Panthers look to take another step towards bowl eligibility with a third straight win over an ACC Coastal Division opponent
You have to give Pat Narduzzi and the Pittsburgh Panthers credit. When they lost to NC State on Oct. 14, they stood at 2-5 overall and 0-3 in the ACC. The season was spiraling out of control and with a quarterback controversy, a poor running game, and a deficient pass defense it would have been easy to give up on the rest of the season.
But wins over Duke and Virginia have followed and though contention in the Coastal Division is long gone, bowl eligibility is a possibility. They can get one step closer to that goal with a win over 1-8 North Carolina.
The Heels are 8-3 against the Panthers and won a 37-36 thriller in Chapel Hill last year.
North Carolina at Pittsburgh
Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 9 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Pittsburgh -9
Three Things to Watch
1. Darrin Hall
The junior from Youngstown, Ohio, had 98 rushing yards on the season going into the Duke game. In the last two games he has totaled 365 yards and has scored four times. Projected lead back Qadree Ollison is still around and had a productive game against Virginia, giving Pittsburgh a nice 1-2 punch in the running game. Stopping the run has been an ongoing Carolina problem, but in the last game the Tar Heels held Miami to just 59 rushing yards. The UNC defense would like to carry that momentum into Pittsburgh.
2. North Carolina turnovers
There have been too many. Way too many. It doesn’t matter who is playing quarterback, interceptions have been a problem. Chazz Surratt (above, right) has been the most careful with the ball with his three interceptions while Brandon Harris has had a staggering eight passes picked off in 71 attempts. Nathan Elliott, filling in for an injured Surratt, threw the ball to Miami three times in the last game. Add in the six fumbles lost and that's a grand total of 20 giveaways, which is a tie for 118th in the country. Only seven FBS teams have more. For all of their struggles defensively this year, Pitt is plus-three in turnover margin and will look to force more UNC mistakes.
3. Staying on the field
Besides the turnover issues, North Carolina is one of the nation’s worst teams at converting on third downs at just 28 percent. A lack of dangerous offensive talent, combined with a plethora of injuries, has forced UNC into numerous bad down and distance situations. Pittsburgh has hardly been great on third downs in their own right, but not surprisingly the Panthers have been much more successful in their recent wins.
The season has been a nightmare for the Tar Heels. There were a couple of close calls, including the most recent contest against unbeaten Miami. But there were several games where UNC was not even competitive, like the 59-7 defeat to Virginia Tech the week prior. So motivation has to be a concern for head coach Larry Fedora going into Pittsburgh on a Thursday night. With four wins and games remaining with Virginia Tech and Miami, Pittsburgh needs this win if it plans on playing in the postseason. Darrin Hall will continue his strong run, quarterback Ben DiNucci will have an efficient evening, and the Panthers will get back to .500.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 27, North Carolina 17
— 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.