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Game Preview: UNC vs Pittsburgh

Mike Ehrmann

North Carolina vs Pitt, 12:30 PM, ACC Network

After getting drub at Miami two weeks ago, UNC embarks on the final three games of the season needing two wins to secure bowl eligibility for a second straight season. The first opportunity to get one of those wins comes against the Pitt Panthers. A year ago UNC went to Pittsburgh, jumped out to a big lead early then held on for a 34-27 win on the strength of two Ryan Switzer punt returns for a touchdown. Marquise Williams also accounted for two rushing touchdowns and 79 yards on the ground.

This contests stands to be a much higher scoring affair given UNC's inability to stop a quality offense of any sort. Pitt running back James Conner leads the ACC in rushing yards per game with 149 yards. Conner is seventh in yards per rushing attempt and leads the conference with 17 touchdowns, eight more than the next closest player. With Conner running behind a sizable offensive line, the chances UNC will be able to register many stops against the Pitt offense are pretty slim. The Panther's substantial rushing attack also invites the possibility Pitt can control the ball and bleed the clock keeping UNC's high powered offense off the field.

In that respect this game could unfold in similar fashion as the Georgia Tech game. The likelihood of UNC getting enough stops to change the balance of the game will again put extensive pressure on the offense to cash in every possession. On paper Pitt's defense is so-so giving up 5.36 yards per game. With Romar Morris suspended for a DUI charge and Elijah Hood out with an undisclosed injury, UNC will lean on T.J. Logan and Khris Francis for the rushing attack. However, the real running game will continue to come from Marquise Williams. The Charlotte junior had a nice stretch of play broken up over the past two weeks against tough defenses that got to him early and often. The bye week came at a great time for Williams who needed to recover from being hit repeatedly by the Virginia and Miami defenses. If Williams can get back on track and build off his performance against Pitt last season, the offense will function as it should giving the Heels a fighting chance.

A loss in this came puts the Heels needing wins against Duke in Durham and NC State at home to become bowl eligible. It is not overstating the case that UNC's season may very well ride on this game. While a lower tier bowl isn't exactly desirable, the extra practices bowl game affords is vital to a program that needs to cultivate young talent and depth.

UNC 44 Pitt 41