How does Pitt Match Up in Saturday's ACC Championship Game Against Wake Forest?

Graphic from ESPN.com

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Saturday’s game in Charlotte between the Pitt Panthers and the Wake Forest Demon Deacons certainly was not expected at the beginning of the season.  Pitt was projected to finish somewhere in the middle of the Coastal division of the ACC conference, while Wake Forest was projected near the bottom of the Atlantic division.  However, both teams have ridden outstanding offenses all the way to the ACC Championship game, both finishing the regular season 10-2.

Hartman Not to be Overlooked

While Kenny Pickett has garnered well deserved national attention, Wake Forest’s quarterback, Sam Hartman, is right behind him in nearly every statistic.  Pickett has 4,066 passing yards to Hartman’s 3,711.  Pickett also has 40 passing touchdowns to Hartman’s 34.  Hartman has thrown 10 interceptions on the year while Pickett has only thrown 7. 

So while Pickett does have the slight edge in every category, Hartman is right on his heels.  Hartman has also accrued these statistics facing a couple tougher defenses in NC State and Boston College, while not having the luxury of playing Georgia Tech and Duke like Pitt did.  Although, Wake's game against Army certainly helped pad the steps.  Not to mention, Hartman is only a sophomore.

Wake Forest does have a slightly more effective rushing attack than Pitt’s which takes some opportunities away from Hartman.  In their 942 offensive plays this season, the Panthers have ran the ball 455 times or 48% of their offensive snaps.  The Demon Deacons have had 923 offensive plays and have run the ball 53% of time for 489 attempts.  

None of this is not to diminish what Pickett has done so far this season.  I firmly believe Pickett should win the Heisman. However, it is to point out that Hartman is extremely talented, even when compared to Pickett. It also highlights just how effective Wake Forest's passing attack has been.

Furthermore, while Pitt has who I believe to be the best wide receiver in the nation in sophomore Jordan Addison, Wake Forest has their own sophomore phenom.  A.T. Perry has 13 touchdowns on the season, with 55 receptions for 1,112 receiving yards.  Any receiver that has broken that 1000 yard mark on the year is worth keeping an eye on, and the Panthers will need to keep several on Perry.

As we know, as Pitt fans, or if we have some readers who are just tuning in for this one, the Pitt defense does not fare well against good passing offenses.  Against Brennan Armstrong and the Virginia Cavaliers, Pitt’s secondary gave up 487 passing yards and three touchdowns.  Which was only slightly worse than the 428 yards and three touchdowns they gave up to freshman Tyler Van Dyke and the Miami Hurricanes.  The Panthers fared slightly better against North Carolina’s Sam Howell, giving up just 296 yards and two touchdowns.  But the trend is clear.  Pitt cannot stop the pass.

Establish the Run

Luckily, Wake Forest is about as bad defending the run as Pitt is defensing the pass.  In their loss to North Carolina, that strangely does not count as a conference game (find out why here), they gave up 213 yards and four touchdowns to senior Tar Heel Ty Chandler.  In their only other loss this season, Wake Forest gave up 191 yards on the ground to Clemson sophomore Kobe Pace. 

Pitt will need to take advantage of running back Israel Abanikanda being available for Saturday’s game after missing the game at Syracuse last week.  Although, Pitt had no problem running the ball against Syracuse without Abanikanda, with Vincent Davis and Rodney Hammond combining for 129 rushing yards on the night.

High Scoring

Both teams will have the ability to pass the ball very effectively on Saturday.  The Pitt secondary has not shown the ability to stop a decent passing offense and no defense has shown the ability to stop Kenny Pickett and his favorite target, Jordan Addison.  Expect a very high scoring game regardless of the victor. 

Therefore, it will come down to who will turn the ball over less and who can establish the run more.  I expect with Pitt’s rushing defense outranking Wake’s by a considerable margin so far this season that Pitt will establish the run more effectively.  I also believe that Kenny Pickett will take care of the ball better than Hartman.  However, if Wake can score at the speed at which North Carolina and Virginia did against Pitt in the 2nd half of each of those games, Pitt will need to be perfect on offense to come out with the win.  Both defenses are a liability so the more efficient offense will win this game for their team.

Also, bet the Over and Hail to Pitt!

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