Preview | Panthers look to take advantage of wounded, coach-less Georgia Tech


TPN File Photo

Fullback George Aston (35) is tackled in a Pitt football game against Georgia Tech in 2016.

By Dalton Coppola, Sports Editor

Georgia Tech and Pitt aren’t necessarily historic rivals, nor is the all-time series all that close in the past. The Panthers have clashed with the Yellow Jackets 14 times and won 11 of those matchups. But ever since Georgia Tech head coach Geoff Collins ripped his hand away from a postgame handshake with Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi, Pitt fans have taken a disliking to the Yellow Jackets.

Pitt fans need to find a new way to generate that distaste now. Georgia Tech announced it relieved Collins and athletic director Todd Stansbury of their duties early this week — the Panthers are playing a team with no leader this weekend. Narduzzi will lead the Panthers (3-1, 0-0 ACC) into their first ACC game against the head coachless Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (1-3, 0-1 ACC) this weekend at Acrisure Stadium.

Since the infamous handshake with Narduzzi in 2020, Collins and the Yellow Jackets are 4-13 and have notoriously played poorly on every phase of the game. While the Yellow Jackets haven’t announced an interim head coach just yet, it’s hard to believe that whoever steps in will be able to right the ship on five days’ notice. Narduzzi said while the change is part of the business, it’s never easy seeing someone lose their job — even if the two have a history.

“Sounds like there’s new leadership down there,” Narduzzi said. “It’s never easy, Geoff Collins is a good guy. I know you guys will talk about the handshake probably, but he’s a good dude… you never like to see that happen to anybody. I don’t care who it is, I don’t care what the record is. He’s got a family and he’s done a nice job down there in the time he’s been there.”

In terms of how Pitt attacks Georgia Tech, Narduzzi said he thinks whoever takes over the play-calling will take a similar approach as Collins, but doesn’t know exactly what to expect from the Yellow Jackets. 

“I would imagine the offense is going to stay pretty similar, the defense is going to stay pretty similar, but you never know,” Narduzzi said. “We really don’t know, I’ve never been in that situation. I don’t know what the preparation will be like. I don’t know their kids. I don’t know where the focus will be. But we’re going to prepare for our first ACC game like we’ve got Clemson walking through the door — doesn’t matter who the head coach is they’ve got a lot of talent.”

Narduzzi and the Panthers have had a great deal of success running the football this season, rushing for more than 100 yards in three straight games and compiling eight touchdowns on the ground over those contests. Junior running back Israel Abanikanda has dominated opposing defenses thus far, leading the ACC in rushing yards, all purpose yards and touchdowns.

Well, the Panthers’ offensive line and Abanikanda are licking their chops this week because the Yellow Jackets are one of the worst run defenses in all of football this year. Georgia Tech has surrendered 239.7 yards of rushing per game this season — coming in at No. 124 out of the 131 teams in the FBS. Expect the Panthers to run the ball this weekend and do it effectively.

Georgia Tech’s sole win this year came against Western Carolina — an FCS team. Georgia Tech has been outscored 110-20 against Power Five opponents this season. 

The Yellow Jacket offense is atrocious through four games, to put it bluntly. Two touchdowns in three games against formidable opponents isn’t a recipe for success, let alone when its defense can’t stop a nose-bleed.

On paper, it feels like the Yellow Jackets should have much more than just two touchdowns in those games. Sophomore quarterback Jeff Sims is completing nearly 60% of his passes and redshirt junior running back Dontae Smith is averaging six-yards per carry.

Getting the yardage they need isn’t the issue, though — it’s finishing off drives with scoring plays. The Yellow Jackets tallied 438 yards against Central Florida last week, but scored just 10 points. Georgia Tech entered the red zone five times against the Golden Knights and scored zero points on those chances. Maybe a coaching change can help change the team’s efficiency in the red zone — don’t expect these issues to correct themselves immediately.

Prediction: Pitt dominates the Yellow Jackets 42-7, kicks off ACC play with a win

This game is less about why Pitt will win and more about why Georgia Tech will not.

The Yellow Jackets are a dysfunctional program without a leader to steer them in the right direction. Meanwhile, Pitt is one of, if not the best, teams in the ACC, with an established head coach and veteran players to lead the way.

It’s hard for anyone to believe that the Yellow Jackets will have their issues figured out before Saturday. Meanwhile, Pitt is hitting its stride at the right time. The running game is clicking, senior quarterback Kedon Slovis is healthy again and the defense is showing flashes of greatness.

Pitt will take advantage of the floundering Yellow Jackets and dominate in all three phases of the game on Saturday. The game will kickoff at 8 p.m. at Acrisure Stadium and air on ACC Network.