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Georgia Tech Football - Opponent Previews: Pittsburgh

A lot of returning experience could make the Panthers a sneaky good team this year.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 02 Pitt at Georgia Tech Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Pittsburgh joined the ACC back in 2013 and has earned a 5-3 series lead against Tech as Coastal foes. Pat Narduzzi has been the head coach for Pitt since 2015 and has won the previous three with his lone loss coming in 2017. Each game has been chippy between these two and with the exception of the 2017 Tech win (35-17) every game has been within two scores.

Last year was the largest margin of victory for Pittsburgh as an ACC opponent with a score of 34-20. Pitt had built a large lead into the 3rd behind a determined Vincent Davis who rushed for 247 yards and a touchdown. His lone touchdown slammed the door shut on a valiant comeback attempt by Tech who pulled within 6 points halfway through the 4th quarter. Most fans of both teams will remember the awkward handshake between Geoff Collins and Pat Narduzzi at the end of the game, but it appears they made peace at the ACC Media Days last week.

Offensive Outlook

Quarterback Kenny Pickett has been taking snaps for Pittsburgh since 2017 and has been the entrenched starter since 2018. He has progressed well into a solid QB but could still stand to improve his touchdown to interception ratio as he threw 13 TDs to 9 INTs the past two seasons. He is expected to start again after missing a few games to injury last year. Arizona State transfer Joey Yellen filled in for Pickett against ND and Miami but had trouble with INTs. He will have to compete against Nick Patti for the backup job.

Pitts has always prided itself with a hard-nosed ground game and all four of their top rushers will be back this season. Vincent Davis led them with 632 yards and 6 touchdowns. He should be one of the better backs in the ACC and will have plenty of depth in AJ Davis and Israel Abanikanda to back him up.

If it wasn’t enough that Pitt brings back all of its rushing production they also return all their top receivers except for DJ Turner who was second in receiving yards. Jordan Addison returns as their lead receiver with 666 yards They should also get a boost from Florida transfer Lucas Krull at tight end who was out for the year after one game last year.

The one unit that will take a hit on the offense this year will be the offensive line. All-ACC players C Jimmy Morrisey and LG Bryce Hargrove will not return which will leave a big hole in the middle for the Panthers. Due to some injuries, the backups did gain some experience late in the season. Perhaps that will ease them into this season but it could take a few weeks before they get going.

Overall, this could be one of the best offenses Pitt will field in the Narduzzi era. It has a ton of experience back and if the line can gel quickly they could put some yards up on opponents. Pitt’s one Achilles Heel has been actually converting those yards into touchdowns but I expect they will improve on that this year.

Defensive Outlook

The defense sported a whopping 46 sacks last season and a lot of that was thanks to 1st Team All-American Rashad Weaver (7.5 sacks) and 2nd Team All-American Patrick Jones (9 sacks). Unfortunately for Pitt, both defensive ends have moved on to the NFL. The linebacking core brings back the starters and their backups which should keep the production from falling too far.

The secondary will take the biggest hit on this team with the losses of Paris Ford, who opted out midseason last year, along with Damar Hamlin and Jason Pinnock who were both drafted in the later rounds. Brandon Hill did perform admirably in place of Ford so not all is bleak but their 246 passing yards allowed per game may increase this year.

Special Teams

Pitt will be looking to replace a lot of productions here as well. Kicker Alex Kessman who went 23 for 29 on field goals last year will be departing. His long-distance power will be missed as he nailed 4 of 5 attempts from 50+ with the longest being 58 yards. DJ Turner was Pitt’s Punt and Kick Returner and he will be taking his 436 return yards with him. Punting will still be in good hands with Christodoulou who got plenty of practice with 53 punts last year. It will be hard to decide who will take over for placekicker as all the new candidates are freshmen with no experience.

Season Outlook

Pitt was picked by the media to finish fourth in the Coastal this year and I see that as their bottom with as much production as they return. Turnovers have stalled their offense before but they are due for some better luck this year. UNC might be a bit much to overcome but don’t be surprised if this team pushes for a close second. Who knows, Pitt has been known to play spoiler a time or two.