The stretch run continues with a road game at Pitt. The Panthers may not be as good as Notre Dame the previous week, but it’s a tough road game and Pitt is a solid team with a veteran QB. Let’s take a look at the 2021 Panthers.
The Panthers finished last season 6-5 (5-5 ACC). They managed a big win (47-14) over Virginia Tech, but otherwise lost their toughest games (Clemson, Notre Dame and Miami). They also managed wins over Louisville, NC State, and FSU.
QB Kenny Pickett started every game, throwing for 2400 yards, 13 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. He rushed for 145 yards and eight touchdowns as well. The running game was led by Vincent Davis with over 600 yards, but aided by speedster A.J. Davis (no relation), with over 250 yards. The WR corps was led by Jordan Addison, who had 60 catches for 666 yards, and Maryland transfer DJ Turner with 44 catches for 634 yards.
Defensively, the Panthers led the nation in sacks (46 in 11 games), despite not having anybody with over nine. Six different players had at least four sacks. Those sacks led the way for a top 20 defense nationally, and a Top 5 rushing defense (remember that sacks are rush yards in college football). The pass defense wasn’t quite that lofty (85th), but teams were forced to pass because they couldn’t run. The pass efficiency defense ranked a solid 44th.
Six wins with a top 20 defense is disappointing. If Pickett and the offense had been a bit better, the Panthers could’ve had a big year.
Key Returners: QB Kenny Pickett, WR Jordan Addison, RB Vincent Davis, LB SirVocea Dennis, LB Cam Bright
Key Departures: S Damar Hamlin, S, Paris Ford, DE Rashad Weaver, DL Patrick Jones
Key New Faces: OT Marcus Minor (Maryland)
The Panthers bring back their QB, RB and much of the WR corps. That should help to improve the offense. The defense also returns a lot, but the top two in sacks are gone to the NFL and replacing those sacks will be key for a team that also loses its top two defensive backs.
If the defense isn’t able to replicate last season’s success without those guys, it could be a down year for the Panthers. The defensive line loses a lot, but the linebacking corps is going to very good and that could be enough to replicate the top-20 performance from last season.
The offensive line needs to improve and Minor will help after playing both inside and outside for the Terps. There’s talent at RB, they just need an OL that can open up some holes for them. If they get that, and Pickett cuts down on turnovers, the defense may not need to be quite as good for the Panthers to contend for the right to get pasted by Clemson in Charlotte.
All-time Record vs. Pitt: 4-8
Last meeting: 2019, Virginia win 30-14
Since Pitt joined the ACC, the Hoos and Panthers have faced off every year. There were a few games prior to that, beginning way back in 1953. The Hoos have won once in Pittsburgh, but that was the last matchup between these two teams in 2019 when Virginia opened the season with an emphatic victory. All-time, Virginia is 4-8 against Pitt, with one of those wins coming in the 2003 Continental Tire Bowl.