Previewing 2019 Football: At Pittsburgh
Sports, Football

Previewing 2019 Football: At Pittsburgh

After a dismal showing against Notre Dame, Boston College football has one final shot at securing bowl eligibility with a road trip to face Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon. The Eagles (5-6, 3-4 Atlantic Coast) gave up 34 unanswered points to the Irish, and the defense simply had no answers throughout. The Panthers (7-4, 4-3) are coming off a similarly tough week, having managed just 177 yards of offense in a 28-0 shutout loss to No. 23 Virginia Tech. Still, Pitt enters as eight-point favorites in the cross-divisional matchup, and had won six of its previous seven games before the setback in Blacksburg. The Panthers are looking for their first eight-win season since 2016 and ESPN’s FPI gives them a 64.3 percent chance to hit that mark.

Who is BC playing?
Pittsburgh

When is BC playing?
Saturday, Nov. 30, 3:30 p.m.

Where is BC playing?
Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pa.

How to Watch:
The game will be broadcast on the ACC Network.

Series History:

This will be just the second meeting in the last 15 years between these teams, and Pitt holds a 17-13 edge all-time. Hailing from separate divisions, the teams have met just once since the Panthers joined the ACC in 2011, and the result was a 30-20 win for the Panthers. Pitt used a 17-point second quarter to build a two-possession halftime lead and hung on from there. Future Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner ran all over the Eagles defense, taking 36 carries for 214 yards and a touchdown, while future Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd hauled in five catches for 72 yards with two scores. BC was outgained, 413-276, and quarterback Tyler Murphy threw a pair of interceptions in the loss.

What to expect from Pitt:

Offense:

The Panthers are looking to shake off the Virginia Tech setback in which quarterback Kenny Pickett was just 10-of-26 for 103 yards and was plagued by overthrows and drops from his wide receivers. Pitt couldn’t establish a running game, either, carrying the ball 27 times with a 2.2 yards per carry average. It wasn’t necessarily the most surprising loss, though, as the Panthers have wrestled with inconsistency on offense throughout the year. 

Pitt is 13th in the ACC in scoring (20.2 points per game) and has had to lean on Pickett much more than the running game. The Panthers are tied for the conference lead in passing attempts, with Pickett completing 60 percent of his passes for 2,414 yards and 10 touchdowns along with eight interceptions. He struggled against the Hokies, something head coach Pat Narduzzi touched on in his weekly press conference.

“We just never got in a rhythm, and I think it’s happened a couple times this year, just didn’t get in a rhythm,” Narduzzi said, per CollegePressBox. “We dropped the first four passes, and nobody can catch fire, and it’s hard as a play caller when it’s three-and-out.”

Pickett does have a trio of 300-yard passing games this season, which could pose problems for the BC secondary. The week prior, against North Carolina—a 34-27 win in overtime—Pickett went 25-of-41 for 349 yards and a touchdown. He’s been able to spread the yards out largely to a pair of capable receivers in Taysir Mack and Maurice Ffrench. Mack is eighth in the conference in receiving yards, and Ffrench is 13th, and they’ve combined to catch half of Pickett’s touchdown passes. The running game has been practically nonexistent, as leading tailback A.J. Davis averages just 54.3 yards per game.

Defense:

The reason that the Panthers are poised for an eight-win season, quite simply, is because of their stifling defense. Pitt has held opponents to 20 or fewer points in six of its 11 games and is third in the conference in scoring defense (21.5 points per game). The strength of the unit is the rushing defense, which is not only the ACC’s best but has limited opponents to under 100 yards of rushing per game. That makes Saturday’s matchup especially intriguing with the Eagles boasting the conference’s second-best rushing attack, picking up almost 270 yards per game on the ground. How BC’s offensive line—which struggled against Notre Dame—responds to Pitt’s formidable front will be key in determining if the Eagles can pull the minor upset. The Panthers are also stout against the pass, holding opponents to a 50 percent completion rate while additionally leading the nation in sacks (48).

“They have a pretty exotic third-down blitz package, so they get a lot of guys cut free on people’s offensive line, if you will, or front,” BC head coach Steve Addazio said. “They bring a lot of different blitzes. … I think they do a good job with their scheme.”

Jaylen Twyman and Patrick Jones II make up a formidable duo for BC to keep contained, as the pair has 18 sacks—the most by any two teammates in the conference—as well as 21.5 tackles for loss. Then, you also have to account for the likes of Kylan Johnson (6.5 sacks) and Deslin Alexandre (5.5 sacks). Paris Ford is a ballhawking defensive back with three picks and is also the team’s leading tackler with 82 on the year, and Cam Right anchors a strong linebacker corps.

“You know what? I can’t wait to go on the defense—I’m the old-school guy, like I’m the old guy,” Narduzzi said. “But it’ll be fun to go in there today because it’s old school. It’s a little bit of Stanford from last year, which we made some mistakes in that game, so it’ll be fun to go out and prepare for it.”

Outlook:

Ultimately, this is a matchup of strength vs. strength and weakness vs. weakness. It’s the Eagles vaunted rushing attack against a prolific Pitt defense, then the Panthers’ inconsistent offense against a porous BC defense. This game has the makings of a close one—it doesn’t seem like the Panthers top-notch defense will be able to fully contain what has been a strong offense for BC this year, and it also doesn’t seem like the Eagles’ defense can truly contain anyone (especially through the air). Expect a game similar to the last time these two met, with Pitt coming out on top by a touchdown at home and sending the Eagles to a five-win regular season.

Featured Image by Barry Reeger / AP Photo

November 29, 2019
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