Losing a rivalry game is one thing, but failing to score a touchdown is an entirely different level of embarrassment. For the Pitt Panthers, that embarrassment became a reality last weekend in the Backyard Brawl against West Virginia, and now the Panthers will return home to host a ranked North Carolina team. We’ll preview the game before going over my play for the action.
As expected, heading into this season, the North Carolina offense can put points on the board in a hurry. After their 31-13 win over Minnesota last weekend, the Tar Heels are averaging 34 points and 494.3 yards per game, ranking them 25th and 10th in those categories, respectively. In their win over the Golden Gophers, quarterback Drake Maye threw for a season-high 414 yards while also tossing two touchdown passes.
Following that week three performance, the Tar Heels now rank 12th in EPA per pass play, according to CFB Graphs, and overall, they are 2nd in the country in offensive EPA. Aside from some turnovers, Maye has been solid this year, but the North Carolina running game also deserves a lot of credit. Behind Omarion Hampton, the Tar Heels are averaging 197.3 rushing yards per game, the 23rd-best average in the country.
This impressive Tar Heels offense will meet a stout Pitt Panthers defense that is 16th in EPA this season and is fresh off a 17-6 loss. At the end of the day, the Pitt defense did everything they could to keep the Panthers in the game as they picked up two sacks, forced a fumble, and held West Virginia to just 14 first downs. The problem is the Panthers offense only had 12 first downs, which resulted in two 1H field goals and two goose eggs on the scoreboard in the second half.
Pitt’s offense has been a concern the past two weeks, as transfer quarterback Phil Jurkovec has struggled to produce after their week one win over Wofford. Jurkovec would end up with three touchdowns against Cincinnati in week two, but he would also post a 31.3% completion percentage. Instead of three touchdowns last weekend, the signal caller would throw for three interceptions while completing just 40% of his passes.
North Carolina is (-7.5) point road favorite this weekend, but for my play, I’ll be taking their 1H spread of (-3.5). Pitt’s defense has been solid this season, but it has yet to face an offense quite like the Tar Heels, and with the Panthers' inability to score, I think they could fall behind quickly in this one.
Against Pitt last year, Drake Maye threw for 388 yards and five touchdowns, which is a level of production the Panthers offense would not be able to keep pace with this season. Pitt’s offense is ranked 117th in offensive success rate this season, and their EPA is ranked 131st. The only aspect of the Panthers offense that has had some success this season is their run game, but it may be difficult for them to establish one while trying to keep pace with the Tar Heels.
Pitt’s passing defense numbers may long strong, but at the end of the day, they’ve only seen an average of 19 passing attempts per game, and they rank 23rd in average depth of target against per game, according to CFB Graphs. Those averages will be blown out of the water this weekend, with North Carolina throwing an average of 34 times per game and ranking 29th in average yards per pass. Overall, I expect a fast start from the Tar Heels offense and another slow day for the Panthers offense.
North Carolina 1H (-3.5)