Recapping Pitt Football’s First Half Of Season: Will The Panthers Finish Strong?


Going into the third year of the Paul Chryst era, many Pitt fans will tell you they were excited for the season to start, anticipating a successful college football season.

If you didn’t get the chance, I suggest you check out my preseason game by game predictions, where I picked Pitt to finish 10-2, win the ACC Coastal Division, and meet up with the defending National Champion Florida State Seminoles in the ACC Championship Game.

The Pitt Panthers (4-3, 2-1 ACC), currently tied for first place in the ACC Coastal, will square off against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on Saturday.

Before diving into some predictions on Pitt’s final five games, let’s recap the first seven games:

Game 1: Pitt 62 vs. Delaware 0

Pitt started the 2014 ACC season in style with an absolute thrashing of the Fightin Blue Hens. Sophomore RB James Conner ran over the entire Delaware defense, compiling 153 yards and four first-half touchdowns.  The offensive line and running attack was too much for Delaware, and the Pitt defense dominated in all aspects.  This was the first time Pitt scored more than 60 points since September of 1995 against Eastern Michigan.  Pitt did to Delaware what all fans expect against a “cupcake.”  Usually Pitt makes these games too close for comfort, so it appeared that this Panthers team may be different than those from the past.

Game 2: Pitt 30 @ Boston College 20

Pitt traveled to Boston College for the first time since both teams were in the Big East, and the rushing attack was firing on all cylinders. Conner rushed 36 times for 214 yards and 1 touchdown, as Pitt overcame an early touchdown by the Golden Eagles and soared out to a comfortable 27-7 lead.  Boston College couldn’t stop Conner, but would be able to shut down the USC Trojans rushing attack in the following weeks.  The Panthers put in a solid road performance against an ACC Atlantic Division foe.

Game 3: Pitt 45 @ FIU 25

The Panthers laid an egg in the first half of this match, suffering a safety and falling into a 16-0 hole to the other Panthers from FIU. As we have seen in the past, other Pitt teams would struggle with a comeback and potentially squeak out a victory.  This wasn’t the case, as Pitt didn’t panic and they methodically took over the game in the second half.  Again, Conner rushed for over 150 yards (177), breaking Tony Dorsett’s school record for most rushing yards in the first three games of a season.  With another road win, Pitt’s upcoming schedule looked very favorable, especially when Iowa State defeated Iowa.

Oct 16, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers wide receiver Tyler Boyd (23) runs after a catch on a fifty-three yard touchdown reception against Virginia Tech Hokies cornerback Kendall Fuller (11) during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Game 4: Pitt 20 vs. Iowa 24

In the first three games, we certainly saw a common theme: James Conner was just going to run over anyone who got in his way. In my pre-season predictions, I figured that this game against a Big Ten foe would result in some growing pains, especially at the quarterback position.  Sophomore QB Chad Voytik wasn’t necessarily depended upon in the first three games.  At times, Voytik appeared to stare down sophomore WR Tyler Boyd, making it easier for defenders to focus on the passing game.  The big question is, can Voytik win a game when the rushing attack is halted?  The Panthers led Iowa 17-7 going into halftime, and the Hawkeyes decided to make a QB switch.  The new QB was 7 for 8 passing, and possibly exposing a young Panthers secondary.  Conner ran for 155 yards and 1 touchdown, Voytik threw for a career-high 250 yards, and Tyler Boyd had 10 receptions for 153 yards, but it wasn’t enough for the Panthers this time.  The defense struggled stopping Iowa in the second half, as long drives kept the Pitt offense off the field.  Pitt had the advantage in most statistics, yet the Panthers fell short.

Game 5: Pitt 10 vs. Akron 21

Coming off of a disappointing, yet acceptable loss, every Pitt fan expected their team to be “mad” and take it out on the Zips of Akron. We were wrong.  Really wrong.  Somehow, Akron held the nation’s leading rusher, Conner, to only 92 yards, and their RB, Conor Hundley rushed for 148 yards.  An awful loss, Pitt fans left in disappointing fashion.  I questioned why Pitt would even schedule a team such as Akron in late September with nothing to gain, but so much to lose.  Riding a two-game skid, Pitt’s ACC Division hopes were not affected by these defeats.

