Pittsburgh and Boston College both fell in tight contests last weekend and now they will each try to avoid a two-game losing streak when they battle in Chestnut Hill on Saturday. Pitt scored a touchdown with 1:44 remaining to take the lead over NC State, but the Wolfpack went 79 yards in eight plays, culminated by a Devin Leary touchdown pass to Emeka Emezie, and the Panthers fell 30-29.
Boston College's defeat was just as heartbreaking. After trailing all afternoon, Boston College scored a touchdown with 45 seconds remaining to cut the North Carolina lead to two. But Eagles quarterback Phil Jurkovec's two-point conversion attempt was intercepted by the Tar Heels' Trey Morrison and returned all the way to make the final score 26-22.
Because the two schools are in different ACC divisions, the former Big East rivals don't play on an annual basis. But they did match up last season with Boston College claiming a 26-19 victory.
Pittsburgh at Boston College
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 10 at 4 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
Spread: Pittsburgh -5
When Pittsburgh Has the Ball
The Panthers had difficulties running the ball last season, finishing 119th in the nation with just 119 rushing yards per game. That trend has continued into 2020. Pitt has averaged 131 yards per game on the ground, which is an improvement, but still puts them 12th in the ACC. Vincent Davis has 196 yards but that is over four games.
The lack of rushing production has put a lot of pressure on Kenny Pickett and the passing game. For the most part, that aspect has delivered. Pickett is second in the ACC — behind Trevor Lawrence — with 281 passing yards per game. Jordan Addison and D.J. Turner have combined for 40 receptions while Taysir Mack continues to round into shape following a preseason injury.
The biggest difference between the 2019 Boston College Eagles and the 2020 version is their defense. Last fall, Boston College finished last in the ACC in total defense, surrendering 479 yards per game. So far this season, the Eagles are fifth in the league at 370 yards a game. Boston College has performed well against the pass, which should concern the Panthers. Last week, the Eagles created problems for Sam Howell and North Carolina, as the Tar Heels' quarterback needed 56 attempts to throw for more than 300 yards.
Linebacker Isaiah McDuffie has three sacks on the season and Max Richardson has been another sure tackler on the second level. Pitt's defense also has forced seven turnovers to help the post a plus-five turnover margin through four games.
When Boston College Has the Ball
A plus-five turnover differential with seven takeaways means the offense has turned the ball over just twice, both of those being Phil Jurkovec interceptions. But it's been up to Jurkovec to try to make things happen with his arm because of the Eagles' struggles in the running game.
Pitt may be struggling to gain yards on the ground, but Boston College has been absolutely awful in that respect, ranking last in the ACC in rushing offense at 29.3 yards per game. Only four teams in the FBS are faring worse so far this season. And with running back David Bailey and most of the offensive line back from last year, this is a startling fact. Moreover, that experienced offensive line has allowed 11 sacks in three games, though Jurkovec holding onto the ball is partly to blame.
And now, here come the Panthers and their nation-leading 19 sacks. Linemen Patrick Jones and Rashad Weaver have combined for 7.5 of those, but because head coach Pat Narduzzi loves for his secondary to defend man-to-man, pressure can come from anywhere. Narduzzi is blessed with a talented defensive backfield with the safety duo of Damar Hamlin and Paris Ford ranking among the best in the land.
After facing North Carolina and the top-rated rush defense in the nation last week, Boston College will have to deal with the team right behind the Tar Heels. So the Eagles' success this Saturday will be determined by Jurkovec's ability to find holes in Pitt's pass coverage. Tight end Hunter Long figures to remain Jurkovec's preferred target but Boston College needs to establish others in the passing game and the line needs to do its job to give their quarterback enough time to throw.
These are similar teams. Neither Pittsburgh nor Boston College can run the ball and both have sturdy defenses. The difference is that the Panthers have a few more offensive playmakers and a more explosive defense that can create negative plays. Pitt's problems so far this year have been self-inflicted wounds. There have been some big dropped passes, none more crucial than Taysir Mack's bobble in the back of the end zone on the two-point try late last week against NC State. Also, penalties have been a major issue. The Panthers' 271 penalty yards are worst in the ACC. Those areas may not be totally corrected this week, but they will be cleaned up enough. Pittsburgh wins a defensive struggle and gets back on the winning track.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 20, Boston College 14
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.