With the way this season has gone for the football team, you know the Tar Heels on some level wish that this game against Pitt were on Saturday instead of tomorrow night. The adage for coaches is usually “enjoy this one on Saturday, we forget about it Sunday,” but you know the win normally hangs around for a little longer.
This week, though, the Tar Heels don’t have any choice but to put Saturday behind them as quickly as possible, as they are staring down the pipe of a visit to Heinz Field and the Coastal leading Pitt Panthers. At this point, you wonder if the UNC at Pitt game is just permanently scheduled for a Thursday night, because you honestly can’t remember the last time the Tar Heels played Pitt in Pitt on a Saturday.
So, once again, we tune into the TV’s for a Thursday night tilt in the Steel City. Here’s what to watch tomorrow night as Carolina looks to win two in a row.
Carolina has scored 45, 34, and 58 points in their last three contests, and it would appear their offensive woes have been erased, and defenses have to actually considering more than one player (Josh Downs) as being someone who can hurt them. Between Ty Chandler’s amazing game, Howell’s arms and legs, and the multiple games with receivers all over the field getting catches, the Tar Heels are catching their stride at just the right time to still cause some noise.
That trend should continue against Pitt, as the Panthers have given up 38 to the Hurricanes and 29 to the Blue Devils in successive contests. They also gave up 44 to Western Michigan in that surprise loss, and 34 points to a Tennessee squad that has had a mediocre season...which for them is an improvement over recent years. In short, Pitt can make some stops when needed but the offense should have their opportunities to score again.
A Blip or a Trend?
The other side of the Pitt coin is that their offense has been strong all season. Their lowest point total all season was 27 in their 27-17 win over Clemson. Meanwhile they have also put up 51, 77, and 52 points against various poor defenses over the season, so this has the looks of being another track meet. Quarterback Kenny Picket is making a strong case to be the QB of the year in the ACC, as he has passed for over 3100 yards, 29 touchdowns, and averages 352 yards a game.
Unlike Wake-who uses the mesh and gets their points in both the ground and air, Pitt is pretty much all air. Their leading rusher, Israel Abanikanda, only has 498 yards and five TD’s on the ground, and picket is their third leading rusher with 242 yards. Why is this good news for Carolina? Because when an attack has been more air-oriented and less running oriented, the Tar Heels have at least had some success in slowing them down. When Wake had to go more to the air at the end of the game Saturday, the secondary buckled up, and the return of Storm Duck played a huge role in that. So the question is, was the defense we saw in the fourth quarter Saturday the start of a defensive turnaround, or was it just a freak blip before they get torched again.
Heinz field on a Thursday night in early November, especially after the Steelers just played a game on Monday, portends bad conditions. For a team like Carolina that already is short some bodies, as well as for a team built on speed, it could be a determining factor in how in sync the offense will be. If there aren’t many deep passes, and everything seems to happen near the line of scrimmage, well, blame the field.
Look, I’m not a big fan of fake grass, but if there is any location that needs to give up this idea of how football is “supposed” to be played, it’s Pittsburgh at this point, That stadium is just used too often in the fall to justify the condition of the grass, especially when its condition could be worse than the field turf.
Also, Heinz is a notoriously bad field for kickers. Grayson Atkins has hit his late season form, as he was a big-if underrated-part of the win on Saturday, but any kick outside of 40 yards may end up being passed over for an attempt on fourth down because of just how notoriously difficult it is to kick in that stadium. If you’re scratching your head about Mack either going for it on 4th and 5 from the Pitt 39, or punting, keep that in mind.
Agree? Disagree? What else should we look for tomorrow night? Let us know!