraging for Pitt fans. Plus, a return to the traditional 4-3 will definitely serve this team better because it lacks depth and playmakers at linebacker.