Pitt Football Primer: Capel Faithful Stops By to Preview Pitt-Cuse

By Capel Faithful Team, Dylan Mitchell

The Pittsburgh Panthers are 1-0. That’s right. As of September 18, 2020, the Pittsburgh Panthers are 1-0 and ranked #25 in the country. The month of August was a rollercoaster, with every passing day seeming to have it’s own groundbreaking development as to whether or not we would see college football this Fall. Somehow, we made it, and all that matters is that the Pittsburgh Panthers are indeed, 1-0.

The season opener, albeit an absolute massacre, was about as much as Pitt fans could ask for. An FCS opponent made the trip to the North Shore, got pushed around for 50 minutes (yes, only 50 minutes due to a mercy rule agreement), and got sent packing. Pat Narduzzi’s defense pitched a shutout and Kenny Pickett led the offense to touchdowns on their first six offensive drives.

5 Questions heading into Syracuse game:

  • Is Vegas right?
    • This season looks a little different for everyone, and that includes handicappers. In many instances, we are not finding out until gameday that key players are missing from the lineup. With that being said, multiple books have the Panthers as -22 point favorites. This number is growing, as the opening line had Pitt -19.5. According to OddsShark.com, this is the heaviest a Pitt team has been favored over an ACC opponent since Nov. 26, 2016. The opponent? Syracuse. The O/U in that game was 66.0, which Pitt hit by themselves in the 76-61 shootout. Of course, they did not cover despite scoring 76 points because, well, Pitt.
  • Can the Syracuse offensive line hold up?
    • When Pitt traveled to The Carrier Dome last year, they left with a win in large part due to the nine sacks they had on Orange quarterbacks. Everyone knows the defensive line is THE unit on this Pitt team, so they are expected to dominate regardless of opponent. Couple that with the fact that Syracuse is starting a converted fullback at left guard, and you have a recipe for chaos. The Syracuse offense was only able to muster six points last week, while UNC sacked Tommy Devito seven times. Can Pitt beat that number? I think it will.
  • Who will be available?
    • This is going to be a question that is unfortunately going to come up every week. Rashad Weaver missed the opener after a positive test, and 6 others missed due to COVID protocols. Besides Weaver, we don’t know who missed due to positive tests and who missed due to contact tracing. According to ACC protocols, a player is out 10 days after their most recent positive test, and 14 days as a result of contact tracing. By this logic, I can’t imagine any of the guys who sat out last week will be available on Saturday, but I also don’t think anyone outside of the South Side facility has a good grip on what these protocols actually look like. Either way, we will probably find out Saturday morning that a handful of players will not be suiting up.
  • What will the running game look like?
    • Maybe the biggest question mark on this Pitt team coming into the season was the running back situation. Pitt has two veterans who came into the program as Under Armour All-Americans in AJ Davis and Todd Sibley, neither of whom have shown anything more than a few flashes of competence in their careers thus far. The other three guys fighting for carries are younger, but Vincent Davis, Daniel Carter, and Israel Abanikanda have all shown the potential to steal some of the carries away from those older guys. So what does it look like this week? Although each of the backs had some success in the game against Austin Peay, I do not think you can say anyone earned the starting job outright. Vincent Davis has seemed to be the guy who makes the most people miss and breaks the most tackles, but I am not sure he is big enough to carry the ball 20-25 times a game. Daniel Carter is a big back who may have earned a short yardage role. As of Friday, Pitt has announced Davis as the starter, but that doesn’t change much. My prediction: we will see more of the same with the running back by committee approach, but expect to see a youth movement as the season goes on.
  • Is Pickett for real?
    • The consensus as we approached the season seemed to be that the defense will be elite, so the fate of the season relies on how big of a step the offense takes in Mark Whipple’s second year calling plays. In many fans’ eyes, that means Pitt’s success ultimately rests in the hands of Kenny Pickett. Entering his third full season as QB1, it is time to put up or shut up for the senior from New Jersey. I have been an ardent Pickett believer and supporter since his first start, the upset against No. 2-ranked Miami in 2017. I think he’s shown athleticism, grit and pinpoint accuracy in spurts. He’s also shown that he can be the best player on the field, evidenced by the OT win over UNC last season. All of that said, he threw for only 25 TDs and 15 INTs over the previous two seasons, so I understand the doubt from others. Pickett had no issues picking apart the overmatched Austin Peay secondary last week, going 14-20 for 277 yards in one half of football, despite the receivers continuing last year’s theme of dropping balls that land directly in their hands. He should have had 2 more passing TDs, but whatever. Now we get to see him do it again, this time against an ACC defense. Sure, the Syracuse defense is not on-par with what he goes up against everyday in practice, but they did hold UNC to 10 points in the first 3 quarters of last week’s game. They also boast their own All-ACC Safety in Andre Cisco. I am all aboard the Kenny Pickett Hype Train. Hell, I may as well be the conductor. I am ready to see him duplicate last week’s performance, just this time against a formidable opponent.

Score Prediction: Pitt 34 – Syracuse 13

Editor’s Note (Kyle Dawson): The Capel Faithful team will be joining us for Pitt Panthers Commentary following Pitt football games this season on the COMON Network website. Be sure to check back for the team and our guys’ thoughts on each Pitt Panther contest, starting this Saturday with Pitt-Syracuse.

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