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UNC vs. Pitt: Three Things to Watch

Can the Tar Heels keep their winning streak versus Pitt alive?

Virginia v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The North Carolina Tar Heels are back in action on Thursday night after a bye week.

Since joining the ACC in 2013, Pitt has lost six straight to the Heels. However, those games have been close in each matchup, decided by a touchdown or less. An appropriate theme for UNC this season.

After the loss versus Virginia, Carolina must focus its attention to reaching bowl eligibility.

If the oddsmakers and history are any indication, this should be another tight matchup between these two teams. Here are three things to watch in the football game against Pitt.

UNC O-Line vs. Pitt D-Line

This may be the obvious matchup of the game, but it will certainly be the most influential to the outcome. Pitt is second in the nation in sacks. Their 40 sacks in 2019 are just one below No. 2 Ohio State. Conversely, UNC is tied for 119th in the nation in sacks allowed. The Tar Heels have given up 29 sacks this season.

The success of the Pitt defensive line, along with the overall strength of the defense (ranked ninth in the nation), will cause problems for a UNC offensive line that is still growing together as a group.

As evidenced by his absence against Appalachian State, Charlie Heck will be a pivotal part in providing time and protection for Sam Howell. The running back group of Javonte Williams and Michael Carter must provide additional pass protection.

Will they be up to the task?

Creating Time and Space

With the aforementioned points about the importance of the offensive line, there will be more pressure on Dyami Brown and the receiver corps to get open.

If a running back is kept in the backfield for additional protection, Howell’s safety valve will be taken away.

UNC’s explosive play ability has been showcased throughout the season. This will be an essential factor in Thursday’s game.

Of course, the big play cannot happen each play. Against this stout defense, the receivers must run sharp routes to create space. Drops must be limited for success Thursday night.

Make Turnovers Count

If there are concerns with UNC’s potential offensive performance on Thursday, then Carolina must make Pitt pay when turnovers occur.

On the season, Carolina is +3 on turnover margin. Pitt sits at -5.

In four of the last five games, the Panthers have turned the ball over more than their opponent. Pitt is 4-1 during that span.

The difference is in quarterback play. Pitt’s Kenny Pickett has just nine touchdowns to go along with eight interceptions on the year, compared to Howell’s 26/5 split. Additionally, Pickett has 24 more attempts on the year.

Can UNC’s young and depleted defensive secondary make a key a play or two?

If the defense can provide turnovers, no matter the play calling situation, it is up to the offense to execute and put seven on the board. These 14-point swings will make the difference Thursday night.