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Oct. 29, 2012

Pitt (4-4, 1-3 Big East) vs. #4/4 Notre Dame (8-0)

Nov. 3, 2012 • 3:30 p.m., ET • NBC (WPXI-TV in Pittsburgh)

Notre Dame Stadium (80,795/Natural Grass) • Notre Dame, Ind.

Pitt Game Notes Link: Notre Dame Game

Pitt-Notre Dame Storylines

• Pitt will have the opportunity to play spoiler in the national championship race when it travels to face undefeated Notre Dame. The Irish are ranked in the nation's Top 4 following a 30-13 victory at Oklahoma. The Panthers are gaining momentum following back-to-back wins, including a 47-17 demolition of Temple this past week.

• Pitt has won two of its past three games at Notre Dame, and both victories are considered classics in the longtime series. In 2004, sophomore quarterback Tyler Palko threw five touchdown passes -- an unprecedented achievement against the Irish -- to lead the Panthers to a 41-38 win. In 2008, Pitt clawed back from a 14-point deficit and then outlasted the Irish in four overtimes, 36-33.

• The Panthers last faced a team ranked in the Top 4 on Dec. 1, 2007. That year a 4-7 Pitt team traveled to Morgantown to face 10-1 West Virginia, ranked first in the coaches' poll and second by the Associated Press. Considered the greatest upset win in school history, Pitt edged the Mountaineers, 13-9, to knock its archrival from a potential berth in the BCS title game.

• Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri continues to have the most productive season of his career. The senior signal-caller has thrown for 2,199 yards and 13 touchdowns against just two interceptions. Sunseri leads the Big East and ranks eighth nationally in pass efficiency with a 164.79 rating.

Tino Sunseri and the Pitt offense will face its stiffest challenge of the season in the Notre Dame defense. The Irish rank second nationally in scoring defense (9.88 points per game) and 11th in total defense (293.0 yards per game). They are yet to allow more than 17 points in a game this year.

Pitt-Notre Dame Series Notes

Pitt and Notre Dame meet for the 68th time in a series that dates back to 1909...the Irish lead the all-time series by a 46-20-1 count...the teams have split the last six games...close contests have been the norm for most of the past of the past eight games have been decided by single digits...Notre Dame has won each of the past two games: 15-12 at Heinz Field in 2011 and 23-17 at Notre Dame Stadium in 2010...Pitt's last win in the series was a 27-22 triumph at Heinz Field in 2009...the Panthers are just 10-20 all-time in Notre Dame Stadium but have won two of their past three games there...the 2008 game at Notre Dame was an instant classic...the Panthers clawed back from a 17-3 halftime deficit to defeat the Irish, 36-33, in four overtimes...the four-overtime affair marked the longest game in both Pitt and Notre Dame history...the `08 game also marked the Panthers' second consecutive victory at Notre Dame its prior visit to South Bend (2004), Pitt beat the Irish, 41-38, behind five touchdown passes from Tyler Palko, an unprecedented achievement against Notre Dame...Pitt's longest winning streak in the series is three games, achieved three separate times (1932-34; 1958-60; 1983, `86-87)...Notre Dame's longest winning streak against Pitt is 11 games, which occurred from 1964-74...that streak was snapped in 1975 when Pitt defeated the Irish, 34-20, behind 303 rushing yards from Tony Dorsett...the 303 yards remain a Notre Dame opponent four games against the Irish (1973-76), Dorsett rushed for 754 yards, an NCAA record for a player against a four-year opponent. 

Pitt-Notre Dame Series in Brief

Series Began: 1909

Series Overall: ND leads 46-20-1

At Pittsburgh: ND leads 26-10-1

At Notre Dame: ND leads 20-10

Last Meeting: Sept. 24, 2011 (Notre Dame 15, Pitt 12)

Last Meeting at ND: Oct. 9, 2010 (Notre Dame 23, Pitt 17)

Current Streak: ND has won 2

Longest Pitt Series Win Streak: 3 games (1932-34; 1958-60; 1983, `86-87)

Longest ND Series Win Streak: 11 games (1964-74)

Largest Pitt Margin of Victory: 26 points (26-0, 1936)

Largest ND Margin of Victory: 58 points (58-0, 1944)

