When Pitt plays N.C. State – 3:30 p.m., Saturday at Carter Finley Stadium – for the first time since the 2001 Tangerine Bowl, a game that looks like a toss-up should come down to a couple of factors – Pitt’s offensive line against N.C. State’s defensive front and Pitt’s secondary against N.C. State’s receivers.
The Pitt offensive line has allowed one sack, and helped Pitt’s Dion Lewis average 132.7 yards per game, sixth in the nation. More impressively, the Panthers have only nine negative plays out of 173 plays this season (not counting three kneel-downs at the end of the Navy game). Of those nine, five were runs – four by Lewis and one by Ray Graham. Three were screen passes for short losses. The offensive line – Jason Pinkston, Joe Thomas, Robb Houser, John Malecki and Lucas Nix – hasn’t been flagged for holding this year. So far, so good. The N.C. State defensive line is by far their toughest test. Led by senior ends Willie Young (15 tackles, 3 sacks) and Shea McKeen (1.5 sacks), the front line anchors a unit that ranks among the nation’s leaders in scoring and yardage. If quarterback Bill Stull has time to throw, Pitt has enough playmakers to continue its high-scoring ways. If he gets hassled into making bad decisions or hurried throws – something we haven’t seen much of this season – it could spiral out of control in a hurry.
· The N.C. State receivers, led by 6-4 junior Jarvis Williams (7-122, 2 TDs) have a significant height advantage over 5-11 Aaron Berry and 5-9 Jovani Chappel. Throw in quarterback Russell Wilson’s ability to create time by scrambling, and the Panthers secondary will be tested for big plays.
· While Pitt’s offensive line is a strength, N.C. State’s front line is a point of concern. The injured-marred Wolfpack haven’t started the same five linemen all season and are looking at freshmen at left tackle and right guard – and a starting left guard, Julian Williams, who missed last week while battling the effects of the H1N1 virus. Left tackle Jake Vermiglio (lower leg) has been cleared to play, but if he can’t go, Andrew Wallace, a 6-5, 299-pound redshirt freshman, will be left to block Pitt all-Big East defensive end Greg Romeus.
· On a side note, it was interesting talking to members of the 1979 team for a story in today’s paper on the crushing defeat at another ACC school, North Carolina, 30 years ago this week. The loss all but ruined Pitt’s hopes of a national championship in what would be the first of three consecutive 11-1 teams. Check out the link.
Prediction: Pitt 17, North Carolina State 13