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Pitt faces another tough test in No. 15 UCF

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NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Penn State Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

From one ranked opponent to the next.

After a challenging game against Top 15 ranked Penn State this past weekend, the Panthers will line right back up for another one against now No. 15 UCF.

When Pitt made the schedule with the Knights, they couldn’t have envisioned how difficult the game would be. And to play it in the same season as a game against Penn State just really makes the Panthers’ non-conference schedule incredibly tough. That said, you line up and better be ready to play.

In UCF, Pitt will face an explosive offense. The Knights are a perfect 3-0 and have lit up the scoreboard this year. Some folks might have dismissed them hanging 62 up against FAMU and then 48 against FAU. But the Knights dominated Stanford last week in a 45-27 game and confirmed that their offense works just as well against P5 programs.

Pitt, of course, already knows that. The Panthers were blown out last year in a lopsided 45-14 loss to UCF.

The Panthers may not win Saturday but the game should be more competitive. Particularly if the team plays as well on defense as it did last weekend against Penn State.

Sure, the Panthers get the game at home but the real reason Pitt might be able to hang with the Knights this time around is because of a stingy defense. Statistically, the Panthers’ defense is still a bit underrated, thanks to giving up 30 points to a Virginia team that worked mostly on short fields. But, make no mistake, the Panthers’ defense has the ability to keep them in games as we saw last weekend.

Pitt’s problem isn’t preventing points — it’s scoring them. Thus far, Pitt is averaging a meager 14.7 points per game. To be fair, the competition has been tough with the Panthers facing strong defenses in Virginia and Penn State. But nevertheless, Pitt has found scoring points a bit of a challenge even while they’ve been able to move the ball.

The good news is that the Panthers’ passing game is clicking with quarterback Kenny Pickett putting together back-to-back 300-yard games — something that would have seemed unheard of before. The bad? Pitt’s rushing attack has been nonexistent, making the offense one-dimensional.

Trying to figure out what we get in this game is anybody’s guess. Pitt hanging with Central Florida doesn’t seem out of reach after what they accomplished last weekend against Penn State. Conversely, a blowout loss isn’t, either, given what the Knights have done offensively this season and how Pitt has struggled to score points on their own.

Pitt’s chances, as I suspect will be the case much of this season, will rely greatly on what the defense can do. The only question is if they can get enough help from an offense that has moved the ball but not put enough points on the board to show for it.

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