Heel Tough Blog: Pittsburgh Preview



The Tar Heels don’t have much time to recover from their upset win over the Wake Forest Demon Deacons as they hit the road to take on the Coastal leading Pittsburgh Panthers. The team will look to continue building on what has been an extremely productive start to the second half of the season offensively while they continue to search for answers on the defensive side of the football. That’s a task easier said than done against what might just be the most complete team in the ACC this season.


Team Breakdowns

Tar Heels

The Tar Heel offense is in need of another huge performance in this one and the good news is they have shown that they are ready to do that now. The offensive line has shown some positive signs in the past few weeks, but this will be one of the biggest challenges of the season against this Panthers front seven. At the least, they need to be able to pave the way for a running game that has been starting to hit their stride recently thanks to a strong start to the second half of the season from Ty Chandler. Quarterback Sam Howell continues to quietly have another tremendous season, granted it has come in a way that many people probably couldn’t have predicted in the preseason. He is more than capable of getting the job done through the air, which he may be counted on to do in this one, but he has also been able to win a couple of games for the team this season thanks to his running ability. His pass catchers have really stepped it up these past two weeks to provide some help for star slot receiver Josh Downs, who will be looking to bounce back from his quietest game of the 2021 season. Antoine Green will look to build on back-to-back strong performances and the tight end position continues to provide good options led by Kamari Morales and emerging true freshman Bryson Nesbit.

Defensively, the Tar Heels need to be able to find it in themselves to take whatever they did in that fourth quarter on Saturday and parlay that into a consistent effort moving forward. That starts up front, where the team simply hasn’t been able to make plays since the Duke game because they simply can’t get off of blocks. The Tar Heels desperately need a few players to step up and get some consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks and create some negative plays. That would take the pressure off of a secondary that continues to have their fits, primarily the safeties who still aren’t as steady on the back end as they need to be. The good news for the secondary is that Storm Duck’s return gives the Tar Heels a strong second corner opposite of Tony Grimes. The linebacking corps remains the strength of the unit, as Cedric Gray continues to shine since taking over as the starter and he has paired nicely alongside Jeremiah Gemmel, the heart and soul of this defense. Power Echols is also worth keeping an eye on moving forward after a nice showing against Wake on Saturday.

The special teams unit came up big for the Tar Heels on Saturday and could definitely be a big factor in this one. Grayson Atkins was clutch against the Demon Deacons, hitting all three of his field goals which were sorely needed and both return games continued their solid seasons. Ben Kiernan hasn’t been needed much in the last couple of weeks and the hope is that they can keep it that way, but he has been effective when he has been needed. Jonathan Kim has had another strong season as the kickoff specialist and the kickoff coverage unit has been very good so far this season. The punt return coverage unit is probably the only real concern with the Tar Heel football team right now.

Pittsburgh

The Panthers will provide a steep test for the Tar Heels on both sides of the football. Quarterback Kenny Pickett is currently one of the Heisman favorites, as he is proceeding through an amazing super senior season that has him amongst the nation’s best in many of the passing categories. He is doing so with what may be his best group of pass catchers yet led by Jordan Addison, who is one of the conference’s top receivers this season stats wise and pairs perfectly with deep threat Taysir Mack and Jared Wayne, who is having a big season, as well. The Panthers run game is very similar to the one that the Tar Heels faced this past Saturday against Wake Forest, as they have three different running backs who have shoulder some of the load at some point this season. The offensive line might be the weakest part of this unit, as their numbers show their an average unit, but Pickett has played so well that it has masked this inefficiency.

The defensive front seven might be the best that the Tar Heels have faced this season. The Panthers have seven different players that have 4.0 or more tackles for loss this season, led by standout defensive lineman Habakkuk Baldonado. John Petrishen might be the best all around player in this defense out of his hybrid position, as he is in the top five in tackles, tackles for loss, sacks and interceptions on the team. The one weakness of this Pittsburgh team is the secondary, but even that group is nowhere near as suspect as they’ve been in years past.

The Panthers also boast a sound special teams unit this season. Kicker Sam Scarton has been flawless, missing just one extra point and one field goal so far this season. The return games have been solid for the Panthers all season, especially the punt return game where Jaylon Barden has shined. Punter Kirk Christodoulou is the weakest link of the unit, but he hasn’t been needed much so far this season.


