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2018 Opponent Q&A: Pitt

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A Q&A with Cardiac Hill

Georgia Tech v Pittsburgh Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Each week we’ll be chatting with our sister SBNation blog for an insider’s preview of our weekly opponent. This week, we talked with Anson Whaley of the Pittsburg Panthers blog, Cardiac Hill.

1) PItt looked every bit like they were going to hang with PSU for the first half and make it a game. Besides the offense stalling in the monsoon conditions, what happened to Pitt’s defense in the second half? I flipped over to this game every now and then and couldn’t believe how fast Pitt fell apart after a strong first half.

I think what we saw was just a snowball effect as well as the realization that the offense wasn’t going to get Pitt back in it. The Panthers had been able to run the ball effectively but that wasn’t going to lead to the type of points they needed to keep up. That was especially true once Penn State realized Pitt had zero ability to throw the ball on a pretty wet night. The Panthers have questions in the passing game as it is even in perfect conditions but the rainy night made it impossible for them to do anything. I think the air kind of went out of the tires once Penn State got up by about 20 points. It was pretty clear that Pitt was out of the game by then.

Plus, I don’t think the defense had much left in the tank after repeatedly being on the field. Head coach Pat Narduzzi talked about a stretch where Pitt had five straight three and outs and it gets tough to ask the defense to make plays when they’re out there so much. As we saw in the first half, there’s not really that kind of disparity between the two teams. But unfortunately, it was one of those games where once Pitt got behind, things just sort of snowballed and got out of control.

2) What is your realistic expectation for the Panthers this season? How long is Narduzzi’s leash if it’s another finish toward the bottom of the Coastal?

Most national pundits said Pitt was going to have a rebuilding year and I sort of agreed. I could see how they broke through and maybe got to eight wins if everything broke right but that would be tough. The team has an experienced front seven and a senior-laden offensive line with what looks to be an okay running game, but there are a lot of questions. Kenny Pickett has only a few games of experience at quarterback and unproven receivers. The secondary still has breakdowns. And, as we saw against Penn State with another missed extra point, snap/hold issues, and punting problems, special teams needs work. Plus, with five ranked opponents on the schedule, that makes it even tougher. I still think 7-5 is possible but there’s clearly a lot of work to be done if Pitt wants to even achieve that.

I don’t know that this year will necessarily be the end of Narduzzi unless it’s bad beyond belief. But I do think his seat would be warmer if it’s another 5-6 win year. He seems to have a great relationship with Pitt’s AD Heather Lyke, but Lyke has been quick to push underperforming coaches out the door, too. Pitt’s baseball team had its best year in the ACC and did well in the conference tournament and still let its longtime head coach go. I think Narduzzi is probably safe regardless of what happens this season but he probably needs to show marked improvement in 2019.

3) From the little I’ve seen, Pickett seems to be a serviceable QB, but without a very high ceiling. Do you expect him to improve as the season progresses? Or does he even have enough talent around him in the OL and WRs to see much improvement?

I fully expect Pickett to get better. Many people don’t realize it but he was a true freshman last year and, even after this year’s games, only has about four games under his belt. Pickett will get better if only by default.

It’s really tough to say what his ceiling is. Narduzzi publicly said that he had the best camp of any quarterback he’s had here, and that included Nathan Peterman, who is in the NFL now (though, admittedly, not playing very well). But with such a lack of experience, I need to see more. He seems to have the tools, though. He’s mobile and has a decent arm. I don’t know that he’ll ever be great but he’s at least capable. He’s behind an offensive line with four seniors but his receivers are very unproven. As a result, questions still surround the passing game.

4) If the defense is expected to rebound against the flexbone this week, who will have to have a good game in order to make that happen?

I honestly think Pitt should be pretty prepared for Georgia Tech this week. The strength of the team is the front seven and that’s what’s going to be the most important. In particular, Pitt’s linebackers, Oluwaseun Idowu, Quintin Wirginis, and the combination of Saleem Brightwell/Elijah Zeise are going to be in the spotlight. All four are upperclassmen and three are seniors. That, in and of itself, doesn’t make them great. But the unit is very solid and has at least seen Georgia Tech quite a few times by now.

A point was also made in the press conference for this week about who’s going to be the guy to step up and replace NFL Draft pick safety Jordan Whitehead. Whitehead was instrumental as a run-stopper and had seven tackles in last year’s game. There’s no doubt that some help will be needed from the secondary, too.

5) For us Tech fans traveling to Pittsburg for the game, we have a decent amount of folks in the area, where are some places we should eat and drink before and after?

If you’re looking to stay near the stadium and then have a short walk over, there are several decent options that are close by. I’m a fan of Rivertowne, which has pretty good food, is nearby and brews its own beer. Former Steelers running back Jerome Bettis also has a restaurant nearby, which is decent.

6) Finally, how do you see this game going? Who wins and why?

I don’t know that Pitt will win this weekend but I like their chances if the weather is decent. As mentioned, Pitt’s front seven is really the strength of the team and that’s going to be the key to stopping Georgia Tech’s offense. My biggest question is if the offense will be able to keep up and score enough points. The Panthers also get the game at home and should be able to do more on offense this week. Pitt has beaten Georgia Tech twice since joining the conference but never by big margins. I’m going to take the Panthers here, 28-24.

Thanks again to Anson for taking the time to answer some questions for us. Y’all make sure to swing by Cardiac Hill and say hello. Kick is at 12:30 tomorrow. Go Jackets!