PITTSBURGH – If Pittsburgh is going to keep alive any hopes of winning the ACC Coastal Division for a second straight season, they'll have to find a way to solve the host North Carolina on Thursday. The Tar Heels have won the last six matchups against the Panthers by a combined 26 points, including 38-35 last season.
TV: 8 p.m ET, ESPN. LINE: Pittsburgh -4
"(North Carolina) is probably the best 4-5 team in the country coming off of five losses, total of 19 points, and beat a South Carolina team, beat a Miami team that we had not beat and then lost to Clemson by one point," Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said at his weekly press conference Tuesday. Pittsburgh is tied atop the Coastal standings in the loss column with Virginia and Virginia Tech, and play the Hokies next week but have already been beaten by the Cavaliers. The Panthers have had a week off to reconnect after the defense held Georgia Tech to 194 yards and used a goal-line stand to help post a 20-10 victory Nov. 2. North Carolina continued alternating losses and wins for a fifth straight week in its 38-31 setback to Virginia on Nov. 2 despite 353 yards and four TDs from freshman Sam Howell.
ABOUT NORTH CAROLINA (4-5, 3-3 ACC)
Howell won his fourth ACC Rookie of the Week Award with 350 yards of total offense - the most by a Tar Heels quarterback against Virginia - and with four TD passes coming from at least 34 yards out. Howell’s 26 touchdown passes tie former Miami star Brad Kaaya for third-most in ACC history by a freshman in a season, and Howell is the only quarterback in the FBS that has thrown multiple touchdown passes in nine consecutive games. Wide receiver Dyami Brown earned ACC Receiver of the Week honors with six catches for a career-high 202 yards - the seventh-most receiving yards in school history and the most in the ACC this season - and a personal-best three TDs.
ABOUT PITTSBURGH (6-3, 3-2)
The Panthers overcame three first-half turnovers (two interceptions) and a blocked punt as Kenny Pickett threw for 204 yards and a touchdown and Vincent Davis took a wildcat snap 61 yards for a score. Senior wide receiver Maurice Ffrench, averaging 8.3 catches - third in FBS, snagged a career-high 11 passes for 71 yards and returned five punts for a career-high 57 yards.The Panthers’ defense is second in the nation in sacks (4.44 per game), seventh in rushing defense (85.9 yards), ninth in total defense (280.2) and ninth in third-down conversion defense (29.5 percent).
1. North Carolina leads the series 10-3.
2. Pitt K Alex Kessman had converted 10 consecutive field goals and 15 straight placements before missing a 44-yard field goal in the fourth quarter versus Georgia Tech.
3. The last time North Carolina's Mack Brown coached against Pitt was 35 years ago when Brown was Oklahoma's offensive coordinator. The Sooners rolled past the Panthers in Pitt Stadium 42-10 on Sept. 15, 1984.
PREDICTION: Pittsburgh 24, North Carolina 21