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Ludwig: Pitt Cannot Afford Loss to Wake Forest



Pitt wideout Bub Means gets congratulated by his teammates on the sideline after scoring against Virginia Tech on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023 in Blacksburg, Virginia. (Mitchell Northam / Pittsburgh Sports Now.)

I can see plenty of reasons to be optimistic when it comes to Pitt taking on Wake Forest Saturday afternoon. I do think Pitt is going to win, but a loss would kill all the momentum established by beating Louisville.

The 2023 season has already been supremely disappointing, sitting at 2-4 (1-2 ACC) even with an upset win over then-No. 14 Louisville, but context is key. There still — despite struggles offensively and defensively — hasn’t really been a game where Pitt has been completely out of it.

Pitt has lost four games this season, and there’s probably only one where it’s like, ‘Okay, yeah. Yeah, they got us.’ There wasn’t anything the Panthers could’ve done to stop Drake Maye and North Carolina.

But the other three losses? Could Pitt have beaten West Virginia if Phil Jurkvoec didn’t turn the ball over three times? 100%. WVU backup quarterback Nicco Marchiol threw for 60 yards. 10 points directly off of two of Jurkovec’s picks. 211 yards of offense for both teams. Average quarterback play is the difference.

Cincinnati was bad then, and it looks even worse now. Inexcusable. Virginia Tech isn’t as bad, especially not coming at night in Blacksburg, Va., but it’s still pretty bad.

If Pitt wants to not just reach for its new-look end-of-season goals but show that the Panthers have any sort of juice, a loss to Wake Forest cannot occur. A bowl berth would be nice — and it is the goal — but this is a Pitt squad that wants to show it has reached a certain level of consistency. That hasn’t been the case so far. But it can start Saturday.

Wake Forest is 0-3 in the ACC, with losses to Clemson, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, and the Demon Deacons have fallen quite far from where they were in 2021.

Sam Hartman is now at Notre Dame, and Mitch Griffis — returning to the starting lineup after being benched against Virginia Tech last week — leads the way. And he has not inspired much confidence. His QBR this season is comparable to Jurkovec’s, for reference.

Pitt quarterback Christian Veilleux.

Pittsburgh Panthers quarterback Christian Veilleux (11) October 5, 2023 David Hague/PSN

The Demon Deacons offense is scoring just 23.5 points per game this season (13th in the ACC). It dips to just 13.7 points per game in actual ACC play, and the Deacons haven’t exactly played murderer’s row this season.

I think it’s fair to say that Wake Forest isn’t a very good football team this season.

Counting Wake Forest, Pitt has to win four games over its next six to become bowl eligible. And when it comes to the remaining schedule, there are — what appear to be — tough games ahead.

Notre Dame is up next, on the road in South Bend, Ind., and that’s a very difficult environment to play in, but Florida State will be even tougher the following weekend. But then it opens up into Syracuse (at Yankee Stadium) and Boston College.

Syracuse and Boston College have won one ACC game this season. Combined. But even then, the regular season finale comes on the road against a solid Duke squad, which should have a healthy Riley Leonard by then.

Pitt’s remaining opponents, after Wake Forest in this case, have a 24-9 (7-5 ACC) record entering Saturday. There are certainly some bad losses mixed in there, but Pitt isn’t without bad losses of its own this season either.

A 6-6 regular season would be a disappointment considering the expectations entering the season, but with all that’s transpired over the first month and a half of the season, that would be a major success for both the coaching staff and the players. It would mean wins against some good opponents and tangible growth shown with players who will be around for a while.

There’s a new quarterback, injuries across the lineup and underclassmen making an impact at just about every position, and a 6-6 season will do nothing to quell the doubt from a national audience, but it will show that Pitt battled. This isn’t a team lacking talent, but there won’t be many “easier” games left this season than Wake Forest.

The road back begins with the Demon Deacons, and Pitt cannot afford to trip up at the very beginning.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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