Last week's opener against Florida State went about as bad as it could. Other than the first quarter, Pitt simply wasn't competitive. New quarterback Tom Savage was wildly inconsistent and the defense couldn't keep up. Wide receivers Tyler Boyd and Devin Street were two bright spots, but other than that, there weren't many.
But cheer up, folks. Pitt goes from one of their stiffest tests of the year to what could be one of the weaker teams they'll play in New Mexico. Don't get me wrong - if the Panthers don't show up (a la Youngstown State in 2012), they could lose. However, the fact is that it's a game Pitt should win.
New Mexico was 4-9 last year and if this year's start is any indication, they could be in for another long season in 2013. The Lobos are 1-1 but lost to the University of Texas ... at San Antonio, and nearly lost to UTEP this past weekend before eeking out an overtime 42-35. UTEP was only 3-9 last year and aren't by any means world beaters.
Taking a look at New Mexico, the first thing that sticks out is the aptly-named running back Kasey Carrier. At 5'9" and 185, he's a smaller back - think a slightly larger LaRod Stephens-Howling.
Carrier had a killer game against UTEP with 291 yards on only 44 carries and four touchdowns. And if you think that was a one-time occurrence, don't. Carrier may not have had as big a game in his career as he did this past weekend, but with 1,469 yards and 15 touchdowns last year, he's not a one-hit wonder. To say that Pitt's front seven could be tested by him is an understatement.
Fortunately for Pitt's secondary that is still licking its wounds after the Florida State debacle, the passing game isn't nearly as good. New Mexico is averaging a meager 86 yards in the air per game through their first two and if the secondary struggles again, it will be major cause for alarm. The Lobos have used two inexperienced quarterbacks so far this year - junior Clayton Mitchem and sophomore Cole Gautsche. The two have combined for fewer than 400 passing yards in their entire careers.
Gautsche was the starter but suffered a concussion in the team's opener against UTSA and missed last week's game. With 118 yards on the ground in that first game, he is a dual-threat guy. It will be interesting to see when his status is announced since preparing for him will be a bit different than for Mitchem. Mitchem can scramble a little, too, as evidenced by his 51 yards on nine carries against UTEP, but Gautsche appears to be better in that regard.
The Lobos' defense hasn't been real good, either. They've given up a total of 56 points in their first two games to what aren't expected to be very good teams.
New Mexico is also coached by Bob Davie - he of Notre Dame and ESPN fame. So there's that.
For Pitt, it's going to come down to execution. As long as they play their game and limit turnovers, this is a game they should win. Unfortunately, we still won't know the true identity of this team after the game. It's still early for one, and a New Mexico win won't mean all that much in the grand scheme of things.
I'll be looking to see how the linebackers play in pass coverage against what should be a poor passing team. I'm also interested to see what Tom Savage can do in his second game. The competition isn't as stiff and he's also got his first game in three years under his belt. He'll still make some mistakes, but could have a big day.
But Pitt can't afford to sit back in this game and fresh off that four-touchdown beating at the hands of Florida State, it's hard to imagine the team taking anyone lightly at this point. The Lobos could give Pitt a run for their money if the Panthers can't stop Carrier and if Gautsche plays and keeps them guessing. Still, at first glance, this is a game Pitt should win.