North Carolina will travel up Heinz Field to face the Pittsburgh Panthers of the Atlantic Coast Conference later this Saturday. Pitt is sitting at 5-4 on the year, coming off a hard fought win against Notre Dame last weekend. Pitt is also 2-3 in the ACC, having beaten Duke and UVA for their only two conference wins. They will be facing a red hot North Carolina team on a three game win streak.
The theme of this game for the Heels really boils down to a must win for bowl eligibility. UNC should win at least one more game this season against Old Dominion, but Pitt and Duke stand in the way of a bowl game. This game is also a test for UNC to see if the last three wins were a fluke. Did UNC win its last three games because it was a poor stretch in the schedule, or is UNC a much improved football team from the start of the season? We will get a much clearer answer to that question after watching the Heels and Panthers face off.
In my opinion, North Carolina should win this football game. I watched some of the Pitt ND game last weekend, and nothing Pittsburgh did offensively really wowed me. They hung with ND and pulled out a tough victory, but playing on Saturday night against a national powerhouse and playing on Saturday afternoon against a new ACC opponent are different animals. I expect Pitt to come out a bit flat with less energy than they had last week. UNC has more at stake and I hope that they play like it.
UNC’s new offense, led by Marquise Williams, actually played really well against Virginia. However, a cause for concern is that UNC only scored three traditional offensive touchdowns against UVA. The punt return, gadget play, and interception return all put points on the board, but without those plays, UNC scores a lot less points. In fact, UNC’s offense looked a little stagnant in the first half besides the opening drive and needed that gadget play to spark some life into the team. UNC needs more on Saturday from the running game and from Eric Ebron to beat Pittsburgh.
Although the offense is going through a period of transition and still working out some kinks without Bryn Renner, the defense has consistently gotten better each game. What I love about the defense is the toughness in the redzone. UNC always battles on red zone defense when the game is hanging in the balance. You can point to games like Middle Tennessee State, on Tre Boston’s interception on the first drive, and the NC State game, where State was often held to field goals instead of TDs, as proof. I think the defense will play even better against Tom Savage and the Pittsburgh offense.
Overall, I think it should be an exciting football game Saturday. These are two pretty evenly matched football teams and the game could come down to a few plays at the end. My head is a little worried, but my heart is saying there is a 100% chance of a win. I believed in this team after the 1-5 start, after all the tough losses, through it all. They battled back from so much this season that they can battle out a win against the Panthers.