In order to gain some insight into our weekly opponent, we’ll be checking in with the team’s appropriate SBNation blog over the course of the season. This week, we’re checking in with our Pitt affiliate, Cardiac Hill.
1. After a rough outing against Oklahoma State last week, Pitt is basically playing the total opposite offense this week at Georgia Tech. Do you expect the defense to fair better or worse against the flexbone than they did against Ok State?
By default, I'd say it has to be better. Pitt will surely give up a lot of yards on the ground but I don't think Georgia Tech will score 59 points on them, either. In past years, the Panthers have struggled with Georgia Tech's offense but Pitt's pass defense has been an absolute dumpster fire. I'd much rather take my chances against a running team, even one with a complicated offense, than a passing team.
2. How does the fanbase feel about Pat Narduzzi as head coach? He's certainly had some ups and downs at his fist head coaching gig - does the fanbase still feel like he's still the man for the job or are you guys beginning to think otherwise?
Fans are fickle, man. Coming into this season, Narduzzi would have earned a really high grade from most fans out there. The biggest grievance, in terms of wins and losses, was probably the bowl loss against Northwestern last year and even that was a game where they had some hurdles, including replacing the starting quarterback in the middle of the game. He had done a really great job in his first two years and, after beating Penn State and Clemson last year, had really exceeded expectations in big games.
I still think most fans are on board but I'd be lying if I said that no one was calling for his head this week. That's ludicrous, of course. But that's how bad Pitt has looked this year and when you end up on the wrong end of lopsided games, anything short of winning national championships you've done in the past quickly is forgotten. Last year, Pitt upset two of the top teams in college football, including the national champion. To expect them to repeat that success a year later is unrealistic.
I'm as disappointed as anyone that the Penn State and Oklahoma State games weren't closer. But Narduzzi is still the right guy for Pitt in my mind, without hesitation.
3. I know there's a QB controversy headed into this week - who do you think should be the starter?
I think last week's backup, Ben DiNucci, should and will be the starter. He came into last week's game and made some mistakes. But he was also the only one of the two quarterbacks to have any success in generating offense. I thought his selection would be a slam dunk but this week, Narduzzi made some interesting comments to the effect of quarterbacks that make mistakes not being effective, etc.
That seems to point to Max Browne getting another start. But I think that's an effort to emphasize that DiNucci needs to avoid mistakes and I also think he's trying to throw Georgia Tech off the scent a little. Based on what I've seen in Pitt's three games this year, I would be somewhat surprised if Browne got the start. The only exception in my mind is if DiNucci has a train wreck of a week of practice and Narduzzi's hand is forced. Narduzzi said that this week of practice would figure in but also kind of hinted that a decision was reached - he just isn't letting anyone in on that.
4. What matchup on either side of the ball against Georgia Tech gives you the most concern?
It's not necessarily a matchup, per se, but the thing that I'm most worried about in this game is Pitt's inability to get off the field on third downs. Pitt was awful in that category against Oklahoma State and even 3rd and long wasn't much of a problem for the Cowboys' offense. Pitt is 113th in the nation defensive on third downs allowing teams to convert them nearly 50% of the time. If the Panthers are going to win Saturday, making third down stops will be key. I think Oklahoma State rattled off ten straight 3rd downs to start last week's game against Pitt. I still have a hard time believing that's not a typo.
5. Who are some younger or new players on either side of the ball we should keep an eye out for this Saturday?
On offense besides DiNucci, I'm interested to see what Pitt gets out of running back Chawntez Moss this week. He's a true sophomore and has been hit or miss in terms of playing time. But last weekend, he got the most carries and I expect him to get a good workload even if Qadree Ollison remains the starter. How effective he is will be anybody's guess but he made some plays for Pitt last year and could be key on Saturday. Defensively, watch to see how much Pitt uses cornerback Damar Hamlin in the game. Hamlin was Pitt's top recruit in 2016 but was injured and mostly ineffective last year. Narduzzi indicated that he's finally healthy and should play a lot, which is what Pitt fans have been hoping to hear.
One other thing worth keeping an eye on is Pitt's kicker Alex Kessman. He's the starter despite being only a freshman and has been pretty spotty so far this season. if the game's close, that might not favor Pitt and he's only 2-5 on the year.
6. And finally, how do you see this game going? What's the final score?
I'm not too optimistic Pitt wins this one but I do think Pitt looks better and proves they're not the abysmal team some are predicting. They had two really tough matchups in consecutive weeks and while I'm not sure they win this one, I think it'll be more competitive. I'm just not convinced Pitt has quite the offensive firepower they need to keep up. I'll say something like Georgia Tech 31, Pitt 21.
Thanks to Anson of Cardiac Hill for taking the time to chat with us. We’ll see you at Bobby Dodd for kickoff tomorrow at 12:20. Go Jackets!