Pittsburgh 2019 Capsule
2018 Record: 7-7 overall, 6-2 ACC, No. 1 in the Coastal Division
2018 Game Result: Pittsburgh 52, Virginia Tech 22
Returning Offensive Starters: 5
Returning Defensive Starters: 6
Despite finishing with a 7-7 record, Pitt exceeded expectations and won the Coastal Division in 2018. The Panthers played a tough out-of-conference schedule last year, which included three losses to Penn State, UCF, and Notre Dame. In conference play, Pitt had impressive wins over No. 15 Syracuse, UVa at home, and the 52-22 stomping of Virginia Tech at Heinz Field. Pat Narduzzi and Co. had a rough stretch to end the season with three straight losses, at Miami to end the regular season, in the ACC Championship Game to Clemson, and in the Sun Bowl to Stanford.
Narduzzi enters his fifth season at the helm as head coach for Pitt. Over the previous four seasons, the Rhode Island alumnus has compiled a record of 28-24. It’s always a dogfight when Narduzzi faces off against the Hokies, as they’ve split the four meetings. Narduzzi was previously the defensive coordinator at Michigan State under Mark Dantonio since 2007.
S&P+ Offense: No. 71
Total Offense: No. 97
Virginia Tech fans won’t soon forget the rushing attack that running backs Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall showcased against the Hokies in last year’s meeting. The duo combined for 421 yards rushing on 23 attempts for an average of 18.3 yards per carry in the 52-22 victory. Unfortunately for the Panthers, that tandem that combined for over 2,300 yards last year has since graduated. Former four-star prospect A.J. Davis appears poised to take over the starting running back position, while Todd Sibley Jr. could be a change of pace back behind an offensive line headlined by center Jimmy Morrissey and guard Bryce Hargrove.
Mark Whipple enters his first year as offensive coordinator at Pitt. Former offensive coordinator Shawn Watson is now the offensive quality control coach at Georgia. From 2014-2018, Whipple was the head coach at UMass. He also has experience in the NFL as a quarterbacks coach with the Steelers from 2006-2008 and with the Browns from 2011-2012.
With Whipple’s extensive work with quarterbacks, the Panthers have talked about wanting to get more from the passing game over the course of the offseason. Returning as QB1 to try to improve the attack through the air is Kenny Pickett. Now entering his junior season, Pickett passed for 1,969 yards with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions in Pitt’s rush-heavy offense as a sophomore.
On the outside, Taysir Mack and Maurice Ffrench are back after hauling in 1,072 receiving yards between the two of them last year. Ffrench in particular was the red zone threat with six touchdowns in 2018. The Panthers do lose Rafael Araujo-Lopes, who racked up 380 yards and four touchdowns.
S&P+ Defense: No. 53
Total Defense: No. 59
Randy Bates is back for his second season as Pitt’s defensive coordinator. While the record might not have shown it, the Panthers’ defense really improved over the final six games of the season under Bates, allowing only 323 yards per game. Before landing in Pittsburgh, Bates spent the prior 11 seasons as a linebackers coach at Northwestern.
Pitt’s strength begins in the secondary where starting corners Dane Jackson and Jason Pinnock both return. Jackson is the leader of the defense having compiled 28 starts over his career. He led the Panthers with 14 pass breaks up in 2018, and he was an Honorable Mention All-ACC selection. Damar Hamlin also returns for his senior season at free safety after leading Pitt with 90 total tackles last year.
The biggest loss on defense is at the linebacker spot where Oluwaseun Idowu graduated after collecting 82 tackles last year. The linebacker corps will be a group of untested players for Pitt this year, with Phil Campbell III expecting to take on a larger role after garnering 26 tackles last year and getting most of his work on special teams.
On the defensive line, Rashad Weaver was the biggest impact for the Panthers last year with 6.5 tackles and 14 tackles for loss. However, he’ll miss the 2019 season with a torn ACL. Amir Watts returns as a starter from last year at defensive tackle.
Why This Game is Important
Pittsburgh: The Panthers are coming off a Coastal Division title in 2018 and will be looking to become the first repeat champion since Virginia Tech in 2010 and 2011. To do so, a game like this one against the Hokies would be critical in that path.
Virginia Tech: Even in the recent wins against Pitt, the Panthers always caused the Hokies a multitude of problems. In 2016, Jerod Evans engineered a 39-36 win that fans will remember for Narduzzi’s sideline antics. That win helped catapult Virginia Tech into the ACC Championship game, and a similar win could potentially do the same in late November one week before the matchup with UVa.