Pittsburgh at North Carolina
Saturday, 12:30 pm PT - ESPNU
CRIS Opener: North Carolina -8 O/U 70
CRIS Current: North Carolina -7 O/U 67.5
I have successfully faded Pittsburgh with a free play the past two weeks and will pick on them once again at the Panthers travel to Chapel Hill. I detected a defensive weakness against the pass in their 42-39 victory over Penn State and discussed it in last week’s write-up selection vs. Oklahoma State. Money flocked toward Pitt but OSU set a multitude of offensive records against them last Saturday including Mason Rudolph’s 540 passing yards. In their last two games, Pittsburgh has given up 872 yards through the air on 50 completions for an average of 17.4. That number is alarming enough but when you add in the fact that Penn State rang up huge numbers in catch up mode with an average passer Trace McSorely, the concern becomes larger. Then take into account that pass reliant Oklahoma State threw for 540 yards with a ground game that is more of a below average diversion than true threat and you clearly see a problem.
This Saturday, the Pitt defense will face its first opponent which possesses an explosive running game plus an explosive passing game which figures to cause severe problems. Against offenses in situations where the Panthers could focus on playing the pass, they could not succeed. Hard to see them not getting shredded here by the Tar Heels whose new quarterback Mitch Trubisky is becoming very comfortable according to Larry Fedora. Pitt has allowed a batch of chunk plays and 39 and 45 points the past two games so expect Trubisky and plethora of skill position threats to light up the scoreboard.
Despite their one dimensional, run-heavy offense, Pittsburgh was able to nearly match Oklahoma State point for point last week. Their sporadic passing game hit on enough big plays to support the 290 rushing yards and it’s possible they could stay in this one. The fundamentals worked for the Panthers offense last week because Oklahoma State is not a physical defense especially in the front seven. A carbon copy of that matchup may exist here if North Carolina’s very depth shy defensive line does not get a couple players back this week. Without three key contributors last week, the ‘Heels were able to easily outscore James Madison but they’ll need some combination of DT Naz Jones (concussion) or DEs Tomon Fox and Dajuan Drennon to return. If all three remain out, the Pittsburgh ground game could have a field day (remember Georgia’s 289 yards, 5.6 ypc effort in Week 1). Quarterback Nate Peterman will have to take enough advantage of UNC’S commitment to stopping the run in order for the Panthers to hang around.
This is an ACC Coastal Division game so fully focused efforts from each side are virtually guaranteed but focused efforts might not be good enough to slow down the offenses. I lean toward North Carolina -7 (power ratings show UNC -9.5) but its defensive line situation is still an unknown this early in the week. However, even if the Tar Heels get one player or more back on their DL, the matchup advantages for the offenses are still strong enough to buck the early move toward the under. Prevailing philosophy will be that Pittsburgh will run the ball to shorten the game but that hasn’t worked at all for them thus far as evidenced by their points allowed despite excellent rushing numbers. UNC doesn’t need more than a blink of an eye to score and there are plenty of indicators to suggest a play on the over.