UNC has had plenty of nail-biting affairs.
Despite winning seven out of the last eight matchups against Pitt, the Tar Heels' margin of victory in that span has only been a combined 31 points. And this season, with close losses to Clemson, Virginia Tech and Appalachian State still fresh in the minds of the Tar Heel football program, yet another close game could finally bode well for Pittsburgh.
The beauty of the bye week
Both UNC and Pittsburgh will enter Thursday night’s primetime matchup with fresh legs as both teams took time off for a bye last weekend. While this gives both teams an advantage in terms of rest and strategy, Pitt entered the break on a high note after defeating Georgia Tech on Nov. 2. Conversely, the Tar Heels lost a crucial ACC game to Virginia on the same day, sending them into the bye with the anguish of defeat still fresh on their minds.
Pittsburgh’s momentum as a program is undeniable — its 6-3 start to the season is a program-best dating back to 2015. Big wins over Syracuse, Duke, and No. 15 UCF headline a year in which the Panthers still have a chance to claim the Coastal Division title.
The optimism surrounding the Panthers' locker room is palpable, and the timely bye week after a strong defensive showing against Georgia Tech directly contrasts a Tar Heel program that is still seeking answers defensively after a porous 38-31 loss.
Weapons out wide
Pitt’s offense has been relatively conservative thus far, only eclipsing 25 points on three occasions this year. However, the Panthers have seen success when they air the ball out to the formidable wide receiver duo of Maurice Ffrench and Taysir Mack.
Ffrench currently leads the conference in receptions with 75, and Mack is tied for fourth with 53. Their production can be stifled by underwhelming quarterback play from Kenny Pickett (9 TDs, 8 INTs), but this duo is the centerpiece of an offense that can capitalize on timely deep balls.
A battle in the trenches
Pittsburgh’s defense has made a habit of tormenting opposing offensive lines with their stout defensive unit up front. The Panthers D-line is ranked second in the nation in sacks at 4.44 sacks per game. Patrick Jones II, Jaylen Twyman, and Kylan Johnson lead this menacing front line, but they are well-rounded in the trenches with eight players tallying more than one sack.
Their ability to get to the quarterback is augmented by a stout run defense that allows a mere 85.9 rushing yards per game, seventh-lowest in the nation. If Pittsburgh’s big men can impose their will on a fledgling UNC offensive line, quarterback Sam Howell and running back Javonte Williams will undoubtedly struggle to put points on the board.
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