8 beats 7, especially if Pitt can defeat Boston College in finale
No one argued with Pat Narduzzi when he said the difference between eight and seven is one.
“Eight is one more than seven, and seven is one less than eight,” he said, smiling, when presented with the question of how important beating Boston College would be for the Panthers (7-4).
Yes, coach, we all went to math class.
But winning an eighth game Saturday at Heinz Field would be more important than its numerical value. It would improve how Pitt’s program is perceived by outsiders, including recruits. 8-4 just looks and sounds better than 7-5, especially when that 7-5 would include losses in three of the last five games.
Also, ending the regular season with a victory would create momentum for bowl preparations and the offseason.
Pitt won eight games in each of Narduzzi’s first two seasons in 2015 and ’16, but hasn’t matched that since.
With one of the nation’s best defenses, this team aspires to achieve more than a 7-5 regular-season record and a low-level bowl invitation. This could be Narduzzi’s best team, but it must prove that, and two more opportunities are ahead.
Here are some things to think about as the 3:30 p.m. kickoff on the ACC Network approaches:
1. Stop the run or else
In one way, Boston College is what Narduzzi’s team was last year, wishes it could have been this year and will aim to be next year: a team with a formidable ground game.
At the moment, the nation’s sixth-ranked ground game (268.2 yards per game) is all the Eagles can lord over Pitt. But that could be enough to win if the Panthers move the football such as they did at Virginia Tech (which was hardly at all). Boston College running back A.J. Dillon (6-foot, 245 pounds) has rushed for 4,204 career yards and 37 touchdowns. He is third in the nation this season with 1,507 yards.
If the Panthers can’t stop him, they might not be able to produce enough offense to win the game.
2. Struggling ‘D’
This is where Pitt’s offense must show it’s better than the unit that was shut out by Virginia Tech.
Boston College ranks in the bottom quarter of the 130 FBS school in three defensive categories: total yards (128th) passing (123rd) and rushing (98th). It has allowed 38 or more points in five games. That includes 48 to Kansas, 59 to Clemson and 40 to Notre Dame. Throw in Pitt and Virginia Tech — BC won that game 35-28 in the opener — and the Eagles (5-6, 3-4) didn’t have an easy road this season.
3. Win for your gig
Boston College (5-6, 3-4) might need to win to save coach Steve Addazio’s job. A loss would eliminate the Eagles from bowl consideration.
They lost to Wake Forest and Louisville by two and three points, or this game might have a different feel.
4. Pickett stock watch
Narduzzi believed he had no choice but to fire offensive coordinator Shawn Watson after the season to improve a struggling passing game. He replaced him with Mark Whipple, one of the most respected play-callers in college football, and the results have been mixed.
Quarterback Kenny Pickett led late comebacks against Central Florida and Duke, and he threw the ball effectively against North Carolina and at Penn State.
The game against the Nittany Lions when he threw for 372 yards appeared to be an indicator Pickett had elevated his game. But he averaged only 202 yards in six of his next seven games, with the notable exception of the 359 he threw against North Carolina.
Pitt needs Pickett to clean up his game, and he has been making some strides in that area. He hasn’t thrown a pick since he finished a bad stretch of seven in five games at Georgia Tech on Nov. 2.
5. Twyman chases Donald
Jaylen Twyman, a redshirt sophomore with a bright pro future, needs one sack to match Aaron Donald’s best seasons at Pitt (11 in 2011 and ’13).
That’s the most by a Pitt interior lineman in school history.
Overall, Pitt has 48 sacks and is on the cusp of becoming only the seventh Panthers team to record 50 and the first since 1987.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .