(First off here are the Pitt Media Dept.’s Pitt-NC Game Notes for reference.)
Pitt is sitting pretty at a 2-1 mark three games into the season. One of those wins was GGGGGreat! One was a good start to the year and the loss, last week to Oklahoma State in their hometown, raised a lot of questions. It wasn’t so much that we lost the game – it was how we lost the game. After all most Pitt fans figured we’d lose that away game to a good, strong offense
We fans have each season’s games ‘circled’ for various reasons be it for payback, rivalry or championship competition. Penn State was probably the most circled game by Pitt fans for obvious reasons. That was the GGGGGreat! win.
I wrote earlier during fall camp what I felt about the importance of that game and while it is fantastic we won I have had this upcoming North Carolina Tarheels game circled as I believe a win this Saturday will set the stage for a run to the ACC Coastal Division winner’s spot and then to a full ACC Championship.
I wish I could point back in time and show you what a Pitt conference championship season paid off in dividends later on – but the only example we have in modern history is Walt Harris’ 2004 co-Big East championship season. That sharing of the title and getting completely whacked in the ensuing BCS game by Utah to the tune of 35-7 was not as happy-making as a co-champs season should have been and ultimately led to Harris’ departure.
So now the task ahead for Head Coach Pat Narduzzi to complete is an outright path to the ACC Winners Circle co-shared with nobody but his Pitt family.
To do that we have to start with beating North Carolina on Saturday. That is no easy task though and because of the way the Pitt squad has performed – hot and cold, up and down, unit by unit’s success and failure… we seem to have a hard time defining just how really talented and well-coached this 2016 team really is.
So it is hard to get a handle on what to expect our Panthers to accomplish in two days. For me an answer to that question, especially the last part of it addressing the coaching, will answer itself at about 3:30 in Chapel Hill, NC. When I say ‘coaching’ I mean from the HC on down to the equipment manager all either doing well or falling short.
Properly cleated shoes might help for one. For another a pass defense that can work together as a unit instead of all four kids playing their own separate football games out there is necessary.
This is a Big Game and one of the four season starting matched I targeted as ones against the opponents we really needed to bring our “A” games to win. Penn State was first, then OSU, soon NC and then my ‘hinge’ game against Marshall in two weeks at home- an overlooked program in most Pitt fans eyes. That won’t be an easy game to win I think.
All four of those games could and can go either way IMO – but I guess you can say that about any college football game no matter who is play who.
So what is the North Carolina football team all about and what have they done so far? Lets look at the basic comparisons first:
You can see that NC outshines us in every category save the running game as we are pushing the ball downfield on the ground to a tune of 239 ypg. That is very good and we broke down that statistic in yesterdays article on here. But NC isn’t too slouchy in that area either with 176 ypg and what jumps out at me is that their leading rusher, JR Elijah Hood, has been hitting an average of 6.1 ypc and five TDs. 6.1 ypc is exceptional.
Our run defense has been sterling though giving up only 75.7 ypg at 2.1 ypc . We need that to happen again if we want to win this game because NC’s QB, JR Mitch Trubisky and his passing game has shown it works well so far this year and that will be the NC staff coaches offensive emphasis in this game.
Trubisky is a darn good QB. In relief duty last season he knocked the socks of the pass defenders he faced while doing this:
His 2015’s 85.1% completion rate and his 226.4 QB rating was astronomical and he hasn’t dropped off much as a full-time player this year either. On paper he is far and away the most talented passing QB we have faced yet and might be the same all season. Although we did a good job of making Trace McSorley of Penn State look like gangbusters and get to his current 20th ranking in Passing Yards.
It isn’t a good idea to assume things when discussing college football because one never knows, do one? but I think it’s a safe bet to think NC is going to be passing like crazy against our beleaguered defensive backs. Unless a coaching miracle has happened and our DBs have learned that to turn and look back for the ball is not going to transform them into a pillar of salt like Lot’s wife – we’ll see much the same horrid results we saw in the last two games.
Defensively NC has shown weakness in both their pass and run stoppage. I think we’ll rack up some yards Saturday – but by whom is a different story.
We have just lately seen articles where Conner’s RB coach, Andre Powell has admitted he may have misjudged Conner’s stamina:
Position coach Andre Powell admitted that much Tuesday, vowing to be more cognizant of his star tailback’s workload after relying on him through three games.
“I think in retrospect he’s probably played too much,” Powell said. “It’s one of those things I wish that last drive [at Oklahoma State], man, I wish I would’ve had a fresher guy in the game. But it’s hard to take an All-American out of the game when the game’s on the line. It’s hard.”
Conner broke for a 21-yard run in the second-to-last drive against the Cowboys and punched in a second-quarter touchdown from the 1 on fourth down that had to be reviewed.
“Last series and a couple other times. Down on the goal line,” Powell said. “Maybe I should’ve taken him out. It’s easy to make those decisions when you’re looking at the video on the plane.”
This quote from Powell floors me…“It’s one of those things I wish that last drive [at Oklahoma State], man, I wish I would’ve had a fresher guy in the game. ” You have to be kidding here right? We had an All-ACC awardee in RB Quadree Ollison sitting on his ass and not carrying the ball once in that loss – yet Powell wishes he had some relief for Conner.
Well, Powell is either blind or stupid or both not to know what quality talent – proven talent BTW – he had in reserve. It is instances like this that make me think the deal with Ollison being thrown to the bench comes from a higher pay-grade than Powell’s or Canada’s.
We’ll do up a prediction thread tomorrow…
P/S: Here is a season’s predictions from a betting site… TIFWIW. I think we’ll be better than this: Right now ESPN has NC’s chances of winning at 70.3% over Pitt’s 29.7% with an over/under of 60 points – I’d take the over on that.