Two struggling ACC teams will look to get back on track this Saturday as the Pittsburgh Panthers visit the Florida State Seminoles for the first time since 1982. After starting 3-0, the Panthers come in having lost four straight games. Two of those, however, were decided by just a single point.
FSU looked to have turned a corner a few weeks ago with a 31-28 upset of then-No. 5 North Carolina. Unfortunately for the Seminoles, they followed that up with a lopsided 48-16 loss to a Louisville team that was previously winless in ACC play. FSU has had an extra week to prepare while the Panthers were thrashed two weeks at home in their last time out by Notre Dame, 45-3.
This will be just the second meeting between the teams since Pittsburgh joined the ACC. The Seminoles blasted Pitt in the 2013 opener on Labor Day behind a masterful debut performance by eventual Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. The Panthers hold a 5-4 edge all-time in the series.
Pittsburgh at Florida State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 7 at 4 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
Spread: Florida State -2
When Pittsburgh Has the Ball
Pittsburgh has managed just 22 total points over its last two games, but much of that has to do with the injury to quarterback Kenny Pickett. At one point this season, Pickett was leading the ACC in passing yards, but Joey Yellen has simply not played well in his absence. Pickett has not only put up decent passing yardage this season, but he also leads the team in rushing touchdowns with five.
Jordan Addison, DJ Turner, and Shocky Jacques-Louis are a nice trio of receivers, but Yellen is completing less than 45 percent of his passes and is averaging just 5.2 yards per attempt. The bad news for Pittsburgh is that the passing attack hasn't gotten much help from the ground game. Vincent Davis leads the team with 263 rushing yards, but as a team, the Panthers average just 2.8 yards per carry — the worst mark in the ACC.
After showing up against North Carolina, the Florida State defense severely regressed against Louisville. FSU allowed 48 points and more yards per play than in any game in its history. The Seminoles' strength was supposed to be the defensive line with names like Marvin Wilson, Cory Durden, Robert Cooper, and Janarius Robinson, but that has not materialized this season.
As a team, FSU ranks dead last in the ACC in total defense and yields 35.0 points per game. Among ACC teams, only Georgia Tech gives up more points. Robinson leads the team with two sacks, but as a team, FSU's eight are the fewest in the ACC. Linebacker Amari Gainer, FSU's leading tackler, and cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. have been bright spots for the Seminoles. They hope to finally have last season's leading tackler, safety Hamsah Nasirildeen, back this week against the Panthers.
When Florida State Has the Ball
Florida State managed just 16 points last time out against Louisville, but the Seminoles continued to move the ball well with redshirt sophomore quarterback Jordan Travis under center. Travis has some work to go as a passer, but his athleticism gives the Seminoles the best chance to win. With a nice trio of tailbacks in La'Damian Webb, Jashaun Corbin, and Lawrance Toafili, FSU rushed for 265 yards against the Cardinals and have averaged 230 on the ground over the last four games. That’s 100 more yards per game than the Seminoles averaged over their first two.
In the contest against Louisville, FSU was plagued by drops. The Seminoles do hope to have leading wide receiver Tamorrion Terry back this week after a minor operation. Terry became the first FSU receiver in five years to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark last season. If he is unable to go, FSU will need a bounce-back effort from Keyshawn Helton and solid games from the likes of Ontaria Wilson and tight end Camren McDonald.
For Pittsburgh, the strength of the defense is up front. The Panthers enter Saturday's contest leading the country with 31 sacks. Defensive end Patrick Jones II ranks third in the country with seven sacks on the season. Fellow seniors Phil Campbell III and Rashad Weaver have combined for nine sacks. SirVocea Dennis leads the Panthers with 42 tackles this season. Pittsburgh also leads the nation in rushing defense, allowing just 69 yards per game on the ground.
For FSU to have a chance on Saturday, it will likely have to make plays through the air. The Panthers have been somewhat vulnerable to the pass and suffered a big blow earlier this week when junior safety Paris Ford elected to opt out of the remainder of the season. Ford was the second-leading tackler for the Panthers and led the team with three interceptions. Pitt has allowed four plays of at least 60 yards this season and three of at least 70. That's the most in the ACC.
Saturday's contest may come down to which quarterback plays best. Jordan Travis has been playing well for Florida State, but Pittsburgh owns the best defense that he has seen since becoming the starter. For the Panthers, Joey Yellen has played poorly, but will be facing the worst defense he's seen since taking over for the injured Kenny Pickett. The loss of Paris Ford deep in the secondary serves as a huge blow and should open up things for FSU in the passing game. Getting either safety Hamsah Nasirildeen or wide receiver Tamorrion Terry back would be a huge plus for the Seminoles.
Prediction: Florida State 24, Pittsburgh 22
Podcast: Week 10 Preview and Predictions
— Written by Mike Ferguson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.