The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

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New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
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New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
Column | Former Villanova fanatic watches “Nova Knicks” take down Sixers in NBA Playoffs
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Opinion | Do not arrest peaceful protesters
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • May 23, 2024

Preview | Pitt football looks to get back on track vs. No. 17 North Carolina

Pittsburgh+wide+receiver+Jared+Wayne+%285%29%2C+left%2C+hauls+in+a+long+pass+against+North+Carolina+defensive+back+Storm+Duck+%283%29+to+set+up+a+touchdown+during+a+game+in+Chapel+Hill%2C+North+Carolina+on+Saturday%2C+Oct.+29%2C+2022.
AP Photo/Chris Seward
Pittsburgh wide receiver Jared Wayne (5), left, hauls in a long pass against North Carolina defensive back Storm Duck (3) to set up a touchdown during a game in Chapel Hill, North Carolina on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022.

Following two back-to-back losses to Big 12 programs, Pitt football returns to Acrisure Stadium for the beginning of ACC conference play. The Panthers’ on-field performance against fierce rival West Virginia disappointed fans, but they’ll try to prove doubters wrong against a strong No. 17 North Carolina team.

Pitt’s defense belongs in the top tier

After losing a plethora of starters from the 2022 season, Pitt’s defense once again appears at the top in many defensive statistics throughout the beginning of the season. In terms of average yards allowed per game, Pitt comes in fifth across all FBS schools allowing 236 yards per game. Pitt also ranks seventh in first down defense, allowing only 41 first downs across their first three games. 

Most impressively, Pitt comes in second in the country in fewest passing yards allowed per game, with 114. Pitt gears up to face a North Carolina team that ranks 24 in the country in passing offense and averages 297 yards-per-game, so Saturday is a big test for the Panthers.

Pitt’s stagnant offense could cause defeat

In their last two games, Pitt’s offense is a source of frustration for the fans. Pitt’s starting quarterback graduate student Phil Jurkovec completed 18 of 52 pass attempts, coming out to just a 34.6% completion percentage. The next lowest percentage in the ACC comes from Thomas Castellanos of Boston College, whose average comes out to 59.5%. Additionally, Jurkovec looked mostly unaware in the pocket and could not make necessary reads, especially in red-zone situations. Pitt comes into Saturday with the 110th best passing offense in FBS, comprising 130 teams.

The Panthers also show signs of inadequacy getting anything going with the run. Pitt’s running back room proves wholly unable to create separation and make big plays on the ground. Pitt could not score a single rushing touchdown in its last two games after running for four against Wofford.

North Carolina’s offense presents tough challenge

As Pitt takes on the 24th ranked passing offense in FBS, it must hold the North Carolina offense to a much lower yardage amount than their average of 297. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Drake Maye comes into the game ranked third in ESPN’s power rankings for the Heisman Trophy. Maye has amassed 891 yards on the season and manifests himself as the hardest deep-ball passer that Pitt will face all season.

Not only does North Carolina possess a threatening pass offense, they have a strong running back group. North Carolina currently ranks No. 30 in the nation in rushing offense, averaging 197.3 yards per game. Sophomore running back Omarion Hampton rushed for 317 yards across three games, including a 234 yard showing against Appalachian State that won him Doak Walker Running Back of the Week. Hampton and his fellow running backs are given another chance to shine against a Pitt defense that ranks 60th in rushing yards allowed.

North Carolina’s defense could be their downfall

While North Carolina boasts one of the strongest offensive fronts in college football, the same cannot be said regarding their defense. It ranks No. 57 in average points allowed and struggles to stop explosive plays. It comes in at No. 73 in the country in rushing defense. Against Appalachian State, the Tar Heels allowed 219 yards.

Additionally, North Carolina’s passing defense proves one of the worst in FBS, coming into Pittsburgh ranking No. 110 in the country. Allowing an average of 253.7 yards per game, their opponents move down the field with ease. North Carolina’s opponents have notched seven touchdowns in three games, failing to hold an intimidating front for their opponents. 

Prediction

While Pitt’s defense belongs within the upper echelon of college football, it is not able to succeed without the help of the offense. Pitt’s offense must take advantage of the defensive struggles from the North Carolina side in order to win. If Pitt’s offense plays like it has in the past two weeks, the Panthers will struggle against a strong ACC opponent. 

Pitt loses 27-10.

About the Contributor
Ari Meyer, Staff Writer