Pitt Fans: Book Your Flights to Charlotte. This is Not Same Old Pitt

Jeremy Brevard/USA Today Sport

I am different than Michael Scott in that I am more than just “a little stitious.”  In fact, in most cases, I am very superstitious.  During my baseball playing days I’d adjust my sock height when in a slump or try to keep the same warm up routine if I was playing well.  While golfing, if I’m hitting well and the sun comes out on the back 9, I refuse to take my sweatshirt off just in case it’d mess up the luck.  I changed seats during the Pitt/Miami game at half and that would have worked had it not been for the non-safety call (still not over it).  So, I would say I am superstitious.

However, I am not in fear of jinxing this Pitt Panther team.  I believe they are the much better team heading into Saturday’s Coastal Division-deciding game against the Virginia Cavaliers, and they are different than Panther teams in the past. 

Not Same Old Pitt

I have been a Pitt fan a long time.  The first game I vaguely remember was against Temple at Pitt Stadium.  We were sitting in the freezing cold bleacher section and I was mesmerized by the giant 12th man blow up jersey they used to have in a corner of one of the end zones.  Had to have been close to 25 years ago.  So I know misery.

I know that when Pitt gives us any semblance of hope, it is only to be squashed, and squashed with a gut-wrenching punch.  Some fans would argue that was the case for Pitt after the Miami game, but I disagree.  This team is different, and I’ll tell you why.

When Pitt teams disappoint us in the past, it is just the start of a downward spiral that doesn’t end until the final whistle of the last snap of the season.  The perfect example of this would have been if Pitt lost last Thursday.  Going into that game the Panthers were, and still are, the team to beat in the Coastal.  Plus, they had a 17-point lead over the North Carolina Tar Heels in the 1st quarter.  The Miami loss still lingered in people’s minds and the next devastating blow to Pitt fans was sure to be around the corner. 

However, this team did what no other Pitt team seemingly could do in the past.  They pulled one out.  After giving up their lead and entering overtime, they dug in and they won.  Every other Pitt team of the past loses that game.  A home game, on primetime television, that means so much to the outcome of the season: that’s a very losable game for every Pitt football team of the past.  At least during my fanhood.  But not this team.

This team reminds me of that speech Herb Brooks gave when discussing the Soviets in the movie Miracle.  He said 9 times out of 10 the Soviets beat the Americans in hockey, but “not this game.  Not tonight.”  Nine times out of ten or even 99 times out of 100, Pitt loses that game in overtime.  Not that night.  Not this team.

Rushing Attack

Obviously, a large part of this team being different is the quarterback.  Kenny Pickett has been everything fans wanted out of a fifth-year senior and so much more.  He is second in the current odds to win the Heisman and has been putting up historic numbers.  Against North Carolina, Pickett threw for another 347 yards and three touchdowns.  He should win the Heisman if Pitt can gain the notoriety as ACC Champions. 

He is also why Pitt matches up well against, not just the Cavaliers, but every team they will come up against.  However, what I am excited about for Saturday is Pitt’s ability to run the ball.  Sophomore Israel Abanikanda has shown the ability to break tackles and pick up five to six yards a carry at-will.  In Thursday night’s game, Izzy ran for 63 yards on just 12 carries for an average of 5.2 yards per carry.  On the season he is averaging 5.3 yards per carry on 106 attempts. 

Pitt is 72nd in the FBS with 158 rushing yards per game.  A rank of 72nd may not seem like much, but for a team that ranks 5th in all of the FBS in passing yards per game, it is an effective combination.  It is just effective enough that opposing defenses cannot sell out for the pass every play and try to mitigate some of Pickett’s options.  Opponents need to keep enough guys in the box to stop the run, which has been very effective for Pitt’s play-action passing.

Another reason I am more excited about Pitt’s rushing game than their passing is because it needs to be the X-factor in this matchup against Virginia.  Both teams have very high-powered passing offenses and terrible pass defenses.  This game could see a combined 800+ passing yards or even more.  However, where Pitt has a major edge is in their rushing defense.  Pitt is holding opponents to just 106 yards per game on the ground while Virginia is giving up an alarming 222 rush yards per game.  That is good for 219th in the nation.  It’s as if every Cavalier defender is named Devin Bush. (terrible joke, sorry)

Also, an effective run game for Pitt won’t just aid their offense, it could greatly help their defense.  The Pitt secondary still appears fragile.  They sort of stepped up against North Carolina, holding, once Heisman candidate, Sam Howell to 296 passing yards in a game that involved overtime.  That’s still a lot of yards, but good for this Panther secondary. 

Therefore, the Panthers have to use their own run game to help their defense.  Both teams will score a lot of points.  There is no doubt about that.  I think any Over/Under below 75 is a good bet.

However, if Pitt can dominate the time of possession by tearing up the Cavalier run defense, they will score more points than Virginia.  The very best way to help your defense is to keep them off the field as much as possible by running the ball effectively.  Pitt has to do so, while also letting Kenny hit open receivers using the play-action. 

Book Your Flights

In conclusion, book your flights to Charlotte.  Not only is this a different Pitt team than the past, but Pitt matches up well against the Virginia Cavaliers.  I expect Pitt to win a high-scoring contest in the range of 44-37, clinch the Coastal Division, and earn a spot in the ACC Championship.