ESPN analysts disagree on Pitt-ND
In the least surprising predictions of the year, ESPN college football analysts Mark May and Lou Holtz - each with ties to Pitt and Notre Dame, respectively - disagree on the outcome of tonight's game between the Panthers and Fighting Irish.
"I think the Panthers will win, and it won't be as close as many people think," said May, a former Pitt offensive lineman and two-time Super Bowl champion with the Washington Redskins. "I think they will win by at least two scores."
Holtz, the College Football Hall of Famer who coached the Irish to the 1988 national championship, called Notre Dame's loss to Navy last week an aberration.
"I think Notre Dame will win the football game, and I say that sincerely," Holtz said Friday.
Holtz said the Pitt defense will have trouble stopping Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen, his offensive line and receivers Golden Tate and Michael Floyd.
"Notre Dame is too explosive," Holtz said.
May called Notre Dame's offense "one dimensional," with no real threat of a running game.
"Pitt should be able to defend that," May said. "Hopefully, Dave Wannstedt will blitz a little bit more."
Navy beat Notre Dame, 23-21, last weekend in South Bend, Ind., with a game plan focused on a strong ground game keeping the Irish defense on the field. Pitt will likely mimic that plan with standout running back Dion Lewis, May said. Panthers tight end Dorin Dickerson also will be difficult for Irish defenders to cover, he said.
May's first game as a Panthers player was against Notre Dame in 1977, the year after Pitt won the national championship. Returning quarterback Matt Cavanaugh broke his wrist during the game, and that sealed the Panthers' fate, May said.
May said his Pitt coaches emphasized rivalries with Penn State and West Virginia more than the one with the Irish.
Pitt also lost to Notre Dame in 1978, but May remembers more the sting of a 9-1-1 Notre Dame team being picked over his 10-1 Pitt team to play Georgia in the 1980 Sugar Bowl.
"We should have played Georgia for the national championship and didn't," May said.
Holtz said he viewed any game against Pitt as important.
"Pitt was a big game to me because I grew up in East Liverpool, Ohio," Holtz said. "So when we played Pitt, it was going to be in the papers, and it was going to be the thing everyone was talking about when I went home."
The 1988 game between the Irish and Panthers stood out among several classic battles, Holtz said. He remembered one play, in particular, when a Panthers player fumbled to end a promising drive early in the game.
"Lord knows it was like an angel knocked it out of his arms," he said.
The Irish won, 30-20.
Holtz also recalled losing to Pitt in 1987 and beating them in 1996, his final season with Notre Dame.
"I remember all the Pitt games," Holtz said.