By Dylan Mitchell, Capel Faithful Team

The 24th-ranked Pitt Panthers (3-0, 2-0) will host the NC State Wolfpack (1-1, 1-1) in an ACC matchup this Saturday at noon at Heinz Field. This is the third-straight noon game, and fourth-straight home game for the Panthers. Pitt will try to build off a 23-20 win over Louisville last week, while NC State will try to rebound from a 45-24 defeat at the hands of Virginia Tech.

5 thoughts heading into Saturday:

  • Can Pitt avoid looking ahead?
    • As a fan, it’s impossible to ignore hypotheticals. At 3-0, Pitt has two more games they should be favored in before a road trip to Miami, who is currently ranked 8th in the country. Pitt could very well be sitting at 5-0 two weeks from now. As a Pitt fan, I also know not to get my hopes up and to take things one game at a time. Can Pat Narduzzi keep these guys level and avoid a letdown against NC State or Boston College? Can the players avoid looking ahead to Miami and Notre Dame? Ironically, Miami was the game that took some wind out of the sails last year when Pitt had a chance to really take control of the Coastal. These next two weeks are trap games. If we can avoid the trap, things are going to get very fun, very fast.
  • Is the #24 ranking a sign of disrespect?
    • Many Pitt players took to Twitter after the AP poll was released where they found themselves ranked 24th. With the addition of Big Ten teams to the polls, Pitt dropped three spots despite getting a victory over a ranked opponent. In normal years, Pitt almost certainly would have risen a few spots. However, I don’t think it should come as a surprise that the pollsters are slotting Ohio State, Penn State, etc. back into their rankings. I don’t think this is a sign of disrespect, as this is an odd year and it is going to be tough to rank teams when everyone has been playing on a different schedule. I will be interested to see just how long the voters are willing to keep 0-0 teams ahead of some of these undefeated squads who started in mid-September. If Pitt gets to 5-0, I will start to feel some type of way about being ranked behind a team who hasn’t stepped on the field yet. Regardless, I love that the players are taking this as a sign of disrespect. Please give this defense another reason to be pissed off.
  • Abanikanda, Izzy the answer?
    • Pitt’s offense ran for 159 yards against Louisville in the win last week. Vincent Davis showed toughness and burst on a few different plays, but also lost 12 yards on a dropped Wildcat snap that buried an offensive drive before it got started. He finished with 14 carries for 47 yards (3.4 avg). If you go to Twitter, the overwhelming favorite of Pitt fans right now is true freshman Israel Abanikanda. A lot of the optimism may have to do with the fact that we have not seen much of the freshman from New York, as he did not see a carry against Syracuse. It’s not all wishful thinking though. Izzy had 9 carries for 41 yards (4.6 avg) last Saturday, and is averaging 4.8 YPC on the season. On top of that, he “looks the part” more than any other back on the roster. At 5’11”, 200 lbs, he has prototypical size for an FBS tailback, and looks to have good burst when he gets space. I’m sure there is a learning curve with pass blocking and other smaller details that we as fans don’t see on TV once a week, but it’s apparent that this is a guy who can tote the rock. I would like to see the coaching staff let him loose this week and see if we’ve found our answer at running back.
  • Who will be “the guy” on defense this week?
    • In back to back weeks, Pitt defensive ends have claimed National Defensive Player of the Week honors. Rashad Weaver was named the Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week after his 7 tackle, 3 TFL, 2 sack performance against Syracuse. Last week, Patrick Jones II was named the Chuck Bednarik Award National Defensive Player of the Week after tallying 3 sacks against Louisville. Can the defense make it a three-peat? It’s no secret that the entire defense has been absolutely balling through three games. It can be tough to shine when so many guys are making plays. Paris Ford would be the easy pick here, and I’m sure he’ll do multiple things this week that leave your jaw on the floor. However, I’m going to go with his defensive backfield mate, team captain Damar Hamlin. Hamlin made a great play on the ball on his interception against Louisville for the 5th of his college career. I say we see another turnover for the senior from Central Catholic this week, along with a handful of tackles and another all-around solid performance from the defense. What do you say, Captain?
  • Will the offense turn the corner?
    • Pitt’s lackluster offense thus far is the elephant in the room. After blowing out Austin Peay, Pitt has scored 21 and 23 points in two ACC games. If Pitt didn’t have their best defensive unit in years, they likely would have lost at least one of these games. That’s scary. Kenny Pickett mentioned in his postgame press conference last week that he thought the offense was “a few plays away,” and I don’t disagree. At some point, they need to start making these few plays. Too many drops, too many penalties, and not enough chunk plays where a running back or receiver makes something happen. The addition of Taysir Mack last week was big, and I only expect him to contribute more as he gets back into a rhythm. With the lack of depth and experience at tight end, I say we see more of that four WR look they came out in last week. Pickett has shown the ability to extend plays with his legs and scramble for decent yardage when he needs to. Mark Whipple needs to open up the playbook and make something happen this week. This is an NC State team that has given up 42 points and 45 points in the first two weeks of the season. If the offense can’t go out and score at least 30 points, I think Pitt fans are going to start feeling pretty uneasy about the rest of the season.

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