Still, this is a game that if FSU shows up ready to play, they should win going away. They are a 21.5-point favorite, and Pitt’s only other win of the season came against a 0-8 FCS team.
This will be a telling Saturday for the Panthers as they come off a rather bad week in more than one way. First, they got completely dismantled by Notre Dame 58-7 in a loss that closed the door on any hopes of a postseason.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi made a rather interesting statement about his roster. He basically said they lost a lot of talent and had not done a good job replacing it. While the quote was part of a larger conversation that was taken out of context, it still made its way through the locker room, with multiple players responding on social media. This feels like one of those moments that Pitt players either quit or rally the troops, and let’s hope it’s not the latter.
This is a big game for FSU despite Pitt’s record. They are now in the playoff picture and don’t have any margin for error. Not to mention, if they win on Saturday, they clinch a slot in the ACC championship game for the first time since 2014.
There’s no way to sugarcoat it the Pitt offense has been downright terrible this season. They rank 101st in scoring offense, 91st in passing offense, 117th in rushing offense, and 106th on third downs. About the only metric they rank well in is red zone offense (T-13th), but they also rank 132nd in trips to the red zone.
To be fair they did lose a lot of talented players from last season. That led them to bring in transfer quarterback Phil Jurkovec from BC. Most of you know that I’ve never been on the Phil Jurkovec hype train, but this seemed promising as he had his best season when working with Pitt’s new offensive coordinator, Frank Cignetti, during his time at BC.
That experiment did not go as planned, and after a 1-4 start, Jurkovec was benched for Penn State transfer Christian Veilleux. Unfortunately for Pitt, the quarterback situation still didn’t get a whole lot better.
Jurkovec was 57/112 (50.9%) for 818 yards (7.3 YPA) with 6 touchdowns and 3 Interceptions. Since Veilleux stepped in, Pitt has a 1-3 record, and he has gone 66/127 (52%) for 774 yards (6.1 YPA) with 5 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Neither quarterback is known for their mobility, and Veilleux is averaging 1.4 YPC this season.
I will admit the switch looked good at first. Veilleux’s first game was the win over Louisville, where he threw for 200 yards and 2 touchdowns. He then backed that up with a 302-yard performance against Wake, but it came off the rails last week against Notre Dame, where Veilleux threw for just 127 yards and had 4 Interceptions.
The Seminole secondary has been very effective at shutting down the pass. They lead the country in passing touchdowns and completion percentage allowed. In fact, the FSU defense did not allow a single passing touchdown in the month of October. Some argue that they haven’t faced the toughest passing defenses, but they have shut all of them down. Outside of the Notre Dame game, Veilleux hasn’t been terrible. However, this will be the best pass defense he has faced, and I expect FSU to have another solid outing.
At receiver, three top guys stand out for Pitt. Konata Mumpfield leads in yards (399) and touchdowns (4). He primarily lines up in the slot but will line up out wide as well. One thing to note on Mumpfield is that his catch rate is only 60%, his contested catch rate is 40%, and Pitt has been picked off four times when he was targeted.
Bub Means is second in yards at 389 and touchdowns with 3. However, he has one of the lowest catch rates on the team at 41.8%, and his contested catch rate is the lowest at 38.5%.
Gavin Bartholomew is the third leading pass catcher from the tight end position. He brings good size at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, and has much better catch rates at 73.9% and 100% on contested catches.
Pitt has struggled to run the ball this season. They have not averaged over 5 yards per carry in a game and had a dismal performance against VT, who has the 79th-ranked rushing defense, averaging only 1.1 yards per carry. C’Bo Flemister leads the group with 301 yards (4.1 YPC) and 2 touchdowns. Rodney Hammond Jr is probably the most talented back and comes in second in yards with 278 (4.2 YPC) and leads in touchdowns with 3.
FSU has not done as well stopping the run as they have taking away the pass, but this is not an explosive run game. Besides, every defense in the country wishes they could take away both aspects, but that is easier said than done. FSU’s defense shut down Wake Forest last week and has appeared to hit mid-season form. They should be able to limit a struggling Pitt offense.
Pat Narduzzi is a former Broyles Award winner for his performance as a defensive coordinator, so it’s no surprise that Pitt typically has a good defense. While it hasn’t been dominant this year, it has definitely been their strength.
Pitt ranks in the upper third of most defensive categories except the one that matters most, scoring defense. They are allowing 28.8 PPG, which is tied for 94th. Their passing defense comes in at 55th, rushing defense at 51st, third down defense is tied for 49th, and red zone defense is at 66th.
The big takeaway is when you look at the two better offenses they have faced, UNC put up 41 points on them, and Notre Dame put up 58. Florida State’s scoring offense is better than both of those. Of course, Notre Dame also had four interceptions, which helped run the score up, and something like that is hard to repeat. But even Virginia Tech put up 427 yards and 38 points. Louisville racked up 430 yards but turned it over 3 times and missed a field goal, leaving them with only 21 points.
At the end of the day, I feel good about Florida State’s offense maintaining their streak of scoring 30+ points, especially if the defense hands them the ball back by shutting down a struggling Pitt offense. This is the type of game where you just have to execute. The yards and points will be there as long as you don’t give them away with mistakes and penalties.
It is also worth noting that Pitt has struggled on special teams too. Field goal kicking has been a big part of that, as kicker Ben Sauls has only hit 6 of 10 this season. The one potential mismatch to watch is Pitt has allowed 2 punt returns for a touchdown and is ranked 132nd in punt return yards allowed per game. We have seen Keon Coleman have some electric returns lately, and Deuce Spann always seems to be on the edge of breaking one. There might just be a big special teams play for FSU in this one!
This game is the definition of a business trip. FSU has to travel a long distance to play a struggling team in potentially cold weather late in the season. To be honest FSU probably doesn’t have to play its A-game, but that doesn’t mean they can take this one lightly. Pitt is one of the few ACC teams that owns the series record over FSU (6-4), and the Noles are 2-3 all-time at Pitt.
As we mentioned, this is a huge game despite the opponent’s record. FSU is back to playing for something again, and their playoff hopes could be on the line every week. Not to mention, a win here stamps their ticket to play in the ACC championship game for the first time since 2014.
As long as they show up ready to play, don’t get caught looking ahead to Miami, and limit the mistakes that would let an inferior team hang around, they should win this one by enough to cover the 21.5-point spread. I don’t think they need to win by 50 as Notre Dame did, but style points certainly wouldn’t hurt against a 2-6 team. You just want to avoid a BC type of game when we know the committee is still punishing FSU for a game that happened in September…
I think the Noles know what is at stake and will be ready to go. Give me FSU to get it done on the road 45-10. Coincidentally, Michael also had a score prediction of 45-10, so let’s hope we’re right! Thanks for reading, and Go Noles!
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