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Prediction: Pitt football to conquer Georgia Tech in Homecoming game

Nathan Peterman (4) and the Panthers will face off against Georgia Tech on Saturday at Heinz Field. Matt Hawley | Staff Photographer

Nathan Peterman (4) and the Panthers will face off against Georgia Tech on Saturday at Heinz Field. Matt Hawley | Staff Photographer

Nathan Peterman (4) and the Panthers will face off against Georgia Tech on Saturday at Heinz Field. Matt Hawley | Staff Photographer

By Dan Sostek | Senior Staff Writer

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While Pitt conquered a herd in its victory against Marshall last Saturday, the Panthers will have to slay a three-headed beast this Homecoming weekend.

Georgia Tech and head coach Paul Johnson’s triple-option offense is making its way to Heinz Field, where their hosts will re-debut throwback royal blue and mustard yellow jerseys.

The Panthers have had trouble with Georgia Tech since moving to the ACC, but were able to beat the Yellow Jackets last year in Atlanta thanks to Chris Blewitt’s game-winning 56-yard field goal.

This Tech team comes to Pitt 3-2, but on a two-game skid after falling to Clemson and Miami. This game is crucial for the Panthers’ ACC Coastal Division chances, so they’ll need to focus on curtailing the Yellow Jackets’ strong running game.

Option attack

The Panthers are 1-2 against Georgia Tech since joining the ACC in 2013, and the root cause of that is pretty clear: they haven’t been able to stop the Yellow Jackets’ run attack.

Over those three contests, the Panthers have allowed on average 372.3 rushing yards against the Yellow Jackets.

Pitt’s run defense has improved drastically this year, ranking fourth nationally in rushing yards allowed per game with just 69.8. But part of that that can be attributed to their competition, as they’ve faced mostly pass-happy offenses thus far.

On his weekly teleconference, Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said people can disregard those rushing numbers due to the option offense — meaning Pitt’s offense has choices when passing the ball, useful for keeping the opposing team guessing.

“I think [our success] has to do a little bit with our structure, but I don’t know if any of
that matters when you play an option team,” Narduzzi said. “It’s a totally different type of offense.”

Georgia Tech returns quarterback Justin Thomas, a senior with ample experience running the Yellow Jackets’ offense. Pitt had first-year cornerback and high school quarterback Therran Coleman simulate Thomas in practice, and Narduzzi said he was impressed.

“I think our guys had a really good practice yesterday,” Narduzzi said. “I think they were enthusiastic about doing that, and that’s partly the attitude you take into it.”

Peterman playing pretty

After a couple rough outings, Pitt quarterback Nathan Peterman had the best game of his career against Marshall, throwing for a career-high 280 yards and two touchdowns.

Narduzzi was happy to see his signal-caller have a breakout game, which he said was by design.

“It’s good for everybody’s confidence,” Narduzzi said. “Our offense was clicking. We threw for more than we ran, which was part of the plan. It was great for Nathan to make those shots.”

Georgia Tech is a middling pass defense, ranked No. 62 in the country, while it sports the nation’s No. 31 run defense. Pitt will need to continue the momentum it established against the Thundering Herd and develop a reliable pass attack in order for the Panthers’ powerful running attack to continue to thrive.

Johnson said Peterman does a good job limiting mistakes in limited opportunities.

“Even though he has not thrown a bunch of passes, he doesn’t make very many mistakes,” Johnson said during his teleconference. “He manages the game, and he’s a good thrower when they ask him to throw.”

Strong against the run

Pitt’s defense has struggled mightily to stop any sort of air attack, ranking third-to-last in the nation in passing yards allowed per game. The Panthers have made up for that at least in part with their stout run stoppage.

While some could argue that the run defense’s numbers are bolstered by their opponents’ propensity to pass, Johnson isn’t buying it.

“[The Panthers are] very aggressive, and they get a lot of tackles for loss, and they get a lot of sacks,” Johnson said. “So when you do that, if you can get a lot of negative plays, you know, your rush defense is going to be good.”

Pitt could potentially be without one of its top linebackers in senior Mike Caprara, who is listed as questionable on the injury report with a lower body injury. The team will likely rely on senior Bam Bradley to fill his void, while speedy sophomore Oluwaseun Idowu will be key in determining which of the three Yellow Jackets in the backfield has the ball.

“It does help that we’ve seen [the option],” Narduzzi said. “We have an idea of what we like going against it. There are no guarantees.”

PREDICTION: This Georgia Tech team is weaker offensively than in years’ past, which works to Pitt’s advantage. Peterman should look to wideout Jester Weah to establish the Panthers passing attack early. If they manage to do so, the floodgates could open for the Panthers’ vaunted rushing attack. With the throwback jerseys in tow, Pitt will stay unbeaten at home.

Pitt 38, Georgia Tech 27

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Prediction: Pitt football to conquer Georgia Tech in Homecoming game