Prediction: NC State Wolfpack to win


Jordan Whitehead rushed for 73 yards and made one touchdown in the Syracuse game Saturday, Oct. 7. (Photo by Thomas Yang | Senior Staff Photographer)

By Alex Lehmbeck | For The Pitt News

When the Panthers host No. 20 North Carolina State for Pitt’s homecoming game Saturday, the odds are certainly against Pitt to come out with a win.

A three-point loss to Syracuse brought the Panthers’ (2-4, 0-2 ACC) ugly season to a midway point. Shortly after reemerging as Pitt’s starting quarterback, redshirt senior Max Browne came down with an injury to his throwing arm at Syracuse and is out for the remainder of the season.

This means redshirt sophomore Ben DiNucci will earn his second start of the season against NC State (5-1, 3-0 ACC), and barring any injuries, he may be Pitt’s No. 1 quarterback for the rest of the season. The only other option at quarterback is first-year Kenny Pickett, who played in the final moments of the Syracuse game.

Although Max Browne has been the more efficient passer 71.1 percent completion rate and 142.4 passer rating to DiNucci’s 55.4 percent and 116.5 this season, DiNucci’s mobility may benefit the Panthers against a tenacious NC State defensive line that has 17 sacks this year.

The Wolfpack enters Saturday’s game as arguably one of the nation’s hottest teams, riding a five-game win streak after dropping their season opener against South Carolina. Their streak includes a road win over No. 12 Florida State and a 14-point victory over No. 17 Louisville, bumping the Wolfpack up to No. 20 in this week’s AP poll.

Head coach Dave Doeren, in his fifth season at NC State, runs a balanced yet dangerous offense, averaging 35.5 points per game this year. The lethal combination of redshirt junior quarterback Ryan Finley and junior running back Nyheim Hines has helped the Wolfpack rack up more than 470 yards of total offense per game. Redshirt junior right tackle Will Richardson leads a strong offensive line that has only given up eight sacks this season.

Pitt will definitely be challenged by NC State’s playmakers on both sides of the ball. Senior Jaylen Samuels is possibly the most versatile player in the country. Although he is listed as a tight end, he might also play at the running back and wide receiver positions at some point in Saturday. He already has 50 receptions this year and should be an all-American by the season’s end.

DiNucci will not have much time in the pocket to throw, as Wolfpack senior defensive lineman Bradley Chubb has terrorized nearly every offensive line he’s faced. Chubb has an ACC-leading seven sacks this year, and is on pace to earn all-American honors as well. He will prove a tough test for a Pitt offensive line that has given up an ACC-worst 18 sacks.

The Panthers have also shown weaknesses in third downs all season, as their defense ranks second to last in the ACC on third down, allowing a 42.9 percent conversion rate. The only ACC team worse than Pitt in that category is NC State.

Despite the result of the Syracuse game, there were some positives from the loss. The Panthers’ secondary was impressive against the Orange’s talented receivers, holding the nation’s leader in receiving yards, senior wide receiver Steve Ishmael, to his first sub-100-yard receiving game of the season And Pitt’s pass rush contained Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey well in the first half, causing three sacks.

Pitt safety Jordan Whitehead once again proved to be the team’s biggest playmaker, recording 73 yards and a touchdown on seven rushing attempts. Although Pitt’s run game has struggled this year, Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall both showed potential in their few chances on Saturday with 4.7 and 6.3 yards per carry, respectively.

Sophomore Chawntez Moss, who was Pitt’s No. 1 running back against Rice, has been suspended indefinitely for undisclosed reasons. His absence could be significant Saturday, as NC State boasts one of the best run-stopping defenses in the country. They have only allowed 90.7 rushing yards per game, ranking eighth in the NCAA.

Prediction: There is a chance NC State overlooks Pitt in preparation for their next two games — a road matchup with No. 16 Notre Dame and a home showdown with No. 2 Clemson. However, the Wolfpack hasn’t shown signs of lacking discipline this year, and their balanced offense should outperform the DiNucci-led Panthers on Saturday. It would be surprising if Pitt fans get to see victory lights for homecoming this year.

NC State 31, Pitt 24

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