Georgia Tech Football 2018 Opponent Preview: Pittsburgh Panthers

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 24: Kenny Pickett #8 of the Pittsburgh Panthers passes against the Miami Hurricanes on November 24, 2017 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 24: Kenny Pickett #8 of the Pittsburgh Panthers passes against the Miami Hurricanes on November 24, 2017 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

In the third game of their season, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets will begin ACC play when they travel up north to visit the Pittsburgh Panthers.

The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets will begin their ACC conference schedule in week three of this season when they travel north to face the Pittsburgh Panthers. The Yellow Jackets will make the trip to Pittsburgh one week after facing the USF Bulls in Tampa.

Last season, the Jackets defeated the Panthers 35-17 despite incredibly sloppy play that included four lost fumbles on five forced fumbles by Pittsburgh. That being said, the Panthers should be better in 2018 and it won’t be easy to get away with playing another sloppy game.

The Panthers will be a good test to start ACC play for the Yellow Jackets as the Panthers defense looks to take a big step forward in 2018 and has a good deal of potential on offense. However, the Jackets may be the benefit of the Panthers getting caught up in their game from the week before as they are set to take on the 10th ranked Penn State Nittany Lions in primetime. Could that week two game leak into week three for the Panthers? Only time will tell but it’s certainly not out of the question considering the magnitude of that game for Pittsburgh.

A year ago, the Panthers went 5-7 overall and 3-5 in ACC play, a rather disappointing third season for head coach Pat Narduzzi and his coaching staff. Until the last week of the season last year, Pittsburgh’s resume in 2017 was quite bleak picking up wins over Youngstown State, Rice, Duke and Virginia. That being said, the Panthers were able to finish the season off on a high note by upsetting then the second ranked Miami Hurricanes 24-14 which has lead to high expectations for the 2018 season.

The Yellow Jackets offense has had strong success against Pittsburgh in the Paul Johnson era picking up an average of 358-yard per game including a 436-yard effort this past season. The Panthers defense allowed over 140-yards per game on the ground last season and it’s hard to imagine that the number will decrease dramatically meaning the Jackets offense should continue to matchup strongly against the Panthers defense.

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Offensively, the Panthers are going to be looking for sophomore Kenny Pickett to take the offense to new heights. Last season, Pickett saw time in just four games but flashed potential and will most likely make him the Panthers starting quarterback in 2018. Leading rusher Darrin Hall returns in 2018 and should provide a spark in the backfield while fellow senior running back Qadree Ollison will provide a solid change of pace back for the Panthers.

A major loss offensively for the Panthers is the departure of senior wide receiver Jester Weah, who was second on the team with 700-yards receiving last year. Senior Rafael Araujo-Lopes is expected to be the top wide receiver for Pittsburgh in 2018.

The Panthers offense took a step back in 2017 as a whole averaging just over 23-points after averaging 40.9 in 2016. In 2018, the Panthers have the opportunity to see an uptick in their offensive production but it’s hard to think that they will recapture the offensive magic they had under offensive coordinator Matt Canada.

Pittsburgh is a talented team in it’s own right but at the same time, there seems to be struggles with getting each respective part of the program to click at the right time. When their offensive is stellar, they can’t stop junior high football team. When their defense is on, their offense is nowhere to be found. Perhaps in 2018, they’ll find a quality balance between the two facets but if history has shown anything, Pittsburgh is going to be a team that just simply can’t get it all to click and it will cost them several games. They’ll get one game where everything goes right but besides that, Pittsburgh is just an average college football team and program overall.

The Panthers will be a good challenge to open ACC play but they’re also a team that the Yellow Jackets should be able to handle. It will be a strong litmus test for the Jackets to see where they sit in the ACC early on this season.