Does it feel weird to say that game two against a MAC team is a must-win?
Because it certainly feels weird to write it.
And yet, here we are, coming off a disappointing loss to a good-although-beatable team, and going into a game that should be a cupcake but isn’t.
Oh Pitt has an overall talent advantage, to be sure. Ohio’s roster is populated by two-star players, and they have six three-stars . Pitt’s roster is populated by three-star player and they have seven four-stars (which now may be down to six now that DT Keyshon Camp is out for the season). Still, Pitt is pretty much one full degree better across the board…except at the one position that can most impact the game.
Ohio’s Nathan Rourke was a two-star quarterback recruit out of Fort Scott Community College in 2017. He was rated 5.4 on rivals and was so under the radar that his bio doesn’t even have a picture. He had two Division 1 Scholarship offers: Ohio and Akron. Rourke is now a senior and listed on several preseason watch lists (Camp, Maxwell, Manning). Last season he threw for 2,400 yards and 23 TD’s against 8 interceptions. He also ran for 860 and scored 15 TD’s on the ground. To put this in perspective Rourke accounted for 38 touchdowns last year. Pitt’s entire offense scored 41. Well we all know recruiting isn’t an exact science…
On the other hand, Pitt QB Kenny Pickett’s struggles have been well-documented. Tends to get flustered under pressure. Happy feet. Tough time reading defenses. Can’t put touch on the ball. Still, Narduzzi is sticking with him, for better or worse.
The good news is that Ohio’s defense is nothing to write home about. In what amounted to a MAC-level cupcake, Ohio hosted the University of Rhode Island last week. The Rams (That’s Rhode Island Rams) racked up 375 yards of offense, which included 291 yards passing. They also gave up just two sacks. In other words, if Kenny Pickett can’t get on track against Ohio, then he can’t get on track against anybody. The other thing that bodes well is that OC Mark Whipple’s UMASS team put up 48 against Ohio last season, and they put up 50 the year before. Yes, the scheme is there to score points, if Pickett can just manage to complete some passes.
Still, it’s the kind of game you can see Pitt losing. Pitt is easily the highest-profile team on the Bobcats’s schedule (Marshall would be #2). Ohio head coach Frank Solich was born in Johnstown, and he grew up in Cleveland. It’s also likely some Ohio players are from Western PA. You can bet they will be fired up for this one. Ohio runs an option attack that has given Pitt’s defense trouble in the past, and they’ve won at least 9 games each of the past two seasons. On the other side of the coin, the Panthers come into the game reeling from their prime-time loss to Virginia. Pitt’s offense is currently in a state of disarray, and special teams are still a question mark. It’s possible that a disciplined and physical Ohio team punches Pitt in the mouth early and that Pitt never recovers.
Of course that is a less-than 50% probability, right? ESPN gives Pitt a 77% chance of winning. Vegas has Pitt as 5.5 point favorites.
Right. Since 2015 Frank Solich is 34-19 vs the spread. He’s beaten Pitt before. He’s also beaten Penn State. 5.5 points is not a lot of margin for error.
Expect Ohio to play disciplined. Expect Nathan Rourke to excel. Expect the Bobcats to blitz Kenny Pickett until he proves he can beat it. Couple that with a shaken Pitt team and an offense that hasn’t jelled yet and Pitt fans have every reason to be worried.
So yea, I’m calling this one a must-win. Expectations where high against Virginia, and Pitt fell flat in two phases. Now the fan base (and possibly the administration) is on edge. A loss at home against a MAC team could be disastrous for the program.