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At First Glance: Previewing Pitt's next opponent - the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

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Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

With a Homecoming win against Virginia on Saturday, Pitt takes a 4-1 record into an ACC clash with Georgia Tech next weekend.

Here's a look at the Yellow Jackets.

Record/Schedule

Georgia Tech comes into the contest with a 2-4 mark. The Yellow Jackets are easily the disappointment of the ACC after being picked by many to win the Division and even challenge for a conference title. After scoring 134 points in their first two games this season, the Yellow Jackets have stumbled miserably against more difficult competition and has lost four straight games. The offense is still scoring points, but the team has been unable to play much defense, giving up at least 30 points in each of their four losses.

Most Recent Game

In the beginning of the season, the Georgia Tech-Clemson clash looked like a great matchup. But Georgia Tech entered with a 2-3 record and was easily beaten by 19 points by the Tigers on the road. They fell behind 26-3 early and at one point, were even down 40-10.

Standouts

Quarterback Justin Thomas hasn't been nearly the player many expected him to be entering the year. But despite a conference worst 45.2 percent completion rate, he is still capable of making plays. Thomas has only three interceptions to nine passing touchdowns on the year. In the option offense, he is a threat, too, and has more than 200 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns to his credit.

Neither of the team's top two running backs are among the conference leaders, but both are in the Top 15. Combined, Patrick Skov and Marcus Marshall have racked up just over 600 yards and seven touchdowns.

Defensively, cornerback D.J. White has been one of the best in the conference at forcing turnovers. Through only six games, he has two interceptions and a forced fumble.

Strengths

The option offense is perhaps the best thing Georgia Tech has going for it. Pat Narduzzi says he hasn't defended against it in more than a decade and it's just one of those quirky things that teams don't see all that often. No matter how bad Georgia Tech has looked lately, you just never know how well a team will react to seeing it. And as you would expect, Georgia Tech is among the best rushing teams in the nation, checking in at ninth overall.

Because of that ground attack that makes up so much of their offense, they control the ball. Georgia Tech averages a time of possession over 33 minutes per contest, good for 13th in the nation.

The Yellow Jackets are also a pretty disciplined team. Averaging fewer than three penalties per game, they actually lead the entire nation in that category. The 24.67 penalty yards they average per game is also tops in the FBS.

Weaknesses

As mentioned, Thomas has had some accuracy issues. His three interceptions are manageable, but as stated, his 45.2 completion percentage is the worst in the conference - and it's not even close. No other quarterback with at least 25 completions is even below 50%. In an option, you might not expect Thomas to air it out a ton. But you wouldn't expect him to be so inaccurate on the few times he does pass it, though. That's also significantly lower than what he did in his first two years when he was slightly over 50% in each season. Make no mistake - this one will be almost entirely about the ability to stop the option.

The Yellow Jackets' defense has had a rough time of things lately as well. In their past four games, they've given up just over 36 points per contest. To be fair, the competition (Notre Dame, Duke, North Carolina, and Clemson) hasn't been easy. However, giving up at least 30 points each time out makes it difficult to consider them a strong defensive unit.

In addition, Georgia Tech hasn't been good on third downs, either. The Yellow Jackets have completed only 31% of their third down attempts, ranking 119th in the nation.

Prognosis

This is not an ideal game for Pitt. The Yellow Jackets have lost four in a row and if they have any hopes of winning the Division at all, this is basically a must win. Their backs are up against the wall and they're playing at home with an offense that Pitt rarely sees.

Another area of concern is that it's difficult to tell how good/bad they are exactly with such a difficult schedule. Georgia Tech is one of those teams that isn't likely as bad as its record and a more favorable schedule probably means a better record.

That said, Georgia Tech is really in disarray. Games against Notre Dame and Clemson were going to be difficult, but the Yellow Jackets couldn't defeat North Carolina and Duke, either. Pitt, meanwhile, enters the game on a roll and while they aren't blowing teams out, either, they are winning.

What I like here is that Pitt's defense is playing very well right now and the Georgia Tech offense is very one-dimensional. If they can figure out the option offense, things should fall into place. Georgia Tech's defense has had some issues and that should mean Pitt's offense scores some points. Nathan Peterman is getting more comfortable and a healthy Chris James will help things, too. This is a tough game to predict and it's not as easy as saying it's a 4-1 team vs. one that is 2-4. But the Panthers also have some experience playing in tough road environments this year with games against Iowa and Virginia Tech.

The Panthers may not get out of Georgia Tech with a win but they look plenty capable of winning, too.

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