North Carolina (4-5) at Pittsburgh (5-4)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 16, 12:30 p.m. (et).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Heinz Field (65,500) -- Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Television: ACC Network. Home Record: UNC 3-2, Pitt 4-1. Away Record: UNC 1-3, Pitt 1-3. Neutral Record: UNC 0-0, Pitt 0-0. Conference Record: UNC 3-3, Pitt 2-3. Series Record: North Carolina leads, 4-3.
GAME NOTES: The Pittsburgh Panthers hope to become bowl eligible this weekend when they host the North Carolina Tar Heels in an ACC battle at Heinz Field.
Last weekend, the Panthers hosted nationally-ranked Notre Dame and delivered a 28-21 victory in order to snap a two-game slide. The win was also the fifth of the season for the squad, placing it within a single victory of being considered for the postseason.
As for the Tar Heels, they began the 2013 campaign with five defeats in six tries, but over the last several weeks the team has shown signs of life. More specifically, UNC has posted three straight wins in order to move within one game of .500 on the season. Last week, the team dismantled Virginia at home, 45-14, which means the Heels have now outscored the opposition during this run by a combined 106-43.
The last meeting between the squads took place in 2009 Meineke Car Care Bowl where the Panthers slipped by UNC in a 19-17 final. Despite the victory, Pitt still trails in the all-time series by a count of 4-3.
North Carolina ran out to a 28-0 lead over the Cavaliers last weekend and never looked back, scoring at least one touchdown in every quarter, while holding the visitors scoreless through the first 30 minutes of action.
Quarterback Marquise Williams led the way for UNC as he converted 15-of-28 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns, while Quinshad Davis tossed a 29-yard TD to the signal caller as well. If all that were not enough, Williams also carried the ball 16 times for 46 yards and yet another score in the rout.
On defense, Norkeithus Otis stood tall for the Tar Heels with four tackles, three of which came behind the line of scrimmage and two of those against the opposing quarterback. Dominique Green chimed in with an interception return for a touchdown as well. Green now has three interceptions on the season, one behind Tre Boston who is also first on the unit with nine passes defended.
As a team, UNC ranks fifth in the conference and 23rd in the country with 12 INTs on defense, and because of that active presence in the secondary the group is also fifth in the ACC in passing yards allowed (217.2 ypg).
With quarterback Bryn Renner now out for the season with a shoulder injury, Williams is getting his time in the spotlight and obviously made the most of it last week. He has completed 58.5 percent of his attempts for eight touchdowns and is also second on the unit with two rushing scores. However, the so-called rushing attack for the Heels consists of only 118.7 ypg and nine touchdowns over as many games.
Pittsburgh fell behind last week against visiting Notre Dame, but just when they needed to break the trend of trading scores the Panthers looked to James Conner to fill the bill and he did so with a one-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. From there the Pittsburgh defense held on, limiting UND to slightly more than six minutes of possession in the final frame.
The Panthers made it into the win column even as they converted just 3-of-13 on third down and produced only 355 yards of total offense, compared to 456 for the Irish as they averaged more than seven yards per snap. Conner scored on two of his 10 rushing attempts in the meeting, finishing with 35 yards on the ground, while Tom Savage converted 22-of-35 passes for 243 yards and two scores to Devin Street.
The standout performer on defense for the Panthers was safety Ray Vinopal who was named the ACC Defensive Back of the Week after posting two interceptions, a forced fumble and seven tackles. Not only does Vinopal lead the team in interceptions now with three, he is also tied for third on the unit with 53 tackles through nine games.
As great as Vinopal was, the focus of the defense is still Aaron Donald who has made more than half of his 37 stops behind the line of scrimmage (19.5 TFL) and easily paces the group with nine sacks, not to mention nine quarterback hurries and a trio of forced fumbles.
Street is one of the most productive receivers in school history, but at this point he is actually second on the team in receptions with 44, trailing Tyler Boyd who has 53 catches for 729 yards and six touchdowns. Savage has tossed six TDs to Street as well, compiling 16 aerial scores against seven interceptions, while converting 61 percent of his attempts.
The Panthers have to be careful that they don't continue to revel in their win over Notre Dame. North Carolina may not be the cream of the crop in the ACC, but very few opponents these days are pushovers in college football.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Pittsburgh 31, North Carolina 24
11/14 15:07:04 ET