The 2019 season started off with a disappointing home performance by the Pittsburgh Panthers last week against Virginia in an ACC Coastal Division matchup. This week, the Panthers look to get in the win column for the first time this season with a home game against MAC contender Ohio.
Pat Narduzzi and his program certainly didn’t plan on starting the season with back-to-back losses before heading to Penn State for an in-state rivalry showdown, but Ohio is not exactly the best team to face in this particular situation. Jammed between a division game and Penn State, Ohio is playing the role of trap game opponent for the Panthers. And that may be a factor for Frank Solich and company. Or, it may have been more a factor had Pittsburgh won last week. The Panthers need to come out focused and ready to play for this early kickoff time. If they don’t, Ohio could make them pay.
Ohio at Pittsburgh
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 7 at 11 a.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
Spread: Pittsburgh -5.5
When Ohio has the Ball
Ohio quarterback Nathan Rourke had a fine season debut against Rhode Island last week. The senior showed off an ability to do some damage both with accurate throwing and in picking up yards on the ground. For Ohio, the key to the offense is the running game, as the Bobcats rushed for 278 yards last week in the season opener. That production may be tougher to duplicate this week as the Bobcats take on a Pitt team that held Virginia to 129 rushing yards.
If the offense gets good starting field position, the Bobcats may be able to pounce on Pitt. The Panthers struggled when Virginia had a short field last week, which ultimately played a big part in the Cavaliers' win. Pitt can’t afford to give Ohio’s offense that same luxury.
Pittsburgh’s defense wasn’t too off the mark against Virginia last week, but the short fields did come back to haunt the Panthers. It would have been good if the defense could have made a couple of big stops when the Panthers needed it. All three touchdowns scored by Virginia were on drives that started deep in Pittsburgh territory, no more than 29 yards out. Getting yards against the Pitt defense will not be easy, though. The Panthers held Virginia to 263 yards of total offense.
When Pittsburgh has the Ball
The Panthers had some trouble running the football at times against Virginia last week, averaging just 2.6 yards per rushing attempt as a team. A.J. Davis led the team with 25 rushing yards on eight carries, and quarterback Kenny Pickett picked up 16 yards on 12 attempts. The lack of a run game prevented the Panthers from posing much of a threat to Virginia.
Pickett also got off to a slow start throwing the football before hitting a groove in the second quarter. But consistency was elusive against the Cavaliers, and Pickett ended the day 21-of-41 for 185 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. It will be key for Pickett to get off to a better start this week and get the Panthers in the end zone before Ohio starts feeling like it can hang around and build some confidence. To that end, Pickett needs a wide receiver to emerge as a go-to-guy who can pick up some big yards.
Pittsburgh had a tough draw last week against Virginia in its season opener, and there was clearly plenty of room for the offense to improve heading into Week 2. Ohio certainly won’t be a pushover for the Panthers, but Pittsburgh should manage to pick up a win to even its record.
One intangible in play is the early kickoff. Ohio could easily catch Pitt sleeping early on and give the Panthers a stiff test for 60 minutes. Ohio won the most recent meeting in this series back in 2005, but the Bobcats are 0-4 when the teams meet in Pittsburgh. That mark should drop to 0-5 after this weekend.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 31, Ohio 27
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Patreon, on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.