Marky Billson is a contributor to Athlon as well as a wrtier for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has covered the Pittsburgh Panthers, Pittsburgh Steelers, and more in his writing career. In his post about Saturday’s game between the Cards and Panthers, Billson gives his three things to watch as well as his final score prediction.
Three Things To Watch
1. Is Pitt’s defense really back?
One can’t discount the fact Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk was not playing last week. The Blue Devils only rushed the ball with their running backs 10 times, and backup Parker Broehme was less than accurate against the Panthers.
Louisville is also starting something of a backup quarterback. Kyle Bolin is the third different starter for Petrino but took over as the starter after Lamar Jackson’s ankle injury three games ago. Bolin has since thrown for 362 yards against Syracuse and guided the offense to five touchdowns last week.
The key, therefore, to stopping Louisville this week will be to provide a pass rush. Pitt is one of the most prolific teams in the ACC in collecting sacks; Louisville gives them up at an even higher rate.
2. How secure is Bolin behind center, really?
Despite the point total, Bolin completed less than half of his 21 passes and had only 139 yards last week. The Cardinals beat Virginia 38-31 thanks to running back Brandon Radcliff’s 146 yards and two touchdowns and former quarterback Reggie Bonnafon’s halfback option touchdown pass.
This shows just how dangerous Louisville can be. While Pitt is most comfortable running behind Qadree Ollison, the Cardinals have and will find multiple ways to score.
So if Bolin continues to struggle against the Panthers, Jackson could easily return behind center.
Of course, both quarterbacks are somewhat prone to interceptions…
3. The best player on the field is likely Pitt receiver Tyler Boyd. How will he be used?
Boyd has caught nearly three times the amount of passes the next most prolific Panthers’ receiver, Dontez Ford, has. Yet his yards per catch average is half that of Ford’s.
Granted, it’s likely the more catches a receiver has, the more he will catch shorter passes that will bring down his average. Yet one wonders if Boyd barely averaging 10 yards a catch is due to short routes or double teaming.
As such, Narduzzi has found all sorts of ways to get Boyd the ball, including rushing and returning. Last week against Duke, Boyd had eight carries against only three catches.
The dirty little secret is that while Pitt’s defense has received more ink than Louisville’s, the Cardinals are actually ranked higher (14th), primarily because of their ability to stop the run with ACC defensive linemen of the week Devonte Fields.
But there’s a big difference between thwarting the fullback dive and being able to guard against a reverse with a receiver that has a run-pass option. Boyd’s performance will likely determine the outcome of the game.
A lot to like on both teams. And a lot to be worried about as well. What isn’t deniable is Louisville has been hotter lately.