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Midseason takeaways from the Pitt football team

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NCAA Football: Delaware at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt’s football team is officially through the midway point in the season. Corey did a great job breaking things down in his recent podcast and I wanted to throw some thoughts together as well.

To date, of course, Pitt is 4-2 on the season. Now, this isn’t to suggest there isn’t room for improvement. After all, the offense is still questionable with a nonexistent running game at times. The kicking has been suspect. Oh, and a boneheaded coaching decision at Penn State could arguably have cost the team their best win of the year.

But if you take only the record and the Division, given the schedule, Pitt’s football team is doing fairly well.

The biggest disappointment so far was probably the Virginia game. Not only did that get the year off to a bad start but it also put the Panthers effectively two games behind the Cavaliers in the Division race. But with Virginia losing this past weekend, Pitt remains right in the thick of things. And even if Pitt can’t win the Division, there remains plenty to be happy about so far.

The overwhelming takeaway I have midway through the year is that, while I believe this is a good football team, they are abundantly fortunate to have the record they do.

While Pitt is 4-2, they could just as easily be 2-4 or even 1-5. The Panthers squeaked by UCF, winning by one after blowing a 21-7 lead. They then beat Delaware by only three after missing their starting quarterback and several other starters, needing to rally from a fourth-quarter deficit in that one, too. Following that, the team blew a 26-3 lead to Duke before scoring on a final drive to steal one. In all, Pitt won those three games by a meager seven points and trailed late in all of them.

That might strike fear into the hearts of a lot of fans waiting for the other shoe to drop. But here’s the thing — the worst is effectively behind Pitt.

The Panthers don’t exactly have a cakewalk of a schedule. They still have to face Miami and Virginia Tech, after all, while trying to solve the riddle that is North Carolina. But Pitt has the Hurricanes and Tar Heels at home, and the Hokies are hardly as good as they’ve been in past years. The Panthers also have winnable contests against Boston College and Georgia Tech after the Syracuse matchup.

In short, the second half of the schedule has a more pleasant look than the first half. I wouldn’t exactly call it running downhill but there do not appear to be any games that are utterly unwinnable.

Now, I do not believe Pitt will run the table. They’ve had too many close contests and are still looking for a running game six games in. And given that these are conference games, it just doesn’t seem like the Panthers will go unbeaten the rest of the way. But Pitt should have a legitimate look at eight regular season wins with an outside shot at nine if the offense makes strides. Throw in a bowl win, which, admittedly has been elusive under head coach Pat Narduzzi, and you suddenly have a very nice year.

The toughest remaining game is probably Miami, in my book. But the Hurricanes have real questions at quarterback and I can see Pitt’s defense sort of overwhelming whoever gets under center on that particular day. Both of their quarterbacks, Jarren Williams and N’Kosi Perry, have been okay but have struggled against the better teams they’ve faced. Perry, for some reason, got all kinds of credit merely for not crapping on himself against Virginia with a completely mediocre performance at home (16-27 for 182 yards and a touchdown while being sacked three times). I think that Pitt’s defense could make things hard for him but we’ll see.

So back to Pitt. Where are the question marks, exactly?

Along with maybe kicker, that aforementioned running game is probably the biggest one. A.J. Davis and Vincent Davis, the team’s top two backs at one point, have had injury issues. But even when they were playing, the rushing attack was a mixed bag. And trying to figure out the severity of injuries among players on Narduzzi’s team is like trying to steal international trade secrets. Todd Sibley has done okay as the lead dog for now but no one has a tight grip on the job. Perhaps Pitt can continue to win without much of a running game but I’m not sure I’m counting on that. Something tells me that, somewhere along the line, Pitt will need to more there if they want to keep winning these close games.

The flipside to that optimistic finish I mentioned earlier is that the team’s luck runs out, and all of the close wins they had suddenly are balanced out with close losses in the final six games. I wouldn’t exactly call 6-6 likely with the schedule but something like that remains entirely possible.

The rest of Pitt’s year is in their collective hands. The good news is that, to this point in the season, they’ve done quite well for themselves with a 4-2 record.

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