Game 6: Pitt 19 @ Virginia 24

The struggling Pitt Panthers, since halftime of the Iowa game, showed up again in the first half at Virginia. The Cavaliers outscored Pitt 21-0 in the second quarter, which was capped off by a Voytik pick six before halftime.  I wish I could have heard Chryst’s speech at the half.  In a game there the offense was bitterly offensive, Pitt did show heart in the second half on both sides of the ball.  Voytik threw two touchdown passes to Manasseh Garner and J.P. Holtz, which appeared to be an indicator that Chad was targeting other receivers not named Tyler Boyd.  Pitt dug themselves too big a hole, and they would fall by five, losing some ground in the ACC Coastal race.

Game 7: Pitt 21 vs. Virginia Tech 16

In a nationally televised ACC Thursday night showdown against an average Virginia Tech Hokies squad, Voytik showcased his mobility and Pitt ended their three-game skid with a five point victory at Heinz Field. For Pitt fans, it was promising to see the rushing attack resurface and dominate.  The defense also held their ground against a Hokies squad that had beaten Ohio State earlier this season.  As Pitt improved to 2-1 in the ACC, Virginia would fall to Duke, creating a three-way tie for first place in the ACC Coastal.

Moving onto the future games, I think the Pitt Panthers will need to win at least 4 of their remaining 5 games in order to win the ACC Coastal Division. Can it be done?  I still think so, as I believe this young Panthers squad will continue to grow.  Pitt has the best running back in the division in James Conner, so this gives them an advantage in the rushing category.  The key to Pitt’s success will primarily result in the performance of QB Voytik.  If Voytik can continue to run well, this should open up the passing game.  Chad will need to target receivers other than just Boyd.  I still have faith in the young Panthers quarterback and so should you.  Pitt will face a tough test this Saturday in Georgia Tech.

Sep 5, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers quarterback Chad Voytik (16) congratulates running back James Conner (24) after scoring a touchdown against the Boston College Eagles during the second half at Alumni Stadium. Pitt won 30-20 over Boston College. Mandatory Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Here are my predictions on the upcoming games.

Pitt 24, Georgia Tech 17. Pitt played a very competitive game last season at Georgia Tech, though the offense was unable to muster much scoring.  This game is very important in the ACC divisional race, as the Yellow Jackets are 2-2 in the ACC, currently on a 2-game losing streak.  Pitt needs to use its home-field advantage.  The key to this game is the rushing attack.  Georgia Tech is 5th in the nation in rushing, while Pitt is 20th.  I think Conner dominates in this game, racking up over 150 yards, Voytik makes enough plays to give Pitt the lead, and the defense stops a late Georgia Tech attack.

Pitt 31, Duke 27. I believe this game ultimately decides the winner of the ACC Coastal Division, as Duke’s remaining schedule is easier than Pitt’s.  This contest will be high scoring, but not nearly the shootout we saw last season.  As was seen against Virginia Tech, I think Voytik’s mobility will be the deciding factor in this contest, and Tyler Boyd has his best game of the season.  Pitt improves to 6-3 and 4-1 in the ACC.

Pitt 17, North Carolina 31. Coming off of the high of knocking off three ACC opponents in a row, I think Pitt is due for one final disappointment to the 2014 season.  I predict this game is a headscratcher, where the offense cannot get anything going, and the UNC offense clicks on all cylinders.  This road loss will be Pitt’s final loss until the ACC Championship game.

Pitt 28, Syracuse 10. Going back to Heinz Field, the sophomore trio all have huge games against a lousy Orange squad.  I see this game as a comfortable game and sendoff for the Pitt seniors.  On the verge of winning their first ACC Coastal Division, Pitt runs over Syracuse.

Pitt 17, Miami 14. Going into this game, Pitt controls its own fate in the division.  Standing in front of them is a Hurricanes squad, in which the Panthers always seem to have trouble against the Florida speed.  The Hurricanes defense will get to Voytik, but the Pitt defense will step up in a big way.  Seniors Ray Vinopal, Anthony Gonzalez, and Todd Thomas have big games, with one scoring a decisive defensive touchdown.  Blewitt knocks down a game-winning field goal, and Pitt is set to meet up with Florida State in the ACC Championship Game.

Pitt finishes 8-4 with an ACC Coastal crown. How do you think Pitt will finish the season?