ACC: Pitt Panthers vs North Carolina Tar Heels Preview
Welcome to the ACC: Pitt Panthers vs North Carolina Tar Heels Preview! This is your one-stop shop for everything you need to know about Pitt and their upcoming opponent! Mike Drakulich of Pittsburgh SportsNation brings you inside the huddle for both teams, providing all fans with a Game Preview, Pitt’s Keys to Victory, Score Prediction, a detailed breakdown of each team, Game Information, Individual Stats, Team Stats, down to the weather at kickoff. The only thing you’re missing is a game uniform!
On Thursday night, the Pitt Panthers look to run their winning streak to three in a row when the North Carolina Tar Heels visit Heinz Field.
After a tumultuous early season, a once young and inexperienced defense is starting to come into it’s own, especially in shutting down the opposing team’s running game.
“You’re really starting to see the fruits of their labor show up in their production,” defensive line coach Charlie Partridge said. “It hasn’t necessarily shown up in the stat line up until the Virginia game, but this has been a thing coming for a long time since I got here eight months ago.”
Out of the 11 players starting for the Panthers this week on defense, the unit had a combined total of six career starts at the beginning of the year.
Partridge is excited for what the future will bring for his unit.
“This group can be and has the potential to be — and those are dangerous words, can and potential — one of the best D-lines here,” he said. “Trust me, I know what that statement means.”
Partridge has coached some pretty good D-lineman in his career, including none other than the Pittsburgh Steeler’s T.J. Watt, while at Wisconsin.
“As you look to the horizon, this group can be special,” Partridge said. “It’s a young group with a lot of potential.”
Virginia tested Pitt’s defense by going for it on 4th down five times. They were successful only once. They also stopped Virginia 11 out of 17 times on 3rd down.
“We talked about getting paid on the money down,” head coach Pat Narduzzi said. “We stopped them four out of five times on fourth down. That’s big-time football.”
The players have found their confidence and are seeing their hard work in practice–and in games– finally paying off.
“We’re a young group, so we had to get our groove,” sophomore middle linebacker Saleem Brightwell said. “Now, we’ve got it going. I just love being out there with my defense, my brothers, and just making plays happen.”
Offensively, it was great to see Quadree Henderson work his magic again in Pitt’s last game vs Virginia, where he broke seven tackles enroute to a 75 yard punt return for a score.
Henderson hasn’t made as much a difference in the Panther rushing attack this year, but defenses are still pulling players towards his side when he gets used as a decoy for the Jet Sweep.
“Three guys are coming with me, and he (Darrin Hall) has (only) eight people to get away from,” he said. “The safety, the linebacker and a corner all looked at me, thinking I had the ball. Carrying out all my fakes sprung D-Hall on both of those big runs. I’m never a selfish player.
“I do whatever I have to do to get my teammates open for us to win.”
Hall picked up where he left off against Duke in the Virginia game, rushing for 111 yards vs the Cavaliers.
Henderson and the Panthers are getting a little weary of North Carolina, who owns a four game winning streak against Pitt.
“We owe them one,” Henderson said.
Though players like Henderson are eager for a little revenge against a team that has had it’s number since joining the ACC, coach Narduzzi wasn’t going to let UNC’s 1-8 record give his team, or the media, a false sense of confidence.
“I know some of you (reporters) will probably think it’s an easy game,” Narduzzi said. “We’ve stressed with our guys it will not be an easy game. I’ll guarantee you that.”
The Tar Heels have had a tough time replacing key players lost to the NFL, including QB Mitch Trubisky. Chazz Surratt, Brandon Harris and Nathan Elliott have all given it a shot.
“Are any of them Trubisky?” Narduzzi said. “Probably not, but none of our (quarterbacks) are (Nathan) Peterman yet, so that’s even right there.”
One particular player, Ryan Switzer, won’t be there to torture the Panthers anymore.
The Tar Heels, like the Panthers, have shown improvement as the season has progressed. They just haven’t translated any of it into wins.
“They should have beat Miami, in my opinion,” Narduzzi said.
Pitt Keys to Victory
- It’s Darrin Hall Time! Hall and the Pitt offensive line should be licking their chops at a defense giving up over 205 yards a game on the ground.
- Hello Passing Game? If Ben DiNucci can’t get it going against this defense, it’s time to hand the reigns to Kenny Pickett.
- No Careless Turnovers! Secure the ball! Don’t give a wounded team any extra hope or motivation.
- Get to the QB! Take away UNC’s passing game and make them one dimensional. Chazz Surratt is a good athlete and likes to throw deep. Don’t let him.
