Pitt opens ACC play at North Carolina at 3:30 p.m on Saturday. The Panthers have not beaten the Tar Heels since they joined the conference, and this game is becoming a pretty good rivalry. Here are three things to watch for:
1. How about that pass defense?
Let’s face it. It could be another very long day for the Panthers if the pass defense hasn’t taken a step forward this week after. Coach Pat Narduzzi insisted that improvement happened during practice and will translate to the game. He also expressed supreme confidence in cornerback Avonte Maddox, whom he suspects he will be playing with a chip on his shoulder this week. North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky is passing for 284.3 yards per game, and connecting with Ryan Switzer for 73.7 yards per game.
2. UNC’s Elijah Hood
Hood, at 220 pounds, is averaging 6.2 yards per carry this season, and broke out for a 62-yard rushing touchdown against Illinois. With an experienced offensive line in front of him, Hood will be armed with everything he needs to do some damage. Pitt has used Aliquippa’s Kaezon Pugh (6-1, 210) on the scout team this week to prepare for Hood. But there’s nothing like the real deal, and Pitt’s ability to slow him will be a key to this game.
3. James Conner, and the run game.
Pitt’s biggest strength is the run game, and considering the Tar Heels rushing defense has not been a strong suit, that lines up nicely for Pitt. North Carolina is ranked just No. 106 in the country and have surrendered 226.7 yards per game. Position coach Andre Powell said this week he will be more mindful of not overworking his star back, which we can understand is a temptation.
*Game is at 3:30 p.m. on ESPNU
*And here is Pitt's first first injury report of the season, something the team's have to release before ACC games.
Probable: LB Bam Bradley (lower body), LB Mike Caprara (lower body)
Out: WR Dontez Ford (upper body), LB Elijah Zeise (lower body
Out for the Season: TE Chris Clark (lower body), DL Zack Gilbert (medical), OL Mike Grimm (lower body), DE Dewayne Hendrix (lower body)