Pitt Preview (At Boston College)
By Dylan Mitchell, Capel Faithful Team
Pitt ripped our hearts out last week with a soul-crushing loss that this fanbase is much too accustomed to. This week, the 3-1 Panthers will try to rebound against a 2-1 Boston College team that struggled against Texas State but put up a fight against the 8th-ranked UNC Tar Heels. If Pitt can bounce back and get a win, they will move to 4-1 before a big road matchup with the Miami Hurricanes. If not, this season could get ugly very quickly.
Thoughts heading into Saturday…
Pickett vs Jurkovec: Who wins the QB battle?
The quarterback matchup is the most intriguing storyline heading into Saturday’s game. Pickett has been a polarizing figure through his first three years in Pittsburgh. While he is starting to gain attention from NFL scouts as a future Sunday player, there is still a large segment of the Pitt fan base that thinks he is the catalyst of their mediocrity. Phil Jurkovec on the other hand was someone who Pitt fans hoped may be a savior for this program before he spurned the Panthers for Notre Dame out of high school, then once more when entering the transfer portal before ultimately electing to play for Jeff Hafley and Boston College. Jurkovec has started only three games thus far in his college career, two of which he has thrown for 300+ yards. For comparison’s sake, Pickett has thrown for 300+ yards 7 times in a little over two full seasons as a starter.
A loss to BC would do more than put another tally in the loss column. It would amplify Pitt fans’ obsession with Jurkovec and how Narduzzi couldn’t bring him home not once, but twice. Was there much mutual interest between Pitt and Jurkovec when he entered the portal? I’m not sure there is as much as #PittTwitter would lead you to believe. What I do know is that Phil is a Western Pennsylvania high school legend, and his name will be remembered around here for a long time regardless of how the rest of his playing career pans out. For Narduzzi’s sake, I hope this vaunted defensive line can have a bounce back game and force Jurkovec into making some mistakes. Can the veteran Pickett prevail? We’ll see this Saturday.
Is the defense figured out?
Now, I don’t want to overreact with this statement, but last week’s performance has to have Pitt fans a little worried about how this defense will look for the rest of the season. Through three weeks this looked like a defense that could make the case as the best in the country. Could it have just been an off day? Sure. There are some things, though, that NC State was able to exploit that I am certain other teams will be dissecting in film sessions. There were several times where Pitt shot itself in the foot with penalties, but not all of the mistakes were self-inflicted. For one, the defensive line that was being praised as one of the best units in the country got virtually no pressure on NC State quarterback Devin Leary, which allowed him to carve up the defense for 336 yards and 4 TDs. Pitt was only able to register two sacks on Saturday, and only 0.5 sacks combined between Patrick Jones II and Rashad Weaver. When the two ends are neutralized, the rest of the unit looks average. NC State did a great job of getting passes out quickly, which definitely factored into the low sack totals. They also took advantage of Randy Bates’ aggressive man-to-man coverages with the cornerbacks, particularly picking on Marquis Williams. At only 5’9” 175 lbs, Williams does not fit the mold of the big, physical cornerbacks that this defense likes to have. This was evident on multiple big plays throughout the game, where Williams was either getting beat on 50-50 balls or getting called for pass interference trying to make a play. Jason Pinnock was also beat by a back shoulder throw on the game winning TD for NC State. I am not ready to panic about the defense just yet, but I also know that Devin Leary is far from the best quarterback the Panthers will face this season.
What are realistic goals for the 2020 season?
In this year of the pandemic, it really is a blessing just to be watching college football. At one point, I was certain we would never get to watch the 2020 Pitt Panthers play, and that hurt considering all of the hype surrounding this year’s squad. Then, watching this team blast out of the gates at 3-0 and starting to gain some attention nationally, I felt like we might legitimately see a magical run from the most talented team of the Narduzzi-era. Then, Pitt happened. They lost a game where everyone figured they would win. A game that would have propelled them to the program’s first 4-0 start since 2000. A game that simply felt way too familiar. So now what?
To take a step back, Pitt’s strength of schedule had a sharp increase when the ACC realigned to a 10+1 model. A large reason for the optimism surrounding this season was the fact that Pitt would finally face a non-conference schedule where they would be favored in each and every game. Instead, Pitt dropped games against the likes of Miami, (OH), Marshall, and Richmond and added games against Louisville and Clemson. Before the schedule realignment, it seemed like the consensus was that a 10-win season and/or an ACC Championship game appearance were lofty but attainable goals. Once the new schedule was released, and 3 of the 11 games came at Miami, at Clemson, and at home against Notre Dame, those goals became a bit more foggy. An ACC Championship appearance still felt attainable, but who knows if even a 2-loss team will get into the title game?
So that leaves me with my original question – what are realistic goals for the 2020 season? 10-1 or 9-2 would be miraculous. In my eyes, 8-3 would be a great success. That means you beat at least one of Miami, Notre Dame, or Clemson and avoid any real letdowns for the rest of the year. 7-4 would feel a lot like 7-5, which makes me want to puke. Six or fewer wins would be the biggest underachievement of the Narduzzi-era, and the only thing that would save his job is COVID-19. After last week, 8 wins feels like an uphill battle, but if this team is really as good as we thought they were just two weeks ago… we’ve got a shot.
Prediction: Pitt 30 – Boston College 23