Pitt-Notre Dame Broadcast Information

Television • NBC • Pittsburgh's WPXI-TV

Dan Hicks, play-by-play

Mike Mayock, analyst

Alex Flanagan, reporter

Pitt Radio • Sportsradio 93.7 The Fan & the Pitt IMG Sports Network

Bill Hillgrove, play-by-play

Pat Bostick, analyst

Gregg Giannotti, reporter

Internet Audio • Panthers All-Access

SiriusXM Satellite Radio

Sirius Channel 91, XM Channel 91

Pitt Team Notes

Against Top-5 Foes

Since 2000, Pitt has faced an opponent ranked in the Top 5 a total of nine times and is 3-6 in those contests. The Panthers are, however, 3-3 in their past six games against Top-5 teams.

Facing Top-5 Fighting Irish Teams

Since the inaugural game of the series in 1909, Pitt has faced a Notre Dame team ranked in the Top 5 of one of the major polls a total of 14 times. The Panthers are just 1-13 in those games, the lone victory coming on Oct. 10, 1987, when Pitt upset Lou Holtz's No. 4 Irish, 30-22, at Pitt Stadium. Running back Craig "Ironhead" Heyward fueled the win with 132 rushing yards and two touchdowns on a school-record 42 carries. Heyward would go on to rush for 1,791 yards that season and finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting. Notre Dame flanker Tim Brown was the runaway 1987 Heisman winner after averaging nearly 170 all-purpose yards per game.  Brown had six catches for 156 yards in the loss to Pitt. 

Fresh Faces

Through eight games, Pitt has had four true freshmen see action: tight end J.P. Holtz, cornerback Jahmahl Pardner, defensive lineman Darryl Render and tailback Rushel Shell.

Holtz has played in all eight games, starting five. He has three receptions for 53 yards (17.7 avg.) and one touchdown on the year. Shell is Pitt's second-leading rusher with 441 yards and four TDs on 87 carries (5.1 avg.) in seven games played.

Render has played in seven contests with one start, and has five tackles, 1.5 TFLs and one PBU on the season. Pardner had been playing a significant role as a nickel back and reserve cornerback through the first three games but suffered a left ACL injury against Virginia Tech and will be out for the season. He is expected to receive a medical redshirt.

2012 Team Captains Selected

Pitt has selected its team captains for the 2012 season. They are senior center Ryan Turnley, senior wide receiver Mike Shanahan, senior wide receiver Cameron Saddler, senior safety Jarred Holley and junior defensive tackle Aaron Donald. 

Tino Terrific

Senior quarterback Tino Sunseri is on a roll over the past six games. During that stretch Sunseri has completed 71% of his passes for 1,682 yards (280.3 yards per game) and 11 touchdowns with only one interception. 

Efficiency Excellence

Tino Sunseri leads the Big East and ranks eighth nationally in pass efficiency with an impressive 164.79 rating. On the year he has completed 162-of-234 passes (69%) for 2,199 yards and 13 touchdowns with just two interceptions. As a junior, Sunseri ranked 82nd nationally in pass efficiency (124.09), completing 64% of his passes (247 of 385) for 2,616 yards with 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. 

Tino Takes Care of the Rock

Tino Sunseri has an active streak of 143 pass attempts without an interception. His last INT came at the 14:13 mark of the fourth quarter in Pitt's 35-17 victory over Virginia Tech. That interception came at the Pitt 36 with the Panthers holding a 28-17 lead. Pitt's defense rose to the occasion, forcing a three-and-out. On their next possession, the Panthers drove 88 yards for the game-clinching touchdown, a six-yard Sunseri pass to Mike Shanahan. Sunseri's only other INT this season came in the second game of the year at Cincinnati. With only two interceptions, Pitt ranks fifth nationally (tied) in fewest INTs thrown.

Seasoned Signal Caller

Tino Sunseri has started 34 consecutive games dating back to the 2010 season opener at Utah. Sunseri's starting streak is the longest by a Pitt quarterback since Tyler Palko made 35 consecutive starts from 2004-06. Palko started every single game for the Panthers during those three seasons. Alex Van Pelt holds the school record for consecutive games started as well as total starting assignments by a Pitt quarterback. Van Pelt started every game during his four-year career (46 starts from 1989-92). He also is the school's career leader in passing yards (11,267) and total offense (11,148). Sunseri ranks fourth at Pitt in both career passing yards (7,501) and career total offense (7,623). 

