After a bye week, Pitt gets back to playing football this weekend against the North Carolina Tar Heels.
With both teams at 4-5 could be a bit of a bowl elimination game of sorts. Each team can still reach the postseason with a loss, but each has difficult road games ahead. The Tar Heels have to travel to face rival Duke while Pitt heads to Miami in their season finale. Whoever wins Saturday's contest has a good chance to reach bowl eligibility.
If Pitt wants to win, it's all about slowing down the Tar Heels' potent offense. North Carolina ranks 27th in the nation, scoring more than 35 points per game. Of particular note is their passing attack, which ranks 22nd, totaling nearly 300 yards per contest. With only 131 rushing yards per game (ranking 103rd), the Tar Heels don't run the ball well. But if Pitt wants to win, they'll need strong play from the secondary. Those guys will be facing perhaps the best passing team they've seen all season.
And with a depleted secondary (starting safety Terrish Webb is out for the season), things could get even more difficult for those guys.
If you're a fan of shootout games like the Panthers' last contest against Duke, this could be another one of those. For as good as North Carolina has been on offense, their defense has been equally bad. The Tar Heels rank right near the bottom of the NCAAs, allowing 42 points per game. As bad as the Panthers' defense was last week, North Carolina's has been worse all season. Three times, they've allowed teams to reach at least 50 points, and they gave up 70 to East Carolina. They also allowed 47 to Miami in their last game. If nothing else, Pitt should be able to score some points - lots of them, in fact.
Before you get too optimistic, they've also faced stiffer competition than Pitt has in games against Notre Dame, Clemson, and Miami. North Carolina has allowed a ton of points, but likely isn't as bad as the stats indicate. Don't get me wrong - they haven't held anybody in check (the fewest points they've allowed all season was 27 to San Diego State). But I'm not sure they're the absolute worst team in D-I on defense, either. Flip their schedule with Pitt's and they probably rank significantly higher.
Against common opponents, the Tar Heels have the slight edge. North Carolina lost to Virginia Tech, a team Pitt beat, but also beat Georgia Tech and Virginia - two teams to which the Panthers lost.
The big thing for me is going to see how Pitt responds after the Duke game. They can easily stick a fork in their season for the next three games after the demoralizing loss against Duke. Or, they can rebound and try to still make a bowl game. It's really difficult to see a postseason of any sort if they don't beat North Carolina, so you'd like to think they won't be packing things in just yet. There's still a lot of value in making a bowl game and with the Division title all but out the window, they need to focus on extending their season.
Trying to pick this game is a bit like trying to pick the better quarterback between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Well, I mean, only with bad teams. It's kind of a toss up here and with a back and forth game a strong possibility, it might come down to who has the ball last.
If you're a betting man, you need to absolutely run from this game.
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