Panther Football Opener: What to Know About Pitt's Opponent - The University of Massachusetts Minutemen

 

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Kickoff between the Pitt Panthers and the University of Massachusetts Minutemen (UMass) is at 4:00pm EDT at Heinz Field.  You can watch the game on the ACC Network (if you are one of the lucky ones in the area who have the ACC Network). 

UMass played just four games in 2020.  In those four games, they went 0-4 and lost a combined score of 161-12.  They also landed themselves on ESPN’s “College Football’s Bottom 10” written by Ryan McGee.

Instead of a Covid-shortened season in 2020, UMass should have just cancelled entirely.  They were absolutely terrible.  They were shut out in two games and scored just ten and two in their games against Marshall and Florida Atlantic respectively. 

In a similar matchup against Austin Peay to begin last season, Pitt won 55-0.  Pitt has also had a much more normal offseason to prepare for their opener this time around.

UMass is in an advanced division versus Austin Peay.  Austin Peay competes in the FCS while UMass competes in the FBS.  However, UMass should have probably never made the jump.  Since UMass joined the FBS in 2013, they are just 18-70.  The Minutemen are 5-23 against ACC opponents all-time and 7-48 against Power 5 opponents.

UMass Offense

Luckily, UMass did pick up a new quarterback transfer from Colorado, Tyler Lytle.  Lytle is set to appear as the starter against Pitt this Saturday.  Before transferring to UMass, Lytle had just six pass attempts at Colorado, completing four of them for 55 yards. 

Additionally, UMass will start two new receivers in an attempt to correct their low-powered offense.  Tray Pettway is a sophomore transfer from Hutchinson community college and Onuma Dieke is a redshirt freshman.  They will line up with redshirt sophomore Jermaine Johnson.  Johnson has 51 career receptions with two touchdowns.  He averages only 22 yards receiving per game across two seasons.

Ellis Merriweather will start at running back for the Minutemen for the second year in a row.  Last season he rushed 42 times for 115 yards.  Merriweather’s high of 42 yards last season came against Florida Atlantic.  He will be running behind three returning offensive lineman and two new starters, both transfers.

UMass Defense

The Minutemen defense is very young.  They expect to start six redshirt freshmen and two redshirt sophomores.  Hopefully, for the Minutemen, the redshirt freshmen can play better than the starters last season, otherwise it could be another long and terrible season for UMass.  Fortunately, new blood is better than old when your defense gave up 161 points across four games. 

UMass did lose their two top tacklers and leading sack collector from 2020.  However, they feel they have a lot of talent in the secondary with Tanner Davis returning alongside defensive captain, Josh Wallace.

Conclusion

Pitt should take advantage of both sides of the ball.  They should eat up the Minutemen offensive line and pressure Tyler Lytle on every drop back.  The inexperienced wide receivers will not give Lytle many open looks throughout the day.  I expect the Panther defense to have 5+ sacks, 2+ turnovers, and hold the Minutemen to under 100 total yards offensively.

On the offensive side, this should be a nice tune up game for Kenny Pickett.  Florida Atlantic was the only team to score under 30 points against UMass last season. Hopefully the Panther receivers can overcome their drops from last year and have a productive game against UMass's only strength in their secondary.

I think Pitt wins, they win by a lot, and every Panther has a premiere tune up game.  However, betting these games are typically difficult because of how outrageous the lines tend to be.  We will update with our picks later in the week as the lines tend to settle to where they will close at kickoff.


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