Devin Dazzles

Junior wide receiver Devin Street is the Big East's most productive wideout, averaging a league-best 6.25 receptions and 86.88 receiving yards per game. On the year, Street has 50 catches for 695 yards (13.9 avg.) and four touchdowns. A Pitt player has led the Big East in receptions four times in the history of the conference. Larry Fitzgerald was the last to accomplish the feat during his 2003 All-America season when he averaged 7.1 catches per game. A Pitt player has led the Big East in receiving yards nine times, the most recent coming in 2005 when two-time all-conference receiver Greg Lee averaged 87.5 yards per contest.

Going over 100

Devin Street had a career-high 140 receiving yards on six catches in Pitt's 47-17 victory over Temple. It was Street's third 100-yard receiving performance of the year. He previously had 111 yards on a career-high 11 catches vs. Louisville, and 130 yards on 10 receptions at Syracuse. The last Pitt player to record more than three 100-yard receiving games in a season was Jon Baldwin, who had seven 100-yard games in 2009. Baldwin totaled 1,111 yards that year on 57 catches. He went on to be a 2011 first-round draft pick of the Kansas City Chiefs. 

Sticky Fingers

Mike Shanahan and Devin Street rank among the most prolific pass catchers in Pitt history as evidenced by the school's career lists for receptions and receiving yards. Shanahan is fifth all-time in receptions (134) and ninth in receiving yards (1,924). Street has 128 catches to rank ninth (tied) and is 10th in career receiving yards with 1,767.

Graham's Century Rushing Games

Senior running back Ray Graham's 109-yard rushing effort in Pitt's 47-17 victory over Temple on Oct. 27 marked his second 100-yard game of the season and ninth of his career. 

Ray on the Career Lists

Ray Graham will finish his career as one of the most productive running backs in school history. Graham is prominent on Pitt's career statistical lists for rushing, all-purpose yards and scoring. He currently ranks second in all-purpose yards (4,427), fifth in rushing (2,851) and 10th in scoring (192 points).

A Winning Shell Game

Freshman tailback Rushel Shell was a key offensive catalyst in Pitt's 35-17 win over Virginia Tech by rushing for 157 yards on 23 attempts, an impressive 6.8-yard average. It is the highest single-game rushing total by a Big East player (regardless of class) this season.Shell is the first Pitt freshman to rush for 100 yards in a game since Dion Lewis had 159 against North Carolina in the Meineke Car Care Bowl on Dec. 26, 2009. (Pitt defeated the Tar Heels, 19-17.) Lewis had 10 100-yard games as a true freshman in 2009 en route to 1,799 yards, the second-highest single-season rushing total in school history. Lewis' total trails only Tony Dorsett, who had 2,150 rushing yards during his 1976 Heisman Trophy season. 

O-Line Stability

Pitt has fielded the same starting five on its offensive front for each game this season: junior Cory King at left tackle, senior Chris Jacobson at left guard, senior Ryan Turnley at center, junior Ryan Schlieper at right guard and sophomore Matt Rotheram at right tackle. In 2011, due to a myriad of injuries, Pitt was forced to shuffle eight different starting offensive line combinations in 13 games.

Surpassing 600

Pitt rolled up 626 yards in total offense (397 passing, 229 rushing) against Gardner-Webb, the Panthers' highest single-game production since 1997 when they had 645 yards (470 passing, 175 rushing) in a double-overtime victory at Rutgers (55-48). The Gardner-Webb contest marked Pitt's highest total offense in a regulation game since 1995 when it compiled a school-record 648 yards (333 passing, 315 rushing) in a 66-30 win over Eastern Michigan. 

Historic Two-Game Production

In its back-to-back September victories, Pitt produced a combined 1,163 yards in total offense (626 vs. Gardner-Webb and 537 vs. Virginia Tech). This two-game total set a school record for offensive output in consecutive games. The prior mark was 1,154 set in 1992. That season, Pitt had 558 yards vs. Rutgers followed by a 596-yard game vs. Minnesota.

500-Yard Games

Pitt has reached 500 yards in total offense three times this year. The Panthers last achieved that feat back in 1992 when the Pitt offense, led by all-time leading passer Alex Van Pelt, had four 500-yard games. 

