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Panthers Not Buying Into ‘Giant Killer’ Label Ahead of Clash at No. 5 Notre Dame



PITTSBURGH — After a pair of shocking upset wins over unbeaten teams in the last two seasons — 43-42 at No. 2 Clemson in 2016 and 24-14 vs. No. 2 Miami last year at Heinz Field — the Pitt football team has started to develop a reputation as a “giant killer.”

Just don’t tell that to center Jimmy Morrissey.

“I don’t want to be known as a giant killer. I want to be known as a giant,” Morrissey said Wednesday. “That’s why I really want to change the culture around here and get it back to what it used to be. I don’t want to have those four, five, six, seven loss seasons ever again.”

Like it or not, the Panthers will have a chance to add to that reputation Saturday when they travel to South Bend, Indiana, to take on the undefeated No. 5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium. A win would give Pitt three straight seasons with a victory over an unbeaten team ranked in the top five — and that doesn’t include the Panthers’ 42-39 win over Penn State in 2016, when the Nittany Lions came in unranked but finished the regular season ranked No. 5.

Senior right tackle Alex Bookser has been on the field for all three of those victories, and he said he’s excited for the opportunity to add one more signature win to his resume — inside one of college football’s most historic stadiums, no less — before he wraps up his college career.

“I’ve heard a lot about the place, and it seems like one of the best places you can play in the country,” Bookser said. “I’m looking forward to it … It’s one of the best teams in the country, and that’s what you get up for. It’s going to be a lot of fun, and we’ll see what we can do.”

Quarterback Kenny Pickett played a huge part in knocking off Miami last season as a true freshman, passing for 193 yards and a touchdown while running for 60 yards and two more scores, including a pivotal 22-yard scamper on fourth down to put the game away. But he hasn’t been able to replicate that performance in either of Pitt’s previous matchups against ranked teams this year, and both games turned into blowout losses against Penn State and UCF.

Still, Pickett insists he won’t start pressing while trying to find that breakout game so many expected out of the sophomore signal caller.

“I’m just going to play inside the offense and inside the scheme and what I’m asked to do and execute my job,” Pickett said.

Despite the mystique surrounding Notre Dame’s program and the chance to pull off another monumental upset, Pickett said the Panthers are preparing for the Fighting Irish the same as they would any other opponent.

“Really, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing and what they’re ranked,” Pickett said. “It’s just going in there and giving everything we’ve got, and that’s the mindset every week, honestly. We’ve got a really tough schedule, we go one week at a time, and we just play the team in front of us.”

While not many people outside the city limits picked Pitt to defeat Penn State or UCF, most people certainly expected closer games than the 51-6 shellacking the Nittany Lions delivered at Heinz Field and the 45-14 beatdown by the Knights in Orlando. With those losses in mind, Morrissey said he’s determined to make sure things are a lot more competitive this time around.

“I definitely didn’t want to have that result for either of those games,” Morrissey said. “I fully intend on putting up a fight and beating these guys. I don’t ever intend on losing … that’s not a guarantee at all, but it’s the plan.”

But in order for Pitt to win, Pickett said, just trying to put up a good fight isn’t enough. That’s not how he led the Panthers to victory against Miami last year, and it’s not how he’s approaching Saturday’s showdown in South Bend, either.

“If that’s your mindset, you’re already beat,” Pickett said. “That’s a terrible mindset to have, going into a game trying not to get blown out. We’re going in to win every game we have, no matter what the team is or what the situation is. So if that’s our mindset, we’re screwed. We’re going in to win, that’s all I know.”

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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