by Sharon Thorsland
North Carolina is cruising on the gridiron, the 21st ranked Tar Heels are 6-1 on the season heading into Saturday night’s game against defending ACC champ Pitt. Kick-off is set for 8:00 on WBT. Pitt is not having nearly the same success as the Heels, the Panthers have lost two of their last three and are now 4-3 on the year.
A year ago at this time Pitt boasted one of the most explosive offenses in the country. But quarterback Kenny Pickett left for the NFL, and star receiver Jordan Addison chased NIL money and left for Southern Cal. New quarterback Kedon Slovis is struggling, he’s thrown for 1325 yards with five touchdowns and five interceptions. His top targets are Jared Wayne and Konata Mumpfield, who have combined for 678 yards and two scores. But the Tar Heels don’t have to worry so much about Pitt’s passing game – it’s the running game they need to contain. Pitt is averaging over 184 yards per game on the ground, most of those coming from Israel Abanikanda. The junior has rushed for 959 yards and 13 touchdowns and is also a threat at receiver, leading the nation with 185 all-purpose yards per game. “Izzy” also leads the nation in total points, touchdowns. and scoring per game. Needless to say, Abanikanda basically is Pitt’s offense. And as you might have read here before, UNC struggles to stop the run. The Tar Heels are dead last in the ACC in rushing defense and have given up over 200 yards rushing four separate times this season. Meanwhile, Pitt is 3-0 when rushing for over 200 yards – so the Heels have their work cut out for them.
The good news is, UNC leads the league in scoring with nearly 42 points a game. Freshman quarterback Drake Maye has tossed 24 touchdowns and just three interceptions and has plenty of weapons, starting with star receiver Josh Downs. They’ll face a Pitt defense that is ranked 28th in the country allowing 334 yards per game. They boast a ferocious pass rush led by SirVocea Dennis, he has five sacks and leads the team in tackles. He teams with Calijah Kancey, who has three sacks and seven QB hurries. Safety Erick Hallet has three interceptions and a pair of fumble recoveries.