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Week 6 Preview: Pittsburgh Panthers

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Looking to avoid their third straight loss, Georgia Tech travels to Pittsburgh to take on the Panthers at 12:30 on Saturday.

NCAA Football: Miami at Georgia Tech Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Season So Far

The Pittsburgh Panthers are currently sitting at 3-2 on the season, with narrow losses to UNC and Oklahoma State. Pitt hasn’t had any issue scoring the ball, but surprisingly, the Pat Narduzzi led team has had trouble keeping other teams off the scoreboard. The Panthers currently rank 91st in the country in points allowed, at 31 PPG. The two losses have come to Oklahoma State and North Carolina, who just knocked off Florida State.

Offseason Preview (link)

Who’s gone? WR Tyler Boyd, LB Nicholas Grigsby, and TE JP Holtz

Who’s back? RB James Conner, QB Nate Peterman, OL and DL

The bad news for Pitt? They lose Tyler Boyd, their all time leader in receptions and yards. The good news for Pitt? They get back James Conner, who not only missed most of last season with an MCL injury, but also battled Hodgkin’s lymphoma over the offseason. As a sophomore in 2014, Conner put up 1,765 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns.

Matchup Preview

Since Pittsburgh just joined the ACC in 2013, these two teams do not have much of a history. In fact, they’ve only played 10 times, with three of those matchups coming over the last three ACC seasons. In 2013, the Jackets took home a 21-10 victory where they outrushed the Panthers 276 to -5. Tech fans probably remember the 2014 game because of the fact that Tech forced six turnovers, including four fumbles in the Panthers first six plays. Last season’s game ended up being fairly memorable as well, unfortunately for the wrong reason. Pittsburgh kicker Chris Blewitt hit a school record 56-yard field goal as time expired to win the game. The Panthers lead the overall series 6-4.

After facing three elite defenses (Boston College, Miami, Clemson) this season, the Jackets finally get a break against the 91st ranked Pittsburgh defense, right? While that’s technically correct, Pitt has some pretty incredible rush/pass splits that unfortunately do not work in the favor of the rushing based Jackets. Thanks to the return of the entire defensive line, the Panthers rank 4th in the country in rush defense, allowing just 70 YPG. Where teams have been able to expose the Panthers is through the air. Their pass defense ranks 126th in the nation, as they’re allowing 337 YPG. It would not be surprising at all to see the Jackets pass the ball more than normal on Saturday and it may be necessary to do so in order to come away with the win against an elite run defense.

The Panthers utilize a run heavy offense, but love to give teams a variety of looks, such as misdirection and end-arounds. Everyone already knows about James Conner, who leads Pitt this season with 381 rushing yards, but the Panthers are also getting help from a variety of other players, most notably WR Quadree Henderson. Henderson has exploded onto the scene this year as the Panthers second leading rusher and 5th in the nation in all purpose yards. When Quadree is getting the ball in the backfield, he’s averaging almost 12 yards per carry. All in all, twelve different ball carriers have touched the ball for the nations 16th best rushing attack. Despite not ranking in the top 100, it might be a dangerous game to sleep on the Panthers passing attack. WR Jester Weah absolutely went off last week with 176 receiving yards and is averaging over 20 yards per catch this season. Conner and Henderson are additional threats through the air, with 150+ yards each.

Prediction

Playing a road game on the heels of back-to-back losses, it should surprise no one that the Jackets opened up this game as an 8 point underdog (now down to +6.5). Similarly to last week, there are still a lot of question marks for both teams that make it difficult to know exactly what to expect on Saturday. In the preseason, I predicted this game to be one of four Georgia Tech losses, but the Panthers defense has not be nearly as dominant as I expected it to be. The Jackets are hungry for a win and desperately need to avoid a third straight loss. Other than two extremely punitive self-inflicted wounds last week, Tech looked strong against a top 10 Miami team. Call it blind faith if you want, but I think the Jackets find a way to win this one, 31-28.

Weekly Press Conference