- Create Turnovers! Nothing is worse for a bad team than turning the ball over. Pressure the QB and force bad throws. DB’s need to make some plays Thursday Night.
- Isolate Jordan Brown! Brown is a nice runner who can also be a danger out of the backfield catching passes. Watch him on slip screens and wheel routes.
The Panthers played N.C. State well for a half before the better team took over. At 2-5, with their only wins over Youngstown State and Rice, the team could’ve folded under the pressure of adversity and called it a season. Thankfully, this young squad took their failures to heart, and decided to start fighting back. The coaching staff wisely chose one running back in Darrin Hall, and handed him the keys to the running game. He’s responded by averaging 182.5 yards over his past two contests. Ben DiNucci has yet to step up his game since the season ending injury to Max Browne, and it seems that freshman Kenny Pickett could get the nod at any moment to jumpstart the stagnant passing game.
The defense is getting better by the week. The hard work and dedication put forth by the coaches into teaching their system, and the willingness to learn it by the players is finally starting to pay dividends. Now they must continue trending upwards and build for next season and beyond.
Pitt should have most of their bumps and bruises healed after a 11 day layoff.
Carolina’s defense can be had via ground or air. As they did the previous two games, expect to see a lot of Darrin Hall, with a mix of Qadree Ollison, Jordan Whitehead, and Quadree Henderson. It would be nice to see DiNucci get on track and give Pitt a balanced attack. If not, what is Pat Narduzzi waiting for with Kenny Pickett?
Pitt’s running game, combined with a steadily improving defense, should be good enough to bring the Panthers back to 5-5 on the year, with big time tests looming in Virginia Tech and Miami to close out the regular season.
Pitt 34 North Carolina 17
NCAA Week 11
Pitt Panthers (4-5, 2-3) vs North Carolina Tar Heels (1-8, 0-6)
Venue: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA.
Game-time: Thursday, November 9th, 7:30 pm
TV: ESPN | Announcers: Dave Flemming (play-by-play) Booger McFarland (analyst) Joey Galloway (analyst) | Laura Rutledge (reporter)
Local Radio: Pittsburgh- 93.7 The Fan | Announcers: Bill Hillgrove (play-by-play) Bill Osborne (analyst) | Larry Richert (sideline)
National Radio: ESPN Radio | Announcers: Bill Rosinski (play-by-play) David Norrie (analyst) | Ian Fitzsimmons (sideline)
Sirius XM Satellite Radio: Sirius Channel 84, XM Channel 84, Internet Channel 84
Weather at Kickoff: 45 with a 10% chance of rain.
Vegas Line: Pitt -10.5
Pitt vs North Carolina History
- Series History: Began in 1974.
- Pitt is 3-8 overall against North Carolina
- Pitt is 2-3 at home vs North Carolina.
- Streak: UNC won the last four meetings.
- Last Regular Season Meeting: Sept. 24, 2016 (UNC 37 Pitt 36)
Junior tailback Darrin Hall has reignited the Panthers’ rushing attack by averaging 182.5 yards over his past two contests. Hall had 254 yards at Duke, followed by a 111-yard effort against Virginia.
Quadree Henderson leads the ACC and ranks seventh nationally in punt returns with a robust 16.1-yard average. North Carolina, in contrast, is 112th in punt return defense, surrendering 12.4 yards per return.
- Cornerback Avonte Maddox, defensive end Dewayne Hendrix and defensive tackle Keyshon Camp are expected to dress, if not play.
Narrow margins have been the rule during recent Pitt-UNC series history. The past six meetings have been decided by a combined 25 points, an average of 4.2 points per game. The Tar Heels slipped past the Panthers in Chapel Hill last year, 37-36.
Pitt’s last victory in the series occurred in the 2009 Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte. Coach Dave Wannstedt’s Panthers edged the Tar Heels (coached by Butch Davis), 19-17, on a field goal with 52 seconds left.
A look at the Pitt Panthers!
Overall Record: 4-5 | ACC Record: 2-3 | Rank: N/A
Head Coach: Pat Narduzzi (3rd Season with Pitt)
Lifetime Record: 20-15 (.571)
Last Week: Pitt 31 Virginia 14
Scouting the Panthers
Quarterback- Senior graduate transfer Max Browne was the starter at the beginning of the season, but his career came to an end at Pitt after requiring surgery on a shoulder injury he sustained against Syracuse. Ben DiNucci is the next man up and has the ability to take off and run if none of the passing lanes are open. The future of the program belongs to Kenny Pickett. The young freshman is now one snap away from being the starter and given his abilities, the sooner that happens, the better for both him and the program.
