Last season, Georgia Tech began the season by winning its first two games. But after losing to Notre Dame, the wheels fell off and a big reason why was the tendency to turn the ball over.
This year, the Yellow Jackets started out 3-0, but have dropped the last two. In their most recent loss — to Miami last Saturday — two Hurricane fumble returns for touchdowns mere seconds apart in the second quarter gave Miami a comfortable lead that it never relinquished.
Georgia Tech travels up to Pittsburgh this weekend to play another ACC Coastal Division team with a 3-2 record. Following close losses to Oklahoma State and North Carolina, the Panthers rebounded with a 43-27 win over Marshall.
Georgia Tech at Pittsburgh
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 8 at 12:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: WatchESPN/ACC Network
Spread: Pittsburgh -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Is Jester Weah a Receiving Answer?
It had been a rough start to the season for Pittsburgh quarterback Nathan Peterman. With Tyler Boyd now in the NFL, the Panthers are bereft of dangerous pass-catching threats. But last week against Marshall, Weah broke out, giving hope that he could become a go-to guy for Peterman. The junior caught seven passes for 176 yards, 54 of which came on a touchdown reception with 1:04 remaining to put the game on ice. At this point, if Weah does not emerge as a downfield target, every opponent will continue to load the box to stop James Conner and the Panthers' quality ground attack.
2. Getting Justin Thomas On Track
The Yellow Jackets are 28th nationally in rushing offense and after finishing in the top 10 every year of the Paul Johnson era, that’s not good enough. Quarterback Justin Thomas is the key to the offense and his trials and tribulations have been at the heart of Georgia Tech’s up and down season. In the loss to Clemson, Thomas only had 13 positive rushing yards and when combined with sacks and other negative runs, he finished the game with -25 yards on the ground. Last week, Miami held the senior to a net total of seven yards. Plus, both of the second quarter fumbles that resulted in Hurricane touchdowns occurred when Thomas dropped the ball. Freshman B-Back Dedrick Mills has given the Jackets a shot in the arm, but they need some rushing production from their quarterback as well.
3. Field Position
Neither team has great quick strike options, making field position an essential part of the game. Punt coverage has not been a strength for either side and Pittsburgh’s Quadree Henderson and Georgia Tech’s Brad Stewart are very good punt returners. Henderson also is third nationally in kick return average. It could be wet on game day, meaning whichever team's defense has its back to a short field will be at a severe disadvantage.
After what happened last season, Georgia Tech wants to end its losing streak right now. Head coach Paul Johnson and his staff does not want the “here we go again” thoughts seeping into his players’ heads. The Yellow Jackets' defense has played pretty well so far this year, but the offense and its vaunted rushing attack has sputtered, at least by Georgia Tech standards. In Pitt, the Yellow Jackets will face a team that has been abused through the air, but has been solid against the run. This week the Panthers shouldn’t have to worry too much about Georgia Tech beating them by throwing the ball. It will be about assignment football for the Pitt defense and few are better at teaching that than Panthers head coach Pat Narduzzi. Pittsburgh will open up an early lead and never look back.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 27, Georgia Tech 13
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.