Featured Video from Scott Reichel
Thursday ACC action sees the North Carolina Tar Heels visit the Pitt Panthers. Coming off a bye week, and one game under .500 with three remaining, Mack Brown’s group needs a successful finish to gain bowl eligibility. After starting their season strong, and nearly-upsetting then top-ranked Clemson, UNC has dropped two of three amid defensive lapses. North Carolina’s most recent loss came at home 37-31 vs. Virginia. The Tar Heels’ 3-3 division mark ranks third in the ACC Coastal.
Meanwhile, having reached bowl-eligible status for the 11th time in 12 years, host Pittsburgh currently enjoys a mid-season resurgence. Using their own bye week to recover from the season’s taxing nature, the Panthers have won five of six, last defeating Georgia Tech 20-12. Pittsburgh stands third among ACC Coastal teams with a 3-2 record.
Last season from home, the Tar Heels outgunned Pitt 38-35 in an offensive highlight reel.
The Panthers enter Thursday’s meeting favored by five points.
UNC takes forward step, receives star quarterback playThe good news for North Carolina football is the program has reclaimed respectability after Larry Fedora’s final two painful seasons. Fedora was fired immediately following 2018’s 2-9 campaign which saw UNC finish 1-8 in conference play. With Mack Brown back, North Carolina has taken a quantum leap forward at quarterback: freshman sensation Sam Howell’ 26 touchdown passes against five interceptions, 58.2 completion percentage and 2,472 yards has brought national acclaim. The true freshman’s accuracy and poise are reminiscent of battle-tested upperclassmen. Howell’s pocket presence is a boon for wideouts Daz Newsome and Dyami Brown. Newsome’s 46 receptions and six aerial scores lead UNC and represent career highs.
Meanwhile, feature rushers Javonte Williams (738 yards, three touchdowns) and Michael Carter (629 yards, 0 touchdowns) have gained ground yardage, but haven’t gained many scores.
This air-ground discrepancy has hamstrung UNC’s #76 offense (27.6 ppg). Opposing teams know to load the box in red-zone situations as the run becomes an afterthought within scoring distance. Case in point: in their previous loss vs. Virginia, Howell enjoyed a 353 yard, four-touchdown, no interception day. And, per usual, Williams and Carter generated 185 ground yards, 6.2 yards per carry, and zero touchdowns. On the other end, however, Virginia’s diversified, winning attack gained three passing and two rushing scores from dual-threat quarterback Bryce Perkins.
The Heels’ #63 defense (27.1 ppg) has become problematic, too, of late. In three of UNC’s last four setbacks, Virginia (38), Virginia Tech (43) and Appalachian State (34) punched above their offensive weight vs. a prone North Carolina secondary and front line. The Hokies’ 43 tallies came in a ridiculous six-overtime attrition-fest.
Thursday, to remain in the bowl-eligibility scene, UNC’s defense and rushing game must match Howell’s prolific output.
Defense rising for PanthersThough, that is easier said than done when facing FBS’ #24 defense (20.1 ppg allowed). Driven by a boa constrictor like run-stopping game (85.9 ypg) and dynamic secondary (194.3 pass yards allowed), Pitt has squeezed victory from five of their last six opponents.
While quarterback Kenny Pickett and lead rusher A.J. Davis add just enough breathing-room on offense, the Panthers’ pass rush constantly pressures opposing backfields. Overall, Pittsburgh boasts 39.5 sacks. Defensive linemen Patrick Jones and Jaylen Twyman each own seven quarterback takedowns as Kylan Johnson adds 6.5. In a style harkening the days of relentless blitzes and time-control offense, every Pitt win this year comes by ten points or less. Half of the group’s hard-earned W’s come by three points or less.
In their last contest, the Panthers held Georgia Tech to 194 total offensive yards while gaining one touchdown pass and one running score, along with two field goals for a 20-10 road victory. That afternoon, Pitt’s resilient defense overcame two interceptions from junior quarterback Kenny Pickett. The 6-2, Oakhurst native completed 25 of 34 overall, with one touchdown and the two aforementioned picks. Panthers freshman tailback Vincent Davis ripped 67 yards from six carries while adding a key end zone burst.
At home this weekend, and seeking enhanced bowl status, Pat Narduzzzi’s men will shadow burgeoning Sam Howell’s every move.
- Panthers are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 games after allowing less than 20 points in their previous game.
- Panthers are 6-1 ATS in their last 7 games in November.
- Panthers are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games after allowing less than 275 total yards in their previous game.
- Panthers are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games following a bye week.
Trends courtesy of Covers.com
- Tar Heels are 5-12 ATS in their last 17 games after allowing more than 280 yards passing in their previous game.
- Tar Heels are 1-4 ATS in their last 5 road games vs. a team with a winning home record.
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
If UNC sticks with its predictable one-dimensional passing attack vs. Pitt’s bruising defensive line, Thursday’s contest will lean toward an easy Panthers win. UNC’s given up its share of recent points and Pitt can cover 4.5 with a couple of touchdowns and field goals in their home arena. On a chilly mid-November night when hits take a little longer to recover from, and throwing arms grow stiffer, Pittsburgh’s defense will dictate outcome while forcing uncharacteristic Howell mistakes. Offensively, the Panthers’ offense will add just enough for a Pitt cover. I’ll take the Panthers by six as they’ve covered their last four after a bye week.
Full-Game Total Pick
Pitts defense is an opposing offensive coordinators nightmare. With unrelenting edge rushes, tight secondary coverage and textbook tackles, frosh Sam Howell will be tested thoroughly. And as both team’s rank among FBS’ middle-to-lower scoring rung, this ACC matchup won’t surpass 40 points -much less the 49.5 total. Expect hard hits, field goals and labored end zone cameos when Pittsburgh hosts UNC.