One team will look to become bowl eligible on Saturday while the other hopes to clinch a spot in the ACC Championship Game for the first time ever. Fresh off a road upset of NC State, Wake Forest will look to get to six wins on Saturday as it plays host to Pittsburgh in what will be the first-ever matchup between the schools.
The Demon Deacons scored the game’s final 14 points last Thursday to escape Raleigh with a 27-23 upset of the Wolfpack. Wake Forest did so with quarterback Sam Hartman on the bench. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, is coming off a 52-22 thrashing of Virginia Tech. With a victory on Saturday, the Panthers will become the sixth different ACC Coastal champion in as many years.
Pittsburgh doesn’t necessarily have to win to clinch the division this week, however. The Panthers would be in the conference title game with a Virginia loss at Georgia Tech. With a win, the Demon Deacons would become bowl eligible for the third straight season under head coach Dave Clawson. Wake has made it to three straight bowl games on only one prior occasion in 110 previous years of football.
Pittsburgh at Wake Forest
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 17 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
Spread: Pittsburgh -7
Three Things to Watch
1. The Pitt rushing attack
The Pittsburgh offense will try to use its biggest strength to attack the biggest weakness of the Wake Forest defense on Saturday. The Panthers currently rank second in the ACC in rushing yards per game with 256.9 per contest — behind only Georgia Tech. Against Bud Foster’s Virginia Tech defense last week, Qadree Ollison toted the rock for a career-high 235 yards and three touchdowns on just 16 carries. The senior currently ranks third in the ACC in rushing yards. Darrin Hall, a senior who splits time with Ollison, ranks fifth in the ACC in rushing yards and has accounted for over 400 yards rushing and four touchdowns in the last two weeks alone.
Stopping the run has been a sore spot for Wake Forest this season, although the Demon Deacons did make significant strides last week in Raleigh. Wake Forest is allowing more than 200 yards per game on the ground but held the Wolfpack to just 47 yards rushing last week and under two yards per carry. NC State quarterback Ryan Finley still had a big night throwing the ball against the Wake secondary, but being able to stop the run played a major role in the upset. Wake Forest does present an experienced front seven with senior linebacker Justin Strnad leading the team with 78 tackles and 7.5 for loss.
2. Jamie Newman
After going with freshman Sam Hartman for the early part of the season, Wake Forest made a quarterback change last week, turning to sophomore Jamie Newman, and the change seemed to pay off. In a thrilling 27-23 win over NC State, Newman passed for 297 yards and three touchdowns on 22-for-33 passing and led two fourth-quarter touchdown drives in the final 6:07 to erase a 10-point deficit. His 32-yard touchdown pass to Jack Freudenthal with 30 seconds to go served as the game-winner.
Newman will be facing a Pittsburgh defense that ranks ninth in the ACC in passing yards allowed per game. The Panthers are tied for seventh in the conference in interceptions with seven on the season. No player has more than one for the Pittsburgh defense thus far. On the other sideline, Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett has been largely a game manager.
3. Pass protection
While the biggest weakness for Wake Forest on defense may be stopping the run, the biggest sore spot on offense may be pass protection. Among ACC teams, only Florida State and Louisville have allowed more sacks this season than Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons are a veteran group up front with three redshirt seniors and two redshirt junior starters. Center Ryan Anderson headlines the group. As for the Pitt defense, it ranks in the middle of the pack in the ACC with 25 sacks on the season. Redshirt sophomore Rashad Weaver leads the team with 5.5 on the year.
Pittsburgh doesn’t throw the ball that often but has been susceptible to allowing sacks, although Wake Forest isn’t a great pass-rushing team. The Demon Deacons have managed just 18 sacks this season. Only Georgia Tech and Louisville have gotten to the quarterback less often among ACC schools. Sophomore defensive end Carlos Basham leads the team with three sacks. The Panthers start four seniors up front, led by right tackle Alex Bookser.
Saturday’s contest in Winston-Salem will ultimately come down to whether or not Wake Forest can stop the Pittsburgh ground attack. After a road upset of NC State, Wake Forest will come in as a confident team, while Pat Narduzzi’s Panthers hope to be championship bound. Pittsburgh is the hottest team in the ACC Coastal, and with so much to play for, it’s hard to envision the Panthers failing to give an inspired effort.