Running Backs- Pitt plenty of guys who can tote the rock, but none are making a difference. Qadree Ollison was the starter for the first half of 2017, but Darrin Hall has been handed the keys to the lead back role. When Hall was finally given the ball consistently vs Duke, he responded with 254 yards on 24 carries. Chawtez Moss had worked his way into the mix with his abilities but now finds himself suspended indefinitely. AJ Davis has played sparingly but has seen his role increase the last few games. Fullback George Aston is back from injury but hasn’t been involved much in the offense since his return. Despite playing defense and missing three games, SS Jordan Whitehead is 3rd on the team in rushing with 147 yards.
Wide Receivers- Jester Weah caught 36 passes for 872 yards and 10 scores last year. He had struggled to emulate those numbers early in 2017 but has picked his game up over the past month. Needs to get better at attacking the ball and dropping too many easy catches. Quadree Henderson is a dynamic playmaker but hasn’t seen anywhere near the touches needed to produce. When he has gotten the ball, he hasn’t done much. Maurice French contributes on both the ground and in the air, as he employs a style similar to Hendersen. Aaron Mathews is taking advantage of his chances, and Raphael Araujo-Lopez is the team leader with 37 receptions on the year.
Tight Ends- Matt Flanagan and Chris Clark are hoping to be a dynamic duo at tight end for the Panthers. Flanagan has put up decent numbers so far in 2017, and Clark, a huge target, is starting to make his presence known in the Pitt offense.
Defense- Dewayne Hendrix and Rashaad Weaver are co-starters at defensive end, with Allen Edwards on the other side. James Folston, Jr. and Patrick Jones II will also see plenty of action. In the middle, you’ll find Shane Roy and the impressive freshman Keyson Camp. Amir Watts and Kam Cater will be in the rotation.
At linebacker, Elijah Zeise, Saleem Brightwell, and Seun Idowu are the starters. Anthony McKee, Jr. and Chris Pine will get plenty of chances to make an impression, too.
The secondary was scorched game after game last year, and that trend has continued into 2017. Help is on the way as star safety Jordan Whitehead is back after being suspended for the first three games. Avonte Maddox will start at corner on one side and expect to see a rotation of Dane Jackson and Damarri Mathis until one stands above the other. With Whitehead back at SS, Dennis Briggs returns to being a back-up. Bricen Garner and highly touted Damar Hamlin will rotate at FS. Top recruit Paris Ford enrolled late, but his talent will eventually rise to the top and he will see action sooner than later.
Kicker- Freshman Alex Kessman takes over the kicking duties for Pitt. He needs to be more consistent, but he has nailed a 56 yarder this year. He’ll get better with age.
Kick/Punt Return- Quadree Henderson will be back deep for every kick.
Ben DiNucci (895 yards passing | 4 TD passes | 4 interceptions | 11 sacks | 43 yards rushing | 1 rushing TD)
Kenny Pickett (74 yards passing | 0 TD passes | 0interceptions | 0 sacks | 18 yards rushing | 0rushing TD)
Darrin Hall (473 yards rushing | 5 rushing TD’s | 9 receptions | 59 receiving | 1 receiving TD’s)
Qadree Ollison (330 yards rushing | 5 rushing TD’s | 17 receptions | 150 yards receiving | 1 receiving TD’s)
Jordan Whitehead (147 yards rushing | 1 rushing TD’s | 2 receptions | 7 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)
Chawntez Moss (113 yards rushing | 2 rushing TD’s | 5 receptions | 75 yards receiving | 1 receiving TD’s)
AJ Davis (40 yards rushing | 1 rushing TD’s | 1 receptions | 0 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)
George Aston (0 yards rushing | 0 rushing TD’s | 0 receptions | 0 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)
Rafael Araujo-Lopes (37 receptions | 461 receiving yards | 1 receiving TD’s)
Jester Weah (29 receptions | 489 receiving yards | 4 receiving TD’s
Maurice Ffrench (18 receptions | 179 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s)
Aaron Matthews (15 receptions | 180 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s)
Quadree Henderson (13 receptions | 140 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s | 160 yards rushing | 0 rushing TD’s)
Matt Flanagan (17 receptions | 160 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s)
Chris Clark (11 receptions | 60 receiving yards | 1 receiving TD’s)
Alex Kessman (Extra Point: 25-25 | FG: 9-16 | 0-19: 0-0 | 20-29: 2-4 | 30-39: 1-1 | 40-49: 4-7 | 50+: 2-4 | Long: 56
A look at the North Carolina Tar Heels!