Team Stats

Tar Heels

Off. PPG: 38.9 (T-11th)

Off. PYPG: 273.6 (29th)

Off. RYPG: 216.3 (20th)

Off. TYPG: 489.9 (9th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 49.6% (10th)

Def. PPG: 33.4 (T-111th)

Def. PYPG: 240.7 (86th)

Def. RYPG: 180.2 (101st)

Def. TYPG: 420.9 (95th)

Def. 3rd Down %: 41.1% (86th)

Sacks: 17.0 (T-85th)

Interceptions: 9 (T-34th)

Turnover Margin: 0 (T-67th)

Pittsburgh

Off. PPG: 45.0 (1st)

Off. PYPG: 376.1 (5th)

Off. RYPG: 165.0 (64th)

Off. TYPG: 541.1 (3rd)

Off. 3rd Down %: 47.7 (15th)

Def. PPG: 22.7 (T-45th)

Def. PYPG: 237.0 (T-77th)

Def. RYPG: 107.1 (15th)

Def. TYPG: 344.1 (36th)

Def. 3rd Down %: 31.2% (11th)

Sacks: 31.0 (T-10th)

Interceptions: 9 (T-34th)

Turnover Margin: +4 (T-26th)


Keys To The Game

Bring the Defensive Effort From the Word Go

The Tar Heel defense stepped up in the fourth quarter against the Demon Deacons and appeared to be a more confident and motivated group. Even though this Pittsburgh offense is an offense that has been able to go up and down the field all season long, the Tar Heels need to bring the same mindset that they had to that fourth quarter to tonight’s game from the get go if they want to pull the upset.

Offensive Line Needs to Build Off of Last Week

The Tar Heel offensive line has shown some significant improvements in the past couple of weeks and tonight they must take another step forward against one of the best defensive fronts in the country. The group still lacks consistency, especially in pass protection situations, but if they can replicate the run blocking performance from a week ago and limit the pressure on Sam Howell, they will give this offense a chance to continue to produce at a high level.

Score, Score and Score Some More

The hope is that the defense can show more resistance than they did a week ago, but scoring and scoring often will be important tonight. This offense showed last week that they are capable of leading this team to victory, so there is reason to be confident in what this offense can do tonight.


Injury Report

Tar Heels

OUT- Don Chapman (undisclosed), Beau Corrales (sports hernia)

QUEST- Caleb Hood (upper body)

Pittsburgh

QUEST- Grant Carrigan (shoulder), Nate Temple (undisclosed)


Projected Starting Lineups

Tar Heels Offense

QB# 7 Sam Howell, Jr.

RB#19 Ty Chandler, Sr.

WR#83 Justin Olson, So.

WR# 3 Antoine Green, Sr.

WR#11 Josh Downs, So.

TE#84 Garrett Walston, Sr. OR #88 Kamari Morales, So.

LT#72 Asim Richards, Jr.

LG#75 Joshua Ezeudu, Jr.

C#69 Quiron Johnson, Sr.

RG#73 Marcus McKethan, Sr.

RT#74 Jordan Tucker, Sr. Defense

END#25 Kaimon Rucker, So.

NOSE#51 Raymond Vohasek, Jr.

TACKLE# 8 Myles Murphy, So.

OLB#12 Tomon Fox, Sr.

OLB#17 Chris Collins, Jr.

ILB#44 Jeremiah Gemmel, Sr.

ILB#33 Cedric Gray, So.

CB#20 Tony Grimes, So.

FS# 4 Trey Morrison, Jr.

SS# 9 Cam’Ron Kelly, Jr.

CB#29 Storm Duck, So.

NB# 0 Ja’Qurious Conley, So. Special Teams

K#17 Grayson Atkins, Sr.

KOS#95 Jonathan Kim, Jr.

P#91 Ben Kiernan, Jr.

LS#61 Drew Little, Jr.

H#91 Ben Kiernan, Jr.

KR# 0 Ja’Qurious Conley, So.

PR#11 Josh Downs, So.


Pittsburgh Offense

QB# 8 Kenny Pickett, Sr.

RB# 2 Israel Abanikanda, So. OR # 22 Vincent Davis, Jr. OR # 9 Rodney Hammond Jr., Fr.

WR#11 Taysir Mack, Sr.

WR#18 Shocky Jacques-Louis, Sr.

WR-SL# 3 Jordan Addison, So.

TE# 7 Lucas Krull, Sr.

LT#77 Carter Warren, Sr.

LG#55 Marcus Minor, Sr.

C#60 Owen Drexel, Sr.

RG#53 Jake Kradel, Jr.

RT#57 Gabe Houy, Sr. Defense

DE#87 Habakkuk Baldonado, Jr.

DT# 8 Calijah Kancey, So.

DT#10 Keyshon Camp, Sr.

DE# 5 Deslin Alexandre, Sr.

STAR#38 Cam Bright, Sr.

MIKE# 7 SirVocea Dennis, Jr.

MONEY#24 Phil Campbell Jr., Sr.

CB#14 Marquis Williams, Jr.

SS# 9 Brandon Hill, So.

FS#31 Erick Hallett II, Jr.

CB#21 Damarri Mathis, Sr. Special Teams

K#91 Sam Scarton, So.

KOS#90 Ben Sauls, RFr.

P#98 Kirk Christodoulou, Sr.

LS#94 Cal Adomitis, Sr.

H#98 Kirk Christodoulou, Sr.

KR#10 Jaylon Barden, So.

PR#10 Jaylon Barden, So.




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