We've had lots of good game coverage this week, so I'm going to keep this one pretty brief. But I did want to touch on a few thoughts before Saturday's game.
Not sure why, but I've got the same feeling I had before the South Florida game. I picked Pitt to win that one, though not by the wild margin it ended up. I just thought that at home with a night game atmosphere, that Pitt would be ready to play. They were and 44-17 happened.
The Panthers disappoint on a lot of levels, but have definitely come out to play against big opponents when playing at home. They did that in the USF game, against Notre Dame in a night game two years ago, and against WVU in a big game the year before. There are exceptions, obviously - the Miami debacle last season as probably the biggest example. I don't count the blowout loss to WVU last year as one of those, though, because the team flat out quit by that point, as alluded to by others.There are lots of reasons to go against Pitt in this game. They're playing without Ray Graham, Lucas Nix, while expected back, is questionable, and Cincinnati has a potent offense. But I also think Pitt has a good chance in this game.
Pitt is 3-1 in home night games over the past three seasons and while I typically dismiss stats like these, I think playing a big home game at night is an advantage.
The Panthers also showed signs that they may be turning things around on offense as they had another good game against UConn. The talk about the offensive
sieve line has been there all season, but the line play was actually much better last week against a good UConn defense. And while the Graham injury is huge, I was encouraged by the fact that the team found a way to utilize the short pass and Zach Brown fit right in catching the ball out of the backfield.
Looking at the other team, I just am not all that sold on Cincinnati. Yes, they're 6-1, and yes, the offense is doing an incredible job. But they're not a perfect team and if Pitt's defense can harass Zach Collaros into some poor decisions, he's shown over the past games (when he's thrown six picks) that he's not immune to an interception or two.
Here's my key for the game: Pitt needs to keep Cincinnati to field goals and get them out of the end zone. We've heard all season about a high-octane offense, but Pitt, for the most part, isn't there yet. They make too many mistakes for me to see them win a shootout.
And here's the thing - they've not done that all season. In the two games where Pitt's offense exceeded expectations (South Florida and UConn), the defense has played well enough where it didn't turn into a high scoring affair. The Panthers' offense put up those big numbers with little pressure to do so. They proved they can play, but we've also seen how they've fared when they needed late drives. In the games against Iowa and Notre Dame, needing to put up points late, the team failed miserably.
If the game's a shootout, I don't see Pitt winning. But if the defense keeps things close and Pitt doesn't need to score late, then I think a win is within reach.
My prediction? Don't get me wrong, Pitt can play plenty well and still lose. But I do have faith the defense will be ready play and regardless of the outcome, expect this to be a close game. Pitt 24, Cincinnati 20.