It's been a roller coaster of a season for the Pittsburgh Panthers, who broke into the Top 25 after a 3-0 start in September but lost four in a row (including two by a single point), before beating both Florida State and Virginia Tech in blowout fashion. However, a 52-17 loss to Clemson last time out dropped the Panthers to 5-5 overall and 4-5 in ACC play, ahead of this week's rescheduled trip to face the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in Atlanta. The Yellow Jackets, originally scheduled to host Pitt on Nov. 14 before the game was postponed, didn't play for nearly a full month before beating Duke 56-33 on Nov. 28. Last week, Tech lost 23-13 to NC State, falling to 3-6 overall and 3-5 in the conference.
Pittsburgh at Georgia Tech
Kickoff: Thursday, Dec. 10 at 7 p.m. ET
Spread: Pittsburgh -6.5
When Pittsburgh Has the Ball
Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett suffered an ankle injury during the Panthers' 31-30 loss to Boston College and did not play in losses to Miami and Notre Dame. Pickett returned against Florida State and provided an immediate boost, completing 21 of 27 passes for 210 yards with a rushing touchdown, and threw for 404 yards on 35-for-52 passing with two touchdowns through the air and another on the ground against Virginia Tech. However, Clemson picked off Pickett four times, giving him eight interceptions on the season. Overall, the senior has completed 62.4 percent of his pass attempts for 2,212 yards and 12 touchdowns across eight starts this season. He also has gained 116 rushing yards with seven scores on 67 carries.
Top target Jordan Addison, who caught 11 passes for 127 yards in the win over FSU (his second 100-yard game after posting a career-high 147 against Miami earlier this year), is well on his way to Freshman All-American honors. Addison missed the Virginia Tech game but returned with five catches for 41 yards and a touchdown last week. He ranks fourth in the ACC and No. 11 nationally with 57 receptions and he's 12th in the conference and 32nd in FBS with 652 yards — both are tops nationally among freshmen. Addison's four touchdown receptions also lead the team. But Pitt's receiving corps is deep: Maryland transfer DJ Turner has caught 39 passes for 552 yards and two touchdowns, matching Addison with two 100-yard performances. Shocky Jacques-Louis ranks third with 26 catches for 327 yards, and Taysir Mack has scored two touchdowns among his 21 receptions, of which he has gained 284 yards. Jared Wayne (16 rec., 266 yds., TD), who like Mack has been limited to seven games, is rounding into form as one of the Panthers' big-play threats with an average of 16.63 yards per catch.
Vincent Davis is a solid pass catcher out of the backfield, contributing 24 receptions, 154 yards and a touchdown. More importantly, Davis has also been the team's primary ball carrier and leads with 385 rushing yards and 118 attempts. His five rushing touchdowns rank second to Pickett. A.J. Davis (241 yds., TD) and true freshman Israel Abanikanda (95, TD) add depth in the backfield. However, Pitt ranks No. 119 out of 127 FBS teams with an average of 100.2 rushing yards per game this season, having averaged just 2.99 yards per carry, which ranks No. 119 overall.
When Georgia Tech Has the Ball
Like Jordan Addison, Georgia Tech quarterback Jeff Sims and running back Jahmyr Gibbs have been impressive as true freshmen. Sims has started all nine games for the Yellow Jackets, completing 54.9 percent of his passes for 1,643 yards and 11 touchdowns thus far. Though he has made his share of freshman mistakes, including 11 interceptions (third among FBS quarterbacks), Sims is an excellent runner and leads the team with 478 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns.
Gibbs ranks second with 460 rushing yards and four scores, though he missed last week's game after suffering a hamstring injury against Duke. His three touchdown catches are tied for the team lead, as are his 24 receptions, on which he has gained 303 yards. Jordan Mason, who led the Yellow Jackets with 899 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in 2019, missed four games earlier this season due to injury. Mason ranks third on the squad with 311 rushing yards and has scored twice on the ground, but has returned to top form in recent weeks running for 105 yards against Duke and 99 last week. Mason, along with the emergence of Dontae Smith (296 yds., 3 TDs) and banged-up Jamious Griffin (186, 2) gives Tech a deep set of running backs capable of offsetting Gibbs' absence. After a slow start, the Jackets now rank 31st nationally in rushing offense (201.25 ypg) and rank 41st with an average of 4.78 yards per carry.
Jalen Camp leads the team with 342 receiving yards on 24 catches, including two touchdowns. Malachi Carter (17 rec., 244 yds., 3 TDs), Ahmarean Brown (11, 183, TD), and Adonicas Sanders (15, 216, TD) round out a promising group of receivers. Unfortunately, Marquez Ezzard (9, 124) was recently lost for the remainder of the season due to injury. Georgia Tech has averaged 7.0 yards per pass attempt, which ranks No. 69 nationally, but the unit has struggled with consistency. The offense is managing just 193.4 passing yards per game, which ranks 97th.
Pitt has played solid defense much of the season, particularly against the run. The unit is far from its full strength though, with the midseason opt-out of All-American candidate safety Paris Ford and this week's reported loss of Rashad Weaver, another potential All-American apparently headed to the NFL early. Weaver's departure is the latest in a long list of personnel losses, highlighted by the preseason opt-out of star defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman and various injuries that have limited starters and contributors like Keyshon Camp, and ended the season for others including Wendell Davis, and Damarri Mathis.
Pitt has allowed just 93.1 rushing yards per game, which leads the ACC and ranks fifth nationally. Pitt has yet to allow an opponent to gain more than 156 yards on the ground in a single game, in part due to an FBS-leading 43 sacks and 279 sack yards. The Panthers will miss Weaver, who ranks No. 11 nationally with 7.5 sacks and third with 14.5 tackles for a loss, but Patrick Jones II (9.0 sacks, 13.0 TFLs), SirVocea Dennis (4.0, 14.0) and others are capable of picking up the slack.
With Kenny Pickett back to boost the offense and one of the most consistent defenses in the country capable of holding the up-and-coming (but not yet arrived) Georgia Tech offense in check, Pitt should win and move back above the .500 mark.