Overall Record: 1-8 | ACC Record: 0-6 | Rank: N/A
Head Coach: Larry Fedora (6th Season with North Carolina)
Lifetime Record: 75-52 (.590) | 41-30 (.577) at North Carolina
Last Week: Miami 24 North Carolina 19
Scouting the Tar Heels
Quarterback- Chazz Surratt leads a pretty average Tar Heels offense. Surratt displays nice touch on his deep throws and can run the ball. For the year, he has thrown seven touchdown passes and three INT’s. He has been sacked 14 times.
Running Backs- Jordan Brown is the lead runner and has 459 yards rushing, three rushing TD’s, and 24 receptions for 176 yards. Michael Carter is UNC’s short yardage back with 403 yards rushing and seven TD’s.
Wide Receivers- Anthony Ratliff-Williams, Jordan Cunningham, and Austin Proehl are the trio of receivers in Surratt’s arsenal. Ratliff-Williams and Cunningham each have 20 receptions, with Ratliff-Williams finding the endzone three times.
Tight Ends- Brandon Fritts is a decent option at tight end for UNC. He has 16 receptions for 114 yards and two receiving TD’s
Defense- Bad! UNC gives up 447.1 YPG and allows 33.4 PPG.
Chazz Surratt (1,284 yards passing | 7 TD passes | 3 interceptions | 14 sacks | 151 yards rushing | 4 rushing TD )
Jordan Brown (459 yards rushing | 3 rushing TD’s | 24 receptions | 176 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)
Michael Carter (403 rushing | 7 rushing TD’s | 6 receptions | 36 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)
Anthony Ratliff-Williams (20 receptions | 336 receiving yards | 3 receiving TD’s)
Jordan Cunningham (20 receptions | 251 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s)
Austin Proehl (16 receptions | 270 receiving yards | 1 receiving TD’s)
Brandon Fritts (16 receptions | 114 receiving yards | 2 receiving TD’s)
Freeman Jones (Extra Point: 22-22 | FG: 6-10 | 0-19: 0-0 | 20-29: 1-1 | 30-39: 4-5 | 40-49: 1-3 | 50+: 0-1 | Long: 45
Pitt – North Carolina: Offensive vs Defensive Comparison
Pitt Total Offense: Pitt averages 363.8 YPG | North Carolina allows 447.1 YPG
Rushing: Pitt averages 145.4 YPG | North Carolina allows 205.1 YPG
Passing: Pitt averages 218.4 YPG | North Carolina allows 242 YPG
Scoring: Pitt averages 24.2 PPG | North Carolina allows 33.4 PPG
Pitt Total Defense: Pitt allows 420.7 YPG | North Carolina averages 344.2 YPG
Rushing: Pitt allows 156.8 YPG | North Carolina averages 137.6 YPG
Passing: Pitt allows 263.9 YPG | North Carolina averages 206.6 YPG
Scoring: Pitt allows 27.9 PPG | North Carolina averages 21.3 PPG
Injury Report (11/8/2017)
Out: TE Matt Flanagan, FB George Aston
Questionable: CB Avonte Maddox, LB Anthony McKee, RB Chawntez Moss
North Carolina Tar Heels
Questionable: QB Brandon Harris, S Donnie Miles, RB Michael Carter, OL Tyler Pritchett, DL Jordan Riley, LB Dominique Ross
Pitt Panthers 2017 Schedule
Regular Season (Overall: 4-5 | ACC: 2-3)
Saturday, September 2 Youngstown State, W- 28-21 OT
Saturday, September 9 at #6 Penn State (ABC), L- 14-33
Saturday, September 16 #9 Oklahoma State (ESPN), L- 21-59
Saturday, September 23 at Georgia Tech* (ACC Network), L- 35-17
Saturday, September 30 Rice (ATT SportsNet), W- 42-10
Saturday, October 7 at Syracuse* (ATT SportsNet), L- 24-27
Saturday, October 14 #20 NC State* (HC) (ATT SportsNet), L- 17-35
Saturday, October 21 at Duke* (ACC Network- ABC), W- 24-17
Saturday, October 28 Virginia* (ATT SportsNet), W- 31-14
Thursday, November 9 North Carolina* (ESPN) at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, November 18 at #13 Virginia Tech* at 12:30 p.m.
Friday, November 24 #8 Miami* at TBA
*ACC game / (HC) Homecoming / Ranking as of that week
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