Pitt faces tall or­der

Pan­thers are at de­cided dis­ad­van­tage against No. 5 Notre Dame’s ‘Se­quoias.’

The Times-Tribune - - SPORTS - BY JOHN FINERAN

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Wide re­ceiver Miles Boykin is usu­ally the tallest guy in a class­room at Notre Dame. The Ir­ish of­fen­sive hud­dle is an­other mat­ter.

“Once we had Chase (Clay­pool), Cole (Kmet), Al­ize (Mack) and me, and I’m the small­est re­ceiver out there on the field,” said the 6-foot-4, 228-pound se­nior wide­out, one of the short­est of six Notre Dame re­ceivers and tight ends.

Pitts­burgh coach Pat Nar­duzzi isn’t laugh­ing and knows his Pan­thers (3-3) will have their hands full when they take on un­de­feated No. 5 Notre Dame (6-0) to­day.

“I can’t tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween their tight ends and the re­ceivers,” Nar­duzzi said. “I think our guys are go­ing to get con­fused. They put them all in 80 num­bers and you can’t tell. They’re all big, they’re all fast ... . ”

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly un­der­stands Nar­duzzi’s con­fu­sion — he’s spent the last 15 years watch­ing foot­ball make way for big re­ceivers. And the Pan­thers have their own big guy: fresh­man tight end Grant Carrigan, who is 6-foot-7 and weighs 280 pounds.

“When of­fenses changed from much more of a pro-style to much more of a spread, you had a deeper tal­ent pool,” Kelly said. “Guys started to show up on that side of the ball that were longer and taller. Size does a lot of things. One of it is catch­ing ra­dius. They still have to run, but they give you other op­tions. Block­ing on the perime­ter is an­other.”

Prior to this sea­son, Boykin was best re­mem­bered for his one-handed grab of an Ian Book pass and re­sult­ing 55-yard touch­down with 1:28 re­main­ing in a 21-17 vic­tory over LSU at the Cit­rus Bowl.

Now, with the 6-foot-and-change Book at quar­ter­back, Boykin’s num­bers are go­ing through the roof. The two have hooked up 19 times for 261 yards in Notre Dame’s vic­to­ries over Stan­ford (38-17) and Vir­ginia Tech (45-23). For the sea­son, Boykin has 28 re­cep­tions for 428 yards (15.3 yards per catch) and three touch­downs.

One of Boykin’s run­ning mates at wide re­ceiver is Clay­pool, a just over 6-4 ju­nior who has 18 catches for 200 yards and 2 TDS.

Kmet, a sopho­more re­serve, is the tallest tight end at 6-5½ (he weighs 258 pounds). Se­nior starter Mack goes 6-4¾ (247), as does grad tight end Nic Weishar. A fourth tight end, sopho­more Brock Wright, mea­sures in at 6-4½ (260). Mack leads all tight ends with 19 catches for 209 yards. Weishar has two TDS and Mack and Wright have one each.

Then there’s se­nior slot re­ceiver Chris Finke, who goes 5-9½.

“Miles is a phys­i­cal spec­i­men,” said Finke, who has 19 catches for 243 yards. “He’s 6-foot-4, he has great hands, he runs good routes and he’s fast, too. When you have Mike and Chase and all the big tight ends, it’s a lot for a de­fense to worry about.”

A tale of two QBS

Nar­duzzi is im­pressed with Book, who comes into the game ranked third na­tion­ally with his 73.3 com­ple­tion per­cent­age (77 of 105 for 887 yards and nine touch­downs) and 13th in pass ef­fi­ciency (170.7). Book has also rushed for 81 yards and 3 TDS.

“Of­fen­sively he’s mak­ing things click,” Nar­duzzi said. “He can run. He’s tough. He’ll run you over. He’s got the whole pack­age. I think they’ve found their guy.”

The Pan­thers have set­tled on sopho­more Kenny Pick­ett, who com­pleted 11 of 20 passes for 137 yards, in­clud­ing a 68-yard TD pass play to Rafael Araujo-lopes, in the Pan­thers’ 44-37 over­time vic­tory over Syra­cuse that ended a two-game los­ing streak. Pick­ett has com­pleted 61.3 per­cent (87 of 142) of his passes for 880 yards and six TDS, but has five in­ter­cep­tions.

Born to run

Kelly, who ad­mits to be a big Bruce Spring­steen fan, ad­mires the Pan­thers’ run­ning at­tack that fea­tures se­niors Qadree Ol­li­son and Dar­rin Hall. They com­bined for 299 yards and three TDS against the Or­ange. The 6-foot-2, 222-pound Ol­li­son, who had 194 yards on 22 car­ries in­clud­ing a 69-yard TD, has 596 yards (18th na­tion­ally) and is av­er­ag­ing 6.48 yards per carry (22nd). Hall (5-11, 225) had 107 yards on 17 car­ries and 2 TDS, in­clud­ing a 3-yard game-win­ner.

“They’re run­ning the ball as well as any­body we’ve seen this year,” Kelly said. “This is an of­fense that wants to con­trol the line of scrim­mage. I like their of­fen­sive line. It’s a vet­eran group.”

Pitt is 14-5 un­der Nar­duzzi when it rushes for 200 or more yards.

Notre Dame’s run­ning game has re­ceived a boost from se­nior Dex­ter Wil­liams, who has 343 yards and 4 TDS, one a 97-yarder against Vir­ginia Tech, in the two games he has been back from a four-game sus­pen­sion.

Ir­ish mys­tique?

Notre Dame Sta­dium, which is ex­pected to be sold out for the 267th straight time, Touch­down Je­sus and other Ir­ish foot­ball lore don’t both Nar­duzzi.

“What about the his­tory of Pitts­burgh?” he said. “We’ve got some great his­tory here. Notre Dame is a great in­sti­tu­tion, great place. I’m Catholic. I love Notre Dame, but this is a foot­ball game. We’re not go­ing to go to the basil­ica or go see Touch­down Je­sus. We’re not tak­ing any tours. We’re go­ing to play a foot­ball game.”

The Pan­thers, who went into Death Val­ley and up­set No. 3 Clem­son 43-42 and stunned No. 2 Mi­ami 24-14 last Nov. 24, won’t be timid.

“You don’t view any­one as a gi­ant, es­pe­cially in the game of foot­ball,” Ol­li­son said. “You re­spect all and fear none. You don’t fear any­body.”


In this Sept. 8 photo, Notre Dame wide re­ceiver Miles Boykin (81) runs against Ball State.

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