THE MATCHUP: PITT (1-1) VS GEORGIA TECH (1-1)
WHEN: 12:30 P.M. EST
WHERE: HEINZ FIELD, PITTSBURGH, PA
HOW TO WATCH: AT&T SPORTSNET PITTSBURGH
HOW TO LISTEN: 93.7 THE FAN & THE PITT IMG SPORTS NETWORK
51-6 happened, and for Pitt fans and players alike, there is nothing to do but look towards the goals that lay ahead.
With that said, Pat Narduzzi and the Panthers’ quest for a berth in the 2018 ACC Championship Game begins this Saturday when they open conference play against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
The Yellow Jackets, fielding a 1-1 record, have competed in two drastically different games this season. After manhandling Alcorn State 41-0 in week one, GT squandered a 10-point fourth quarter lead against South Florida last week, losing 49-38 in a back-and-forth duel. Like Pitt, the Yellow Jackets seek to regain positive momentum on the season, and they will do so against a team they defeated 35-17 in 2017.
Under Head Coach Paul Johnson for the eleventh year in a row, Georgia Tech implements the always pesky, run-heavy, triple-option spread system. With 429 yards-per-game on the ground, the Yellow Jackets currently lead the FBS in that category by 68 yards. Conversely, they rank 114th in the FBS in passing yards-per-game, although that still places them eight spots ahead of Pitt, who rank 122nd.
Taquon Marshall returns behind center after breaking Georgia Tech’s single season rushing record by a quarterback with 1,146 yards in 2017. The 5-foot-10-inch, 180-pound senior completed just 4-of-7 passes for 48 yards against Pitt last season, but he found success on the ground, rushing for 112 yards and 2 touchdowns. Despite missing a chunk of the second half against USF last week with a lower body injury, Marshall currently leads the Yellow Jackets’ in rushing with 22 carries for 190 yards and 2 touchdowns. Through the air, he has completed 18-of-36 passes for 287 yards, 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.
While Marshall was sidelined last week, redshirt-freshman quarterback Tobias Oliver entered the game. In many cases, offenses stall when the starting quarterback is forced off the field, but this was not one of those cases. Instead, Oliver rushed for 97 yards and 3 touchdowns on 18 carries, leading GT to a 38-28 lead. If Marshall, for one reason or another, is to miss time on Saturday, fans should not expect a drop in production.
In Paul Johnson’s triple-option offense, Georgia Tech features three starters at running back: two A-backs and a B-back. The starting A-backs line up out wide, while the B-back lines up behind the quarterback.
At A-back, Clinton Lynch and Qua Searcy return, as does 2017 part-time starter Nathan Cottrell. All three backs can move the chains, but Lynch is the big-play threat to fear. After averaging an ACC-best 17.1 yards-per-rush in 2016, a nagging injury led to less extended runs and overall carriers in 2017. But he is back to breaking big plays this season, already adding an 81-yard reception to his rèsumè against USF.
At B-back, the running back who lines up behind the quarterback, was 2017 second-team All-ACC honoree KirVonte Benson. However, Benson sustained a knee injury against USF and will miss the remainder of 2018. While the absence of a player who rushed for 196 yards and 2 touchdowns against Pitt last season might induce a sense of relief, backup B-back Jordan Mason performed very well in Benson’s absence against USF. Like Oliver at quarterback, Mason proved to be a more than capable backup, rushing for 95 yards on 13 carries, with a long of 46 yards.
On the outside, the only wide receiver with over 50 receiving yards in 2018 so far is Brad Stewart. The 6-foot-1-inch, 195-pound senior has 5 receptions for 55 yards and a touchdown. GT’s receivers do not see much action in the passing game, but when they do, Stewart is the most experienced and active player at the position.
Along the offensive line, the Yellow Jackets’ return three players with starting experience, including junior left guard Parker Braun, a second-team All-ACC selection in 2017. Despite the lack of size up front (all five starters weigh less than 290 pounds), they clear the way for the Yellow Jackets’ stable of dangerous runners.
