Carolina hits the back leg of the 2022 regular season at 6-1, with the Coastal Division dead in their sights. Pitt has been underwhelming this season, with program leader Kenny Pickett in a new locker room at
Heinz Field Acrisure Stadium. and USC transfer Kedon Slovis not exactly setting the ACC on fire.
One Panther that can absolutely burn UNC is running back Israel Abanikanda. The junior from Brooklyn, NY has been an absolute revelation this season, averaging 6.1 ypa to go along with 14 touchdowns. Abanikanda is the answer to Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi’s desire to run the ball on 80% of his offensive snaps.
The Panthers have been an interesting case of two steps forward, two steps back. After a thrilling win in the Backyard Brawl over West Virginia, Pitt lost to resurgent Tennessee before beating Western Michigan and Rhode Island, and then lost to ACC-jabronis Georgia Tech and Louisville. Are the Panthers good or bad? Who’s to say?
One thing UNC can count on is a steady diet of Israel Abanikanda, and why not? He’s arguably the nation’s top running back, and even though he’s had some inconsistency in game-to-game results, he’s a threat to gash defenses on every touch, not unlike Javonte Williams. Look at how he combines balance, patience, burst, and power. He’s a complete running back:
If you want a sleepless Friday night, watch this:
Israel Abanikanda should be licking his chops after watching Carolina’s performance at Duke. The Blue Devils had themselves a night on the ground thanks to the law firm of Moore, Moore, and Waters (and with a tremendous night running from quarterback Riley Leonard) gashing the Tar Heels for 297 yards and four touchdowns.
Unless UNC’s defense returns to its Virginia Tech and Miami run-stopping form, it could force Drake Maye and the offense to score on every series, as they won’t have as many possessions in the game to cycle through.
Fortunately, there is an Achilles Heel on Pitt’s offense, and he stands under center. Quarterback Kedon Slovis has not had an ideal start to his Pitt career, and he’s getting worse as ACC play drags on. He’s good for a few turnovers, so Carolina’s secondary should be prepared to pounce on mistakes.
Slovis has shown a sharp decline in performance when blitzed, so if Gene Chizik is keeping his powder dry, Saturday night would be a great time to open up the floodgates. Look at the pressure Slovis feels when he tosses two interceptions to Louisville right in front of the end-zone:
If Carolina’s offense can keep the pressure on Pitt’s offense to score quickly, it would be a great way to keep the ball out of Abanikanda’s hands and in Slovis’. If Drake Maye can limit turnovers (or eliminate them altogether!) Pitt will have a difficult time keeping up.
Things have gone Carolina’s way this season on the fine margins, but they’re dancing on a razor’s edge. Hopefully they can keep it up one more week before getting a chance to throttle Virginia next week.
Prediction: UNC 38, Pitt 31