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Pitt’s visit to Atlanta, Georgia Tech is a chance to make amends

From the 18th floor of the Marriott Marquis in downtown Atlanta:

If you don’t like heights, keep the drapes drawn or don’t look down. But it is pretty cool. If you dare, copy and paste the following to see what I’m talking about: twitpic.com/djlyb9

Of course, the Pitt team isn’t interested in sightseeing. Saturday night’s game at Bobby Dodd Stadium against Georgia Tech is particularly important for the Panthers, who haven’t lost two in a row yet this year (after doing so a total of five times during the 2011 and 2012 seasons).

Pitt wasted a big opportunity to take a 5-2 record into Atlanta when the defense couldn’t find a way to solve Navy’s triple-option offense in the second half last week. I got the same feeling in that game as I did late in the Notre Dame triple-overtime affair last year — the other team would have scored on 10 more possessions if the game lasted long enough. Pitt just doesn’t have good fortune with mobile quarterbacks. Munchie Legaux of Cincinnati, Notre Dame’s Everett Golson and even Duke’s backup Brandon Connette all proved to be too fast and elusive for the Pitt defense.

Georgia Tech’s Vad Lee also runs well, which suggests to me that Pitt may be in trouble. If someone wanted to know what Pitt needs most to bolster its roster in the next two recruiting classes, I would say speed on defense. Outside linebacker Todd Thomas combines fleet feet and toughness, but he’s only 1/11th of the defense. Aaron Donald has, perhaps, the quickest first step among the nation’s defensive tackles, but he’s only another 1/11th.

Pitt has 15 sacks — eight by Donald. Pitt has forced 14 fumbles — and recovered three. Throw in six interceptions and that’s only nine turnovers in seven games. A total of 104 FBS teams have more fumble recoveries; 84 have more interceptions.

Maybe Pitt fans expected more with eight defensive starters returning from last year’s team.

But, as Paul Chryst likes to say, every week brings a new opportunity. No matter how bad the situation appears to be — and at 4-3, it’s really not terrible – there are five games remaining for Pitt to make amends. A couple of big plays on defense might lead to a 3-2 finish, which probably would mean victory against  North Carolina and Syracuse and either Georgia Tech, Notre Dame or Miami.

Would you sign for that right now, Pitt fans?

I’m not going to jump to conclusions and predict Pitt’s record over the final stretch of the season, but I do believe Georgia Tech will win Saturday night: Make it, 28-17.

One final personal note: Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium will be the 14th first-time venue for me since I started covering Pitt in 2011. It’s the oldest on-campus facility in college football and is celebrating its 100th birthday this year.

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