Happy game day, everyone. After what has seemed like an eternity, the day is finally here. Pitt and Florida State will kick off in just under nine hours at Heinz Field. We all know no one's getting any work done today, so here's some stuff to chew on, so to speak, as we await kickoff. First, here's my preview from today's P-G about how the wait for this game is finally (FINALLY!) over. I'll have my regular game day up post once I get over to Heinz Field this afternoon, but here are three factors that will ultimately decide if Pitt can pull off the upset or not.
1. Can Pitt stop the run? This goes first because, quite frankly, it's the most important. Florida State is breaking in a new quarterback in Jameis Winston and, despite how talented he is, he's still a redshirt freshman playing in his first game. The easiest way for Florida State to cruise in this game is to let Devonta Freeman and James Wilder, Jr. run over the Pitt defense and make things easy for Winston off playaction passes and simple reads. If the Seminoles can continually move the ball and get big chunks on the ground, I'm not sure how Pitt is going to be able to pull off the upset. If Pitt can stop the Seminoles' running, though, and force Winston to make some throws, I think they've got a shot to get turnovers and make plays on defense. The lower scoring this game is, the better for Pitt. The Panthers just don't have the firepower to go toe-to-toe with Florida State in a shootout, so they need to turn this into a low-scoring, defensive game. Stopping the Seminoles' rushing and putting the game on Winston's shoulders is the best way to do that.
2. Get a big play early. It doesn't need to be anything specific. It could be an interception, a long run, a kickoff or punt return, just something that gets the crowd into the game early and, more important, solidifies the belief on Pitt's sideline that the Panthers can win this game. Going back to the Notre Dame game last year, I think one of the biggest plays for Pitt was Ray Graham's 55-yard run on the first play from scrimmage. Something similar against the Seminoles early would go a long way towards making this a close game down to the wire. Pitt also needs to make the most of its homefield advantage tonight, and a momentum-swinging play early would certainly help get the crowd into the game.
3. Where will the points come from? This is probably the million-dollar question for Pitt's offense. I do actually somewhat like the Panther defense stopping (or at least limiting) Florida State offensively, but I keep coming back to how Pitt is going to move the ball against Florida State's defense. The Panthers have so many uncertainties on offense and Florida State, while breaking in some new "starters," has a lot of guys back who played significant minutes next year. For Pitt to have a chance, someone other than Devin Street has to become a factor on the offensive side of the ball (I would say Isaac Bennett, Tom Savage and Tyler Boyd) are the top contenders. If Florida State can roll coverage to Street and Savage has trouble shaking off the rust, it's going to be a long night for Pitt.
Bennett and James Conner interesting because, similar to what I was talking about with Florida State, the best way for Pitt to get in a groove offensively is to run the ball well. That would like Savage settle in a little bit and make easier throws. I wouldn't be surprised if all four running backs (Bennett, Conner, Malcolm Crockett and Rachid Ibrahim) all got playing time to keep guys fresh against there Seminoles' defense.