Georgia Tech switched from a base 4-2-5 to a base 3-4 defense in the offseason after Nate Woody was hired at defensive coordinator. With just two games down, Woody’s unit can say it has both pitched a shutout and allowed five touchdowns. The considerable difference in performances makes it somewhat tougher to assess how they will fare against Pitt’s offense, although it is important to remember that Alcorn State served as their FCS “warm-up” opponent.
Up front, 6-foot-1-inch, 285-pound senior nose tackle Kyle Cerge-Henderson gets the start over the beefier Brandon Adams. At 325 pounds, Adams presents a more traditional choice at nose tackle, but Cerge-Henderson brings more pressure (2 sacks against USF). For a team that accumulated a mere 17 sacks in 2017, more pressure on the quarterback is welcomed.
Flanking Cerge-Henderson on the line are Anree Saint-Amour and Desmond Branch. At 6-feet-3-inches and 245 points, Saint-Amour – who started at defensive end last season on a 4-man defensive line – is rather undersized for the defensive line. He has 4 tackles and 1 tackle-for-loss in the new formation.
At linebacker, Georgia Tech is starting twice as many players as they did in 2018 due to the schematic switch. Starting on the inside are Brant Mitchell and David Curry. While Mitchell brings 2+ seasons of starting experience, Curry (6-feet-2-inches, 217 pounds) is tied for the team lead in tackles with 10. And at outside linebacker are Jalen Johnson and the team’s leader in tackles in 2017, Victor Alexander.
Rounding out the defense is a secondary that must replace all five starters from 2017. Despite being listed as the second-string strong safety, 6-foot-4-inch redshirt-freshman Kaleb Oliver has been the most productive player in the secondary, registering 8 tackles, 1 tackle-for-loss, 1 interception, 2 passes defended and 1 break up.
|Points Per Game||19.5||29.0||39.5||24.5|
|Yards Gained Rushing||545||339||887||331|
|Yards Lost Rushing||62||68||29||30|
|Average Yards Per Rush||5.4||4.4||7.7||4.2|
|Average Yards Per Game||241.5||135.5||429.0||150.5|
|Average Yards Per Game||112.0||221.0||143.5||135.5|
|Average Yards Per Play||5.4||5.9||7.8||4.5|
|Average Yards Per Game||353.5||356.5||572.5||286.0|
|KICK RETURNS – RETURN YARDS||5-132||4-94||7-144||8-298|
|PUNT RETURNS – RETURN YARDS||5- -3||2-38||4-42||1-0|
|INTERCEPTION – RETURN YARDS||2-79||2-0||2-25||3-27|
|KICK RETURN AVERAGE||26.4||23.5||20.6||37.2|
|PUNT RETURN AVERAGE||-0.6||19.0||10.5||0.0|
|INTERCEPTION RETURN AVERAGE||39.5||0.0||12.5||9.0|
|FUMBLES – FUMBLES LOST||5-3||3-2||3-3||3-2|
|PENALTIES – YARDS||20-171||11-85||11-1110||8-56|
|Average Per Game||85.5||42.5||55.0||28.0|
|PUNTS – YARDS||8-295||10-394||3-120||12-488|
|NET YARDS PER PUNT||32.1||39.7||40.0||33.8|
|TIME OF POSSESSION PER GAME||31:58||28:02||33:41||26:19|
|4th Down Percentage||0%||0%||50%||50%|
|SACKS BY – YARDS||6-41||4-31||3-13||2-10|
HOW/WHERE TO WATCH
Pitt versus Georgia Tech kicks off Saturday afternoon at 12:30pm. The game will be aired on AT&T SportsNet, and can be heard on 93.7 the Fan. Pittsburgh Sports Now and its staff will provide in-game updates and observations via Twitter.