If Pittsburgh is to remain a legitimate contender for the ACC Coastal title this year, the Panthers have checked off another item they share in common alongside No. 25-ranked Duke and North Carolina entering this week’s games.
The Panthers kept pace with the aforementioned Coastal schools with an unbeaten record in division play by defeating Georgia Tech 31-28 Saturday afternoon in Atlanta.
Pitt improved to 5-1 overall and 3-0 in the Coastal. Duke had a bye this week and stands 5-1 and 2-0. North Carolina was 4-1 and 1-0 entering Saturday’s game at home with Wake Forest (3-3, 1-2 Atlantic).
But remaining unbeaten in division play was just one item to check off to add to Pitt’s resume. Another is all three have Georgia Tech in their rear-view window with a victory at the expense of the Yellow Jackets.
Yes, Georgia Tech is having a down season, having now lost five straight to fall to 2-5 overall and 0-4 in the Coastal.
But the preseason Coastal favorites have suffered injuries that strong programs can overcome on some weekends. Another factor to note is Georgia Tech’s four losses entering this week were to teams with a combined record of 19-3 (Notre Dame, Duke, North Carolina and Clemson). And don’t overlook that Georgia Tech features a talented quarterback, Justin Thomas.
Pitt overcame all that and won in a way that can be looked back upon as a reason a title season turned out to be special: Chris Blewitt (what an ironic name for a kicker) came through by booting a career-long 56-yard field goal with 1:11 to play to beat the Yellow Jackets at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta.
Pitt’s is appears to be growing in confidence under first-year coach Pat Narduzzi, the former Michigan State defensive coordinator. Maybe the coach with steel town roots growing up not far from Pittsburgh in Youngstown, Ohio, can ignite some more fires.
After beating Virginia Tech and Virginia the last two weeks, it was noted Pitt football enjoyed its first 4-1 start since 2009 and first 2-0 ACC start since joining the conference in 2013. This week the notations continue: Pitt is 5-1 for the first time since 2009, 3-0 for the first time in ACC play and 3-0 for the first time in conference play since 2010 as a Big East member.
Pitt won despite Georgia Tech’s offense coming alive with renewed life. The Yellow Jackets totaled 482 yards with 376 rushing and 106 passing. But the efficiency of Pitt’s offense had Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense playing catchup most of the day. The Yellow Jackets led 21-14 in the second quarter for less than five minutes.
Pitt opened the game with quarterback Nathan Peterman driving the Panthers 13 plays and 75 yards for a 7-0 lead on Tyler Boyd’s 6-yard scoring reception to establish the first lead.
Boyd’s score was one of eight catches for 68 yards and two touchdowns on a day he became the school’s career receptions leader. He needed seven to pass Devin Street’s total of 202. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound junior from Clairton, Pa., now has 204.
Boyd’s second TD was a 17-yarder with 2:48 left in the first half tied the game 21-21 at intermission.
It wasn’t long ago Pitt’s season seemed in jeopardy when running back James Conner, last year’s ACC Offensive Player of the Year, went down with a knee injury in the season opener against Youngstown State that the Panthers struggled to win. But Peterman, a 6-2, 225-pound graduate transfer from Tennessee, has developed a passing offense to go with the running game that Narduzzi wants to define his team.
Peterman finished the game 14 of 21 for 162 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. The Panthers rushed for 200 yards with Qadree Wilson gaining 83 and a touchdown. Darrin Hall only ran for 38, but he averaged 4.8 per carry. Chris James totaled only 22, but he averaged 7.3.
Another reason to think the race between Pitt, Duke and North Carolina is balanced is none of the three teams faces Clemson or Florida State as a cross-division game the remainder of the season.
The Panthers could still be in the Coastal race by the time they play host to North Carolina Oct. 29 in a Thursday night nationally televised game at Heinz Field and travel for a Nov. 14 showdown at Duke.