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Five Takeaways: Looking For Home-field Advantage

Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi is counting on a significant home-field advantage from the crowd at Heinz Field Thursday night. When his Panthers take the field against Virginia Tech, their hopes of an ACC Coastal title will be on the line.

While the Panthers do not control their destiny, they have many paths to victory, but nearly all of them start with a win against the 24th-ranked Hokies on Thursday.

“I would say so,” Narduzzi said Monday. “Based on how things look and I think every ACC game is a must win as we go on, as far as what you want to do. You’re a 5-2 football team and each one of these games is important.”

The current forecast calls for rain with temperatures falling to a low of 43 degrees, which could affect attendance. There’s also the weeknight factor, which could be an issue for some student fans.

The secondary ticket market remains weak, with 3,700 tickets available for as little as $6 late Monday afternoon. But Narduzzi stressed the importance of a strong fan showing.

(Photo credit: David Hague)

(Photo credit: David Hague)

“It’s important. It’s in Heinz Field. It’s our home. We expect, rain or shine, for the Panther Nation to come out and support us,” he said. “It will be a great opportunity. … I told our kids, it’s right there for you, the pursuit and what you want is right there for you, it’s there for the taking. Everything you wanted to do at the beginning of the season is sitting right in front of you on this Thursday night. So, it should be an electric crowd, you got two 5-2 football teams battling Thursday night. So, it’s the only show at least at 7 o’clock, I don’t know if there’s a later game out west, but it’s going to be a big game. It’s huge.”

(Photo credit: David Hague)

(Photo credit: David Hague)

The value of home-field advantage can’t be overstated. From 2001 to 2011, home teams in college football won 62.8 percent of the time, according to BoydsBets.com. That’s a higher figure than college basketball or any of the four major pro sports.

Pitt has been behind the national curve at home, going 10-10 over the last three seasons, but they are 4-0 at Heinz Field this season.

UP TEMPO AGAIN

As has been the case with many of Pitt’s opponents this year, Virginia Tech’s offense will attempt to ratchet-up the tempo under first-year head coach Justin Fuente.

Narduzzi said, in particular, the place a crowd can make a difference is when the Panthers are on defense.

“The crowd, they have got to be a factor,” he said. “You’re looking at a fast tempo offense that probably — we haven’t talked about that — probably will be as fast as a tempo as we have seen this year. We played and practiced for faster tempo in practice, but we haven’t seen it on game day. Most people want to go fast, they want to speed up to slow down so they look to the sideline to get a good play. But they don’t look to the sideline a whole bunch. … So we expect plays to be snapped somewhere between 10 to 15 seconds. If we get 20 to 25 it will be a difference, a loud crowd can be an effect on Thursday night. It needs to be an effect.”

Pitt lost to the fastest-paced offense it faced this year — Oklahoma State — but the Panthers fared well against the also-quick Cavaliers last time out.

ROLLER-COASTAL

It seems that each week, the Coastal Division has a new leader. First, it was North Carolina. Then, after a loss to Virginia Tech, the Hokies took the lead. But they dropped a game in Syracuse to the Orange, putting North Carolina back on the top spot — at least for now.

But Virginia Tech can claim a spot in the ACC title game by winning out, because of the Hokies’ head-to-head tiebreaker over the Tar Heels.

North Carolina fans will be rooting for Pitt Thursday night, because a Hokies loss would shore up the Tar Heels’ lead in the conference. North Carolina owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Pitt.

screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-3-05-29-pm

NARDUZZI NOT A FAN OF RANKINGS

Virginia Tech is ranked No. 25 by the AP Top 25 poll this week, as are North Carolina (No. 21) and Penn State (No. 24).

Pitt beat the Nittany Lions at Heinz Field, but remain well behind them in voting. It’s not something that bothers Narduzzi.

“I don’t worry about the rankings, because it doesn’t matter,” he said “I don’t care about rankings, don’t care about respect, you earn respect. We get an opportunity to earn it Thursday night. Shoot, they may not rank us again, it doesn’t matter. We just keep plugging away with what we do and things will happen.”

CHANGES

Narduzzi, as per usual, didn’t discuss his injured players — wide receivers Dontez Ford and Zach Challingsworth, linebacker Mike Caprara, cornerback Avonte Maddox and safety Terrish Webb, or the availability of Bam Bradley and Ejuan Price, who were both injured in the second half against Virginia.

He did update his depth chart, though. Junior Jeremiah Taleni, who made his debut against Virginia, is now the primary backup to Shakir Soto at DT.

Shakir Soto September 10, 2016 (Photo credit: David Hague)

Shakir Soto September 10, 2016 (Photo credit: David Hague)

Taleni was a healthy scratch for the first game and was on the scout team for a while at the beginning of the year. I don’t believe he was injured, so it may have been something disciplinary in nature.

Amir Watts, who had played ahead of Taleni in the non-conference games, is now behind him at that spot. It seems as if it may have been a rash decision to take the redshirt of the young defensive tackle.

In the secondary, Reggie Mitchell and Webb are listed as co-starters at free safety. Webb was held out of the second half of the Virginia game after a blow to the head. Mitchell played extremely well in relief, so it’s possible that he could play ahead of Webb, even if he is healthy.

(Photo credit: David Hague)

(Photo credit: David Hague)

At the field corner spot, Phillipie Motley and Maddox are listed as co-starters. Maddox was seen with his arm in a sling during the Virginia game and it would be a very quick recovery from his arm/elbow injury sustained against Georgia Tech. Motley is likely to start.

Dane Jackson and Damar Hamlin remain listed as backups, but freshman Therran Coleman, who was listed as such and traveled to Virginia, is no longer on the two-deep.

Here’s my take on the Pitt depth chart:

screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-3-30-18-pmscreen-shot-2016-10-24-at-3-29-47-pm

The time and network for Pitt’s game at Miami on Nov. 5 won’t be announced until after this weekend’s games, the ACC announced.

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Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker

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