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Pitt football hopes to finish season above .500 with finale against Georgia Tech

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Georgia Tech Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Pitt football team wraps up its regular season on Thursday night with a game against Georgia Tech.

The Panthers’ regular season, of course, was expected to be concluded by now. However, the game was scheduled to take place a few weeks ago and was postponed due to COVID protocols.

For Pitt and head coach Pat Narduzzi, it’s a fairly important game. The Panthers don’t need to win the game to become bowl-eligible since the standard .500 qualification to get into a bowl has been waived for this season. But it is one that can put them over the .500 mark and give them a winning year.

We should be clear — this wasn’t a great year for the Panthers. They hoped to contend for a spot in the ACC championship game and those hopes were dashed early on. They lost disappointingly close contests to Boston College and NC State. They did not pull of a significant upset as they have done in the past. And for good measure, they were blown out in ugly losses to Clemson and Notre Dame while also suffering a four-game losing streak. Pitt is the 500 of 500drieth teams. In terms of what the Panthers did this season, a 5-5 record at this point is surely disappointing, given the preseason hopes for the team.

All of that said, you never want to finish below .500 and Pitt has a chance to avoid that this week.

A good chance, actually.

Georgia Tech has really struggled this year and, at 3-6, is one of the weaker teams in the conference. Tech can be a bit dangerous and does have three conference wins to its credit. But those victories, like Pitt’s, have come against teams ranked below them in the standings. In the case of the Yellow Jackets, they hold ACC wins against Florida State, Louisville, and Duke.

I don’t personally think these teams are really on the same level. Pitt has generally fared better than Georgia Tech against common opponents. The Yellow Jackets losses also haven’t been all that close and they’ve been beaten by double digits in all of them. They played Notre Dame to a closer 31-13 score than Pitt did but they lost to Boston College by three touchdowns, gave Syracuse its only win of the season (losing by 17), and lost by 28 to UCF — and that doesn’t even include the 73-7 laugher against Clemson.

While they scored 56 against Duke and 46 against Louisville, Georgia Tech’s offense in terms of scoring points has mostly been a bust. In four of their ten games, they were held to 16 points or less and they managed only 20 against Syracuse and 21 against UCF. But what they have done okay is move the ball and their 394 yards of total offense per game is actually better than Pitt’s 366.

One reason Tech hasn’t scored as many points while moving the ball is because they have an almost non-existent kicking game. The Yellow Jackets have made only three field goals all year and are 3/8 on the season in that regard. Compare that to Alex Kessman of Pitt — he’s made 19 of them. In terms of scoring points, it’s basically touchdown or bust for Georgia Tech. Conversely, Pitt has trotted out its kicker so much this year that Narduzzi has even been questioned by kicking too much, even if I don’t necessarily agree with that assertion.

Tech’s offense doesn’t begin and end with quarterback Jeff Sims, but he’s the key cog, leading the team in both passing (1,643 yards) and rushing (478 yards). His five touchdowns on the ground also lead the team in that category with no other skill position player scoring that much as a rusher or receiver.

Things also haven’t gone so well defensively for Tech. They did turn in a solid performance in the opener against Florida State in a 16-13 win but haven’t held any other team below 20 points. Even in the team’s other wins, their opponents have managed to score quite a bit — Louisville scored 27 while Duke managed 33. The 37 points given up per game by the Yellow Jackets ranks near the bottom of the FBS. And aside from Kansas, that is the most points per game allowed by a P5 program this year.

Pitt is not so good that they can afford to overlook Georgia Tech — let’s be clear about that. And the Panthers, as they’ve shown in some ugly losses, clearly are not among the best teams in the conference. But they are better than Georgia Tech and this is a game you expect to win assuming the guys show up to play and nothing crazy happens with COVID absences. All told, the Panthers have a great chance to finish the regular season with a winning year — even if that year has been somewhat disappointing.

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