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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 16 Minnesota at North Carolina

by Sharon Thorsland

North Carolina is undefeated at 3-0 on the season after last week’s win over Minnesota. The 17th ranked Tar Heels now set their sights on ACC foe Pitt., who has finished the past two seasons ranked in the Top 25 but is off to a poor start this season. The Panthers have dropped two straight now after an awful loss to West Virginia in the “Backyard Brawl” and are 1-2 on the season. Saturday’s game kicks off at 8:00 at Acrisure Stadium.

So what is Pitt’s problem? They are starting a quarterback that can’t throw the football.

Sixth-year senior Phil Jurkovec has been awful, he completed just 8 of 20 passes for 81 yards with three interceptions last week. He’s only thrown four touchdowns on the season and already has fans calling for sophomore Christian Veillieux to take over. But the Panthers are sticking with Jurkovec right now and hope he can find find his touch again – he threw for more than 5100 yards and 35 touchdowns during his three seasons as Boston College’s starter. Tight end Gavin Bartholomew is the Panther’s top receiving threat, he’s averaging over 22 yards per catch with one touchdown. Receiver Konata Mumpfield has eight grabs, two of them touchdowns.

Pitt’s best chance at moving the football is on the ground. Do it all running back Israel Abanikanda graduated but the Panthers have a trio of good backs in Daniel Carter, Notre Dame transfer C’Bo Flemister and Rodney Hammond Jr. Together they average 143 rushing yards per game. They’ll face a UNC defense that allows just 129 yards per game on the ground but got gashed for 219 by App State in week two.

Pitt’s defense has been impressive, the Panthers rank 5th in the nation allowing just 236 yards per game. They’re particularly stingy against the pass – opponents are only managing 114 yards per game, that’s good for second in the country. Safety Donovan McMillan is the star of the bunch, he leads the team in tackles. Cornerback Marquis Williams has the team’s lone interception. Senior defensive end Dayon Hayes has two sacks. They’ll be tasked with trying to slow down UNC quarterback Drake Maye, who torched Minnesota last week for 400 yards and two touchdowns. Maye keeps the Tar Heels moving – they ranked second in the nation in third-down conversion rate at 65 percent.

On paper this looks like it should be an easy Carolina win. But the Tar Heels two most recent trips to Pittsburgh both ended in overtime losses, and 12 of the last 16 games between these teams were decided by single digits. So it’s not likely that the Heels are overlooking Pitt. I say UNC keeps the offense rolling and moves to 4-0 for the first time since 1997. Go Tar Heels!