The Pitt Panthers come into Thursday nights match-up at 6-3 after becoming bowl eligible following a victory against Georgia Tech. However, Pitt still has larger aspirations of winning the ACC Coastal Division. In order for this to occur Pitt is going to have to win its last 3 games and receive some help from Virginia Tech in the form of a win over Virginia during Thanksgiving weekend. It would be an uphill climb but crazier things have happened in the Coastal this season.
UNC enters this week at 4-5, coming off a loss to Virginia two weeks ago that eliminated them from the ACC Coastal Division race. With three games remaining, the goal of becoming bowl eligible is still obtainable for the Heels. Having lost 9 games each of the last two seasons before Mack Brown took over, this would be an outstanding turnaround.
The Tar heels enter this game having won 6 straight against the Panthers. The last Pitt win against Carolina came in the Meineke Car Care Bowl (eye roll) as a member of the Big East. However, despite all of recent struggles Pitt is currently a 4 point favorite (opened at 6).
When Pitt’s defense is on the field
The Pitt defense continues to be the strength of the team and is working its way towards earning “elite” status. They currently rank 2nd in sacks as a team (Ohio State jumped them) and it is not just one person who they rely on to get pressure. This is obviously a concern for a UNC offense that has had trouble protecting the QB (what ACC team hasn’t?) However, if there is a great equalizer on the field Thursday night it is Freshman QB Sam Howell. Howell currently has a TD/INT ratio of over 5 to 1, which puts him the elite status nationally for QB’s. Also, watch out for the UNC rushing attack. As mush as the OLINE has struggled to protect the QB in pass pro, they have been just as impressive in the run game. Look for Javonte Williams and Michael Carter to get plenty of touches.
When Pitt’s Offense is on the field
The Panthers offense continues to struggle to find its groove as we hit the homestretch of the season. Pitt has scored just 59 points in the last 3 games combined and somehow came out of those games 2-1. Pitt has put more emphasis on establishing the run in recent weeks, with a running back by committee involving both Vincent Davis and AJ Davis. The wildcat formation has also been deployed more often the past two weeks as well. I look for this to continue against the Heels. Even with the ground game improving, the Pitt offense goes as Kenny Pickett and his WRs go. Pickett has thrown for 9 TD and 8 INT this season, if Pickett turns the ball over on Thursday night it is going to be tough for Pitt to win.
My Prediction : Pitt 23 – UNC 20
Both Pitt and UNC have played an INSANE amount of close games this year and there is no reason to think Thursday Night at Heinz Field will be any different. The weather is currently predicting it will be 34 degrees and clear, which should make for a great night of football.
As has been the case for most of the season, I believe that the Pitt defense will be the difference this week as well. The UNC offensive line comes in banged up and Pitt’s front four rotation is the most dominate unit on the team. Pitt will continue to struggle to put up points unless Kenny Pickett is able to push the ball down the field and make the correct decisions. I believe this game will come down to a field goal at the end and the team that makes one less mistake will walk out of Heinz Field with a victory.