If football games were played in thirds instead of quarters, Pitt would be one of the nation's top teams rather than heading into a difficult game against Notre Dame at 2-1.
The bottom has been falling out of Panthers' world in the fourth quarter all season, although it reached rock bottom at Iowa when the Hawkeyes came from 17 down in the final period to win, 31-27. It was the biggest comeback in school history for Iowa.
In the first three games of the season, the Panthers have been outscored, 49-13, in the fourth quarter.
"It's been something else," Coach Todd Graham said. "It's all come in the last couple of minutes of the game. The fourth quarter has been tough."
Graham has put a lot of thought into the phenomena.
"It's tough to figure out," he said. "We shut out all three opponents in the first quarter. In the first two games, the other teams came on but this was different down the stretch. We had about 12 critical mistakes on defense down the stretch. We made a lot of mental mistakes, a lot on blitzes as we were trying to execute the new system."
Why a team would dominate three straight opponents in the first three quarters and fall apart in the fourth quarter is troubling to a coach, especially one who preaches conditioning and winning the fourth quarter.
The Panthers will get no sympathy on this from Notre Dame, a team that has had its own fourth-quarter problems, giving up 28 points to Michigan to lose that game, 35-31.
--RB Ray Graham fell to fifth in the nation in rushing last week when he failed to reach 100 yards for the first time this year, gaining 97 against Iowa. He went into the game No. 1.
--Pitt has had four consecutive 1,000 yard rushers in LeSean McCoy and Dion Lewis twice each and RB Ray Graham is well on his way. He has the right coach to get there as Todd Graham had five 1,000 yard rusher in four years at Tulsa.
SERIES HISTORY: Notre Dame leads Pittsburgh, 45-20-1 (last meeting, 2010, 23-17 Notre Dame).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Perhaps the tipoff on the Panther offense can be found in the fact that this week's media notes had no notes on QB Tino Sunseri, who made a number of mental mistakes in the loss to Iowa. Coach Todd Graham said he felt Sunseri left a lot of plays out on the field. He also committed three turnovers, two on interceptions. Pitt wil rely on RB Ray Graham, the nation's fifth leading runner, to establish a ball-control running game. One of the reasons the offense couldn't get untracked late against Iowa was that it lacks experience, only three seniors in the mix.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: For three-quarters against Iowa, Pitt's defense was overpowering but the defense came apart by making mistakes in the fourth quarter as the Hawkeyes rallied from 17 down to win. Pitt does a good job of stuffing the run, ranking No. 23 in the nation. Iowa averaged only 2.3 yards a carry while gaining 76 yards. Notre Dame's dynamic offense will prove to be the toughest test the defense has faced to date. It's important that the Panthers, who had four sacks against Iowa and have at least one sack in each of the last 15 games, get pressure from DE Brandon Lindsey on Notre Dame. Pitt will play special attention to receiver Michael Floyd, who caught seven passes against them last year and whom Graham says "is the best receiver in the country."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm a traditionalist and it's one of the great rivalries in college football, so I would hope it would continue, but I have no idea." -- Pitt Coach Todd Graham, a former West Virginia assistant coach, when asked if he knew the fate of the Backyard Brawl between Pitt and WVU as Pitt goes to the ACC.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Notre Dame at Pittsburgh, Sept. 24 -- The sixty-seventh renewal of a long, hard-fought series is a crucial game for both teams. Notre Dame comes in off its first victory of the season, dominating Michigan State, while Pitt comes in off its first loss of the year, having blown 17-point fourth quarter lead at Iowa. First-year Pitt coach Todd Graham is familiar with the Fighting Irish, having pulled off one of the biggest victories of his career over them last year while at Tulsa, 28-27. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly knows what it's like playing at Pitt, having coached at Cincinnati. While this figures to be a good game, it will have to go some to match the 2008 affair at Notre Dame when the Panthers came back from a 17-3 halftime deficit to win, 36-33, in four overtimes, the longest game in both school's history.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Pitt has got to be careful with the football and not turn it over. "We have be sound, take care of the football and not put it in jeopardy. If we hadn't turned the football over we'd be 3 and 0," Coach Todd Graham said. QB Tino Sunseri threw a pair of interceptions and lost a fumble and Graham admits he has to play better against Notre Dame. The Panthers' ability to establish a ground game with RB Ray Graham is important for ball control.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Tino Sunseri -- Sunseri comes off a productive, but mistake prone, game in which he completed 23 of 33 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns. There were, however, two interceptions and a fumble. Sunseri also couldn't rally the team down the stretch when it became most important as Pitt lost its first game.
WR Devin Street -- Against a team as explosive as Notre Dame is, Pitt is probably going to have to get some quick scores and Street might be the most likely man to do it. He is coming off a big game against Iowa, having caught seven passes, including a 66-yard touchdown from Sunseri.
RB Ray Graham -- If Pitt is going to beat Notre Dame then it will need to play ball control football and that means that Graham will be busy. A tireless runner, Graham averages 139.67 yards a game to rank fifth in the nation and his six rushing TDS are tied for third in the nation. He will challenge the Irish defense which is giving up a healthy 143 yards a game.
DE Brandon Lindsey -- Someone is going to have to get after Notre Dame QB Tommy Rees, who is a dangerous player, and Lindsey is the most likely. The best pass rusher the Panthers possess, he led the team last year with 10 and has had at least one sack in nine of his last 15 games. Pitt is coming off a four sack game against Iowa.
--Coach Todd Graham made a couple of changes in the starting defense against Iowa, putting freshman Todd Thomas in as spur linebacker in place of Greg Williams and moving senior Tristan Roberts in place of Shane Gordon at the same linebacker spot.
--LB Ejuan Price has been given a chance in the starting lineup and is making the most of it as he had his first two career sacks at Iowa.