Undefeated no longer, the Pitt Panthers (3-1, 2-1 ACC), coming off a subpar performance against the NC State Wolfpack, take the road for the first time this Saturday against the Boston College Eagles (2-1, 1-1 ACC). The first blemish on Pitt’s record came as a shock, with the Panthers entering as 14-point favorites. I remain confident in the Panthers’ ability to bounce back on Saturday at 4 p.m. on the ACC Network.
An uncharacteristic performance of the defense to say the least, Pitt allowed 336 passing yards to redshirt sophomore quarterback Devin Leary, after giving up 363 passing yards through its first three games combined.
Pitt senior quarterback Kenny Pickett posted a career-high 411 passing yards with a completion percentage of 56.4, bringing his cumulative total for the season to over 1,100 yards and 63.2%. On pace to break the 3,000-yard mark through the air for the second season in a row, he has performed superbly so far. Pickett threw for one score and ran for two more last week, and was responsible for all three Panther touchdowns. Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said Monday he’s pleased with how his senior leader has played so far this season.
“I’m happy with the way Kenny is playing. Kenny played an outstanding game, guys, and played well enough to win, like our special teams did.” Narduzzi said, “He threw the ball well, maybe his best game this year so far.”
Redshirt senior wide receiver DJ Turner has played a massive role in the offense as well, leading the ACC with over 300 receiving yards after turning in an eight reception, 186-yard day against NC State. The offense is clearly in Pickett’s hands, however. Whether on the ground or through the air, he’s been the catalyst for a Pitt team that has yet to score less than 21 points, accounting for 10 of the team’s 16 total touchdowns heading into Week 5.
The Eagles look to redshirt sophomore quarterback Phil Jurkovec to produce as their running attack struggles to get going, averaging under 2.5 yards per carry through three games. The passing game, on the other hand, produces nearly 80% of the team’s total offensive yards. Both Jurkovec and Pickett quickly became the focal points of their team’s offenses this season.
The Eagles come off a loss to a ranked UNC team in which Jurkovec threw for over 300 yards and two touchdowns, with junior tight end Hunter Long and sophomore wide receiver Zay Flowers combining for 17 catches for 157 yards. Jurkovec brought BC within two with 45 seconds left on the clock, but an interception returned to the house on the two-point conversion attempt sealed the four-point victory for UNC.
Pitt’s defense will have a tough time slowing down Long, who sits closely behind Turner with 25 catches for 270 yards and two touchdowns through three games. Pitt linebackers coach Rob Harley emphasized the team’s focus on one of the best tight ends in the ACC.
“He’s a heck of a player, heck of an athlete, good blocker, physical player, creates matchup issues and we understand we have to know where 80 is at all times,” Harley said. “They know where he is, we have to know where he is, and we have to be very diligent and disciplined with our eyes in finding him.”
Jurkovec, a Pittsburgh native and Pine-Richland graduate, lit up the field in his first three games. Throwing for at least 300 yards in two of those three contests, Jurkovec has propelled this offense and is responsible for all but one of the team’s touchdowns.
Narduzzi offered Jurkovec a scholarship in 2015, just four games into his career as a starter. Many Power Five schools followed suit, and Jurkovec found himself looking at offers to play for some of the biggest names in college football. He chose Notre Dame, but left for Boston College after two seasons with the Fighting Irish. Narduzzi remembers the BC quarterback from high school, and says he plays a lot like the kid he recruited a few years ago.
“[Jurkovec]’s got a quick release. He’s got a strong arm, he’s confident like he was in high school,” Narduzzi said. “If it’s not there, he’s taking off and you’ve got to use those legs. He’s a hard guy to get down.”
A quarterback with a cannon for an arm and strong legs presents challenges for any defense, as one missed tackle or blown coverage can easily turn into an extraordinary play. Harley knows the guys in his room have their work cut out for them this week with a competitor like Jurkovec who can do so many things well.
“He doesn’t want to lose the play. When he gets outside of the pocket, he’s a problem for people because he’s going to extend the play. He’s physical, he’s big, he’s tough to bring down and he’s going to get that ball off. He is determined to get it down field,” Harley said.
The quarterback matchup this week will be fun to watch. Boston College has a +5 turnover margin, and Pitt has a +4, meaning both teams do a great job of taking care of the ball. I don’t envision a sloppy offensive performance on either side, but I also don’t see a shootout.
This game will come down to controlling the clock. Both squads have dominated time of possession, and both can erupt for big plays.
Pitt’s defense ranks fifth in the nation in third down percentage against, only allowing opposing offenses to convert on 24.6% of third down attempts. The Eagles’ defense ranks 53rd in that category, allowing opponents to convert on 53.5% of third downs. Both the Eagles and Panthers offenses convert third downs at 45% clips, leaving it to the defenses to make big plays on third down.
Third down efficiency favors Pitt, leading me to believe they will control time of possession and etch out a win over Boston College. Pitt will hold a lead for most of the game, but Jurkovec will put his team up 27-21 late in the fourth with a touchdown pass to Long. Pickett and the Pitt offense will answer with a touchdown of their own, and leave it to the defense to come up with one last stop. Unlike last week, the Panther defense will get the stop they need to finish off the Eagles.
Pitt: 28 Boston College: 27