Defensive Turnaround

Pitt's defense has improved remarkably since the opening two games of the season when the Panthers started 0-2 and gave up an average of 422.5 yards in those two losses. Since that time, Pitt has rebounded to win four of its next six games while giving up an average of only 312.3 yards in the process.

Super Scoring "D"

Perhaps Pitt's most impressive improvement has been in scoring defense. In its opening two losses, Pitt gave up an average of 32.5 points. Over the past six games, that average has been reduced to 18.2. (During this current six-game stretch, Pitt surrendered three touchdowns on returns -- two on fumbles and one on a punt. Taking out those 21 points, the 18.2 scoring average drops to 14.7.) In eight total games this year, Pitt is yielding 21.75 points to rank 33rd nationally and fourth in the Big East. 

Turnovers are Key

Pitt is 3-0 this season when forcing multiple turnovers in a game. In contrast, the Panthers are 1-4 when failing to generate more than one turnover. In its 35-17 win over No. 13 Virginia Tech, Pitt forced a season-high four turnovers, including three interceptions of highly regarded Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas. Junior free safety Jason Hendricks had two picks while senior strong safety Jarred Holley had the other. Additionally, sophomore linebacker Eric Williams had Pitt's first fumble recovery of the season. Williams recovered a fumble (forced by redshirt freshman defensive end Devin Cook) at the Virginia Tech 10 in the second quarter. Ray Graham rushed for a five-yard TD two plays later to give Pitt a 21-0 lead.

The Panthers forced three more turnovers in their 55-10 win over Gardner-Webb the following week. Hendricks had his third interception of the year, while senior defensive end Shayne Hale and senior linebacker Joe Trebitz both had fumble recoveries.

In their last game, the Panthers gained two turnovers -- fumble recoveries by Eric Williams and redshirt freshman cornerback Lafayette Pitts -- in a 47-17 rout of Temple.

Sack Attack

The Pitt defense has recorded at least one quarterback sack in 32 of the past 33 games. The Panthers had a streak of 25 consecutive games with a sack snapped against Youngstown State on Sept. 1. The YSU contest marked the first time Pitt had been held without a sack since Sept. 2, 2010, when they lost in overtime at Utah (27-24). Entering the Nov. 3 Notre Dame game, Pitt has 16 sacks on the season, led by junior defensive tackle Aaron Donald's 3.5. 

Hendricks Leads Air Defense

Coming off an abbreviated 2011 campaign due to a shoulder injury, junior safety Jason Hendricks has bounced back in top form this season. Hendricks leads Pitt with four interceptions. His average of 0.50 INTs per game ranks first in the Big East and seventh (tied) nationally. The Panthers rank 29th nationally and second in the Big East in pass defense, giving up an average of 198.88 yards per game.

Nearly Perfect on PATs

Since the opening of the 2006 season, Pitt has been virtually flawless on its extra-point kicks. The Panthers have missed only three PAT kicks over this current stretch (259 of 262, .989). During his two seasons as Pitt's starting placekicker, senior Kevin Harper has gone 60-of-61 in PAT kicks (.984). Harper is 28-of-28 this year. 

Harper Heating Up

Kevin Harper converted field goals of 32 and 38 yards in Pitt's 47-17 win over Temple. Following an inconsistent start, Harper has now made four consecutive field goals and six of his last seven. The lone miss during that stretch was a 50-yarder against Louisville. Harper is 10 of 15 on field goals for the year (.667) with a season-long of 45 (made at Buffalo). 

Productive Rookie Returner

Redshirt freshman cornerback Lafayette Pitts is not only a starter on defense but also an impact kickoff return man. Pitts is averaging 27.76 yards per return to lead the Big East and rank 19th nationally. His 64-yard kick return against Gardner-Webb is the second longest in the Big East this year. 

Panther Block Party

In the second quarter of the Oct. 13 Louisville contest, sophomore linebacker Todd Thomas blocked a punt and recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown, giving Pitt a 14-7 lead. It was Pitt's first blocked punt for a TD since Oct. 15, 2011, when Andrew Taglianetti's block was returned 10 yards for a score by Antwuan Reed vs. Utah. Pitt has blocked 42 kicks dating back to the 2000 season. During that stretch Taglianetti, a senior safety, leads all Panthers with a school-record six blocks.


Pitt primed for clash with No. 4 Notre Dame

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