Pitt has questions as it prepares for matchup at Duke
A week ago, Pitt looked like a team with something to prove and an accomodating schedule in which to prove it.
Then, reality infringed on Pat Narduzzi’s season.
Pitt’s next opponent — Duke in Durham, N.C., on Saturday night — beat Virginia Tech, 45-10, in the Hokies’ biggest defeat in Blacksburg since 1974. It also was the Blue Devils’ largest margin of victory in an ACC road game in 30 years.
Last week, Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett was hurt significantly enough to sit out a game the Panthers ended up winning by only a field goal. Did coach Pat Narduzzi overestimate his team’s ability to dominate Delaware without his starting quarterback?
All of a sudden, Pitt is a 6 ½-point underdog Saturday night in a game the Panthers need to win to keep pace with ACC Coastal leader Virginia, who would own any tie-breaker with the Panthers.
Here are three talking points to ponder as Pitt enters a seven-game stretch with all ACC opponents and not a ranked team among them.
1. Can Pickett bounce back after sitting back?
Pickett may still be hurt.
Or, he’s healthy, but may have lost the momentum and rhythm he had developed with his pass catchers by missing a week of practice and a game.
No one will admit that this week, of course, but it’s something to watch Saturday night if Pickett all of a sudden starts missing targets.
2. The running game remains a question mark.
But it also could be a strength at the same time.
Todd Sibley Jr. stepped out of the shadows to rush for 106 yards without one carry among his 20 for a loss of yardage.
Did that happen because Sibley is a powerful runner (which he appeared to be)? Or is it because Pitt was playing an FCS team?
The most likely scenario is Pitt will need all hands in its running game, which necessitates a one-week recovery for injured backs A.J. Davis and Vincent Carter.
Of course, you won’t know until Saturday because Narduzzi doesn’t like to talk about injuries, which he believes will give the opponent an informational edge.
3. Does Pitt need another weapon at wide receiver?
The tandem of Maurice Ffrench and Taysir Mack lead the nation in receptions (72, with many of them occurring at clutch moments). Hawaii’s Cedric Byrd and Jared Smart and Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and Devonta Smith are No. 2 with 69. Individually, Ffrench and Byrd are No. 1 with 40 each.
But the big difference is the Rainbows have a No. 3 (JoJo Ward), who has 28 receptions of his own. Other than the two leaders, the only still-active Pitt wide receivers with receptions are Aaron Mathews, Dontavius Butler-Jenkins and John Vardzel with a total of 12 in five games.
How soon until the opposing defensive coaches start leaning their secondary toward Ffrench and Mack and daring Pickett to find someone else?
The reality is offensive coordinator Mark Whipple has noticed the numbers and will attempt to do something this week to change them.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .