Panthers look to stay undefeated when they host the Wolfpack on Saturday
One of the surprise teams in college football entering October is the Pittsburgh Panthers. After three straight wins, the No. 24-ranked Panthers seek their first 4-0 start in 20 years when they host the NC State Wolfpack at Heinz Field on Saturday.
NC State is in the middle of a three-game road trip. Last weekend, the Wolfpack lost to Virginia Tech, 45-24, and they will head to Charlottesville to face Virginia on Oct. 10.
Pitt has a slight edge in the all-time series over NC State, 5-4-1. This will be the first time the two teams have met since the Wolfpack's 35-17 victory in 2017.
NC State at No. 24 Pittsburgh
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 3 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
Spread: Pitt -14
When NC State Has the Ball
NC State has a bit of a quarterback controversy entering its third game of the season. Bailey Hockman played well in their season-opening victory over Wake Forest as he threw for 191 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.
However, Devin Leary played most of the second half against the Hokies last week and passed for 165 yards and one touchdown. Both Hockman and Leary are listed as starters for the game against Pitt.
"We need them both," NC State head coach Dave Doeren said. "They're both going to get reps this week, and we'll see who is the most ready to lead our team."
While many will focus on the quarterback situation, the Wolfpack's rushing attack has been excellent through two games at 204.5 yards per game. Zonovan Knight leads the team in rushing with 191 yards and a touchdown in two games.
NC State will have a tall task trying to move the ball against a stout Pittsburgh defense. The Panthers rank second in total defense (177.0 ypg) despite the absence of All-ACC defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman.
When Pittsburgh Has the Ball
In the victory over Louisville last week, Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett completed 23-of-38 passes for 220 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. It's only been a few games, but he's already posting career-highs in completion rate (66.0 percent), quarterback rating (142.9), adjusted yards per attempt (7.7), and touchdown rate (5.3 percent).
NC State's defense gave up four rushing touchdowns against Wake Forest and 314 yards and three touchdowns in their loss to Virginia Tech. Although Pitt hasn't leaned heavily on its rushing game this year, Saturday could be the start of that. Vincent Davis has rushed for 156 yards and two touchdowns.
Not to mention, the Wolfpack has given up 87 points in their first two games. So Jordan Addison, who leads the team with 21 receptions, 169 receiving yards, and two touchdowns, could have a big day against the Wolfpack secondary.
The NC State offensive line could find it challenging to slow down Pitt's defense. In their win over Louisville, the Panthers registered seven sacks and 12 tackles for loss. That could spell trouble for an NC State offensive line that gave up six sacks to Virginia Tech in Week 3. Patrick Jones II, Rashad Weaver, and the Panthers should be able to create a ton of pressure on Hockman or Leary, and that might be enough to force some turnovers.
Offensively, expect the Panthers to lean on their ground game, as they will face a Wolfpack defense that's given up 231.5 rushing yards per game. With a win, Pitt may gain its highest ranking since 2010 when it was still in the Big East and began the season at No. 15.
Prediction: Pitt 37, NC State 20
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.