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Pitt Has All the Pieces

By Jim Johnson
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Pitt has officially clinched its first ever spot in the ACC Championship.

Pitt has officially clinched its first ever spot in the ACC Championship. The Panthers left no uncertainty, beating Wake Forest convincingly on the road, 34-13 -- finally bringing some conclusiveness to the topsy-turvy Coastal division, and doing so with a week’s worth of games yet to be played.

Pitt, however, has also yet to play a single complete football game this season. Depending upon one’s particular angle relative to the proverbial glass, that could be equally construed as either a good or a bad thing as it pertains to their chances of knocking off Clemson in the title game.

On the one hand, how can Pitt, a team that has yet to post an 80th percentile performance, both offensively and defensively, in the same game this season, contend with a squad that has done that five times already?

On the other hand, Pitt’s come this far, arguably without even showing their full potential in any single contest. Who’s to say what it could look like if all the pieced happened to come together for that battle in Charlotte? Because, although they’ve yet to be on display simultaneously at any point in 2018, they’ve all shown up at some point or another.

The closest they’ve come to a complete performance was probably just last week against Virginia Tech. Only a game after Darrin Hall’s historic performance at Virginia, Hall and Qadree Ollison teamed up to once more rewrite the record books in what was among the most impressive offensive outbursts by anyone in the country all year.

Still, they allowed three passing touchdowns and lost both the turnover and field position battles, the latter of which they’ve really struggled with all year.

Other than that, the offense no-showed against Notre Dame, despite a pretty good defensive showing. Then the defense returned the favor against Duke, just as it had done at North Carolina earlier in the season. At least the squad made a cohesive decision for no one to do anything against UCF. Beyond those competitions, it’s been some combination of great, good enough, and pretty blah.

Again, though, all the puzzle pieces have reared their respective heads intermittently throughout the campaign.

This week, for instance, against a respectable Wake Forest defense that entered the matchup ranked 67th in S&P+ against the pass, but merely 91st against the run, Hall and Ollison’s magic was gone. Averaging 3.4 and 2.9 yards per carry between the duo, Kenny Pickett had to step up and deliver his best showing of the season, completing 23/30 attempts for 316 yards and three scores.

It was also the fourth time this year that they held an opponent under three yards per carry with no rushing touchdowns.

And, although the pass defense has arguably been the weak link of the entire team, for the most part, they forced Wake’s fill-in quarterback Jamie Newman to come back to earth after his incredible debut last week, holding him to a sub-110 passer rating -- the third time they’ve done that this year.

Coupled with solid, if unremarkable special teams, outside of Alex Kessman who has been spectacular (and even he missed a point after, today), Pat Narduzzi has the requisite tools to give Clemson a ball game, and maybe even do the unthinkable if a couple of bounces go his team’s way.

He can’t keep leaving them at home, though. Clemson may not even be the best team in the game in 2018, given how good Alabama is, but it still might be in the top five of this decade.

It’s not impossible, but Pitt simply has to be firing on all cylinders to hang with the Tigers. The pieces are there. Now it’s about putting the